Customers in 3 local municipalities lose WFSB
Optimum cable television customers in 24 Connecticut municipalities have lost access to WFSB after a retransmission agreement dispute resulted in the Rocky Hill television station being removed from the viewing lineup.
WFSB is owned by Iowa media giant Meredith Corp., while Optimum is the cable television brand of Altice USA, which has its American headquarters in Bethpage, New York. The deadline for reaching a new retransmission agreement between two sides was 5 p.m. Friday.
Even though representatives for both companies were still negotiating at the time the deadline passed, WFSB was pulled from the lineup. Each side blames the other for leaving Optimum customers without access to the Connecticut CBS Network affiliate.
Lisa Anselmo, an Altice USA spokeswoman, said it was Meredith’s decision to remove WFSB from the Optimum lineup. The bulk of Optimum customers are in Fairfield County, Anselmo said, and will still be able to view CBS programming via the network’s New York City affiliate, WCBS.
But Optimum subscribers in Milford, Orange and Woodbridge and eight Litchfield County communities don’t get both WCBS and WFSB because those communities are not considered part of the New York City television market, while Fairfield County is.
A statement by Altice USA called on Meredith Corp. “to immediately return WFSB to our Optimum lineup, stop putting customers in the middle, and work with us on an agreement that is fair to our Connecticut customers.”
“We have already offered to pay Meredith Corp., the media conglomerate that owns WFSB Channel 3 CBS, a significant increase in retransmission fees for the channel,” Altice said. “Unfortunately, Meredith Corp. has pulled WFSB from our Optimum lineups in Connecticut in an attempt to force us and our customers to pay millions more in fees, even as the number of Optimum customers who watch WFSB has consistently declined over the past three years.”
Anselmo said Altice USA is contacting Optimum cable customers in New Haven and Litchfield counties and offering them a free week of the CBS All Access Internet service, so they can still view their favorite programming on the network.
Klarn DePalma, senior vice president and general manager of WFSB, said it was the decision of Altice officials to remove the television station from the Optimum lineup. DePalma suggested that Altice USA officials have not been negotiating in good faith in an attempt to reach a new retransmission agreement.
“WFSB has been trying for months to get Optimum from Altice to negotiate seriously,” DePalma said. “But after its transaction with Altice, Optimum is now part of one of the world’s largest cable giants. Reaching a deal and ending this blackout is our top priority ... and we hope Optimum from Altice will make it a priority to reach a deal too.” Altice, of the Netherlands, acquired Cablevision Systems Corp. at the end of June 2016 in a $17.7 billion deal.
There is a history of bad blood between the two sides.
During the last retransmission agreement negotiations in 2014, Cablevision Systems called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether Meredith Corp. was meeting public interest obligations that are an important component of all television station licenses. Cablevision also sued Meredith in Connecticut’s court system under the Unfair Trade Practices Act.
The latest dispute has attracted the attention of both of Connecticut’s U.S. senators.
“I typically don’t get involved because it’s not for me to dictate the terms of a dispute between a cable company and a network,” Sen. Chris Murphy said in a statement issued Friday night. “But I haven’t been pleased with Altice’s commitment to Connecticut since it bought Cablevision.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged both sides to continue negotiating and “put fans and viewers first.”
Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.