After the television signals of KOMO went dark on New Year’s Day for Tacoma-area residents on the city-owned Click! Network, talks have remained stalled between Fisher Communications and the cable provider, making it the first such negotiation-related outage in Click!’s 15-year history.
“It’s happened in the industry,” Click! spokeswoman Diane Lachel said. “It’s rare, but it does happen. Never with Click!, and never with any operator I’ve represented in my 42 years in this business. Holding the line is a huge risk because customers have many more choices today than ever before. … But, it’s a risk we’re willing to take short term for a long-term benefit for our customers. As a not-for-profit, we have to pass along any programmer rate increases on to our customers. It’s my fiduciary responsibility to negotiate the best deal possible. The deal KOMO has proposed is way out of line.”
At issue is the price Fisher wants to charges Click! for the privilege of carrying the communication company’s television stations: KOMO, KOMO HD, KUNS, KUNS HD, This TV and MundoFox. Television viewers using Comcast, DIRECTV, DISH Network, Charter or other cable providers are not affected, and the channels are also available as streaming videos online.
Click!, a subsidiary of Tacoma Power, offered a 6-percent increase. Fisher wanted more. Actual amounts are not being disclosed because both sides have signed non-disclosure agreements that are standard in the industry. But Click! officials have said Fisher wanted two times the rate other stations have already reached with Click!.
“We’re ready to talk when they are,” LeChel said.
Click! points out in its notice to customers that Fisher’s revenue from retransmission charges to cable providers has jumped by 83 percent since late 2011. Talks with all the other television channels led to three-year agreements last year, leaving Fisher as the lone holdout. Fisher and Click! had been working under a one-year contract through the end of 2012. That contract ended, so the channels went dark until a new deal is signed.
“We have negotiated in good faith, but the increases they are asking for are not feasible for us or our customers,” said Click! Network Manager Tenzin Gyaltsen. “Fisher Communications saw significant revenue increases in 2012, yet it’s squeezing a small cable company by raising rates more than 200 percent in two years.”
There once was a time when the roles were reversed and television stations paid feels to cable providers to carry their programming. That changed in 2008, when local broadcast stations began charging cable companies to carry their signals through Retransmission agreements. The Federal Communication Commission is reviewing the basis of these agreements and their impacts on the marketplace.
For now, the dispute between Click! and Fisher lingers into its third week, which means Click! is working on a formula to credit its customers for the loss of the six stations. Questions remain on how a company can calculate the loss of a person’s access to “Modern Family,” “The View” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
Calls and emails to Fisher seeking comment were not returned by press time.