Most Cable Operators, Stations in Accord : Television: Both sides scramble to meet deadline for law allowing stations to be compensated for their signal. Some disputes unresolved.


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.

Santa Monica-based Century Cable and KNBC Channel 4 reached an 11th-hour agreement late Tuesday, enabling subscribers to continue to receive the station's programming, executives of the companies said.

Bill Rosendahl, Century Cable's senior vice president, said in a broadcast announcement that his firm reached an agreement with NBC executives in New York.

Century's highly public dispute with KNBC over terms by which Century could continue to provide its 210,000 subscribers access to Channel 4 arose because of a new federal law allowing networks to charge cable companies for the use of network signals.

Until the agreement was reached with the network, subscribers in parts of the Westside, west San Fernando Valley and eastern Ventura County were to lose Channel 4 at 12:01 this morning.

Since Thursday, when KNBC aired commercials attacking the cable company for dragging its feet in negotiations and Century responded by scrolling its own text over the commercials, the cable company received 30,000 telephone calls from upset subscribers, Rosendahl said.

He said he is "very disappointed with the tactics employed by the local KNBC station."

But the network affiliate got its licks in too.

Its president and general manager said in an ad in today's Times that "it is extremely unfortunate that Century has been unwilling to reach an agreement similar to those endorsed broadly by the rest of the cable industry."

The mad dash to reach agreements resulted in a harrowing day for cable officials, station executives and viewers throughout the country.

"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.)

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