Most Cable Operators, Stations Reach Accord on Retransmissions : Television: Both sides scramble to meet deadline for law allowing stations to be compensated for their signal.


At least 90% of cable operators and broadcast TV stations across the country beat today's deadline for reaching accords on the new retransmission consent law, which allows stations to charge cable operators to carry their signals.

Because of last-minute transactions--many of which were completed late Tuesday--the vast majority of cable customers are not expected to suffer any significant channel blackouts or interruptions in service, officials said.

Under terms of the law that was passed by Congress last year, broadcast TV stations can legally withhold permission for their signals to be carried on cable.

Frantic scrambles by many operators and TV stations to come to 11th-hour agreements or extensions before the deadline continued late into the night Tuesday, with some agreements apparently unresolved as midnight approached. Calls poured into cable companies all day from viewers who wondered if they would wake up today to find their favorite channels missing.

KNBC-TV threatened to remove its signal from Century Cable's system--which serves 210,000 subscribers in parts of West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles--if Century did not pay for the signals of two additional cable channels owned by parent NBC: business-talk channel CNBC and a forthcoming talk channel.

Century Cable accused KNBC and NBC of seeking $10 million in fees over the next six years for the rights to carry its broadcast and cable channels. Although KNBC said the deal had been accepted by every other cable company in the area, Century executives said the station was asking for more money than any other broadcaster.

The mad dash by KNBC, Century and others around the country resulted in a harrowing day for cable officials, station executives and viewers.

In Orange County, cable subscribers in Huntington Beach feared they would miss out on "Cheers" reruns and the Channel 5 News beginning today. And Brea cable customers faced the threatened loss of "Seinfeld" and the "Tonight" show.

The companies that supply cable service to those cities had failed, as of late Tuesday, to reach agreements with KTLA-TV or KNBC, respectively, to carry their broadcasts.

Those still negotiating with KTLA were Paragon Cablesystems and Multivision Cable. Multivision was also still talking with the local Fox affiliate, KTTV.

"It's been a totally crazy day," said Chuck Sherman, senior vice president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters. "Negotiations are always difficult up until the last moment. Lots of people spent the day staring at the telephone, hoping that something would happen."

Sherman said cable operators and broadcast TV stations in the Top 10 national markets had apparently reached terms on payments or had agreed by late Tuesday to extend the deadline. Stations such as NBC affiliate KXAS-TV in Dallas and CBS affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis made late deals Tuesday with cable operators in those regions.

One of the most significant deals signed was between Capital Cities/ABC and Hearst Corp. with Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable operator, for carrying the signal of ABC-owned stations into markets served by TCI.

In exchange for permission to carry ABC's and Hearst's stations, TCI agreed to several provisions, including a substantial commitment to carry ESPN2, which is owned by ABC/Capital Cities and Hearst, on its systems on a nationwide basis.

Until today, local cable operators have been able to carry signals of broadcast stations without permission or charge. The retransmission consent clause requires operators to pay for the right to carry the signal. Most of the agreements gave operators the right in exchange for clearing channel space on their systems to launch new cable networks owned by ABC, NBC and Fox. (CBS had earlier opted not to charge a fee or ask for additional channel space for at least the next year.)

Times staff writer Anne Michaud in Orange County contributed to this report.


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