The three million Time Warner Cable (TWC) subscribers in New York City, Dallas and Los Angeles want to know when they can watch their favorite CBS shows again. Golf fans in particular are hoping a deal can be completed immediately since many are fuming about missing the PGA golf tournament coverage on TV.
On Thursday Time Warner said it had returned to the negotiating table with CBS Corp. (CBS), breaking a six-day standstill between the two companies. The two sides cannot agree on fees and other charges Time Warner pays to carry CBS programming, forcing Time Warner, the second largest U.S. cable company, to stop broadcasting CBS shows to some of the nation’s largest TV markets.
Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, says in an interview with The Daily Ticker that the Time Warner-CBS dispute has become “a very serious deal.”
“This is just the beginning,” he explains. “We’re at the tipping point right now… cable has had a virtual monopoly [over TV broadcasters] for the last 50 years. Digital media is going to take over.”
Bibb believes customers will likely see higher monthly cable and Internet bills because of squabbles over retransmission agreements. He says CBS has a “good case to make” but notes that the network makes hundreds of millions of dollars by licensing its content to Internet distributors like Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon Prime (AMZN). Cable companies are realizing that they need to broaden their offerings to remain profitable, Bibb says, and are slowly moving away from their core business -- cable delivery -- and into Internet service providing. In the next five years consumers can expect to pay usage fees for videos, TV and movies watched over the Internet as cable companies try to recover losses from traditional network agreements, he adds.
That's terrible news for cable customers who have seen their cable bills skyrocket over the years. According to SNL Kagan, the average cable subscriber pays $128 a month for TV, Internet and phone services -- that's a huge jump over the $48 customers paid back in 2001. And there is another cloud looming on the horizon: Fox Sports 1. Many analysts expect the new sports channel -- owned by Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) -- will be a legitimate competitor to sports behemoth ESPN. If Fox Sports 1 fetches 80 cents per cable subscriber (that's SNL Kagan's estimate) then cable customers will see their monthly bill increase. And if the channel is a hit, that fee will quickly rise and be passed along to the customer.
The trend is pretty clear. By the end of the year, 4.7 million cable customers will "cut the cord" according to Convergence Consulting Group. And that's why Cablevision CEO James Dolan admitted to The Wall Street Journal that "there could come a day" when his company stops offering TV and focuses instead on broadband. Bibb's "tipping point" warning should be heeded.
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