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Time Warner Cable proposes CBS truce

8/5/2013, 3:51 p.m.
Time Warner Cable has proposed a detente in its 3-day-old feud with CBS. The cable operator’s CEO, Glenn Britt, sent ...

Time Warner Cable has proposed a detente in its 3-day-old feud with CBS.

The cable operator’s CEO, Glenn Britt, sent a letter Monday proposing that his company resume carrying CBS, which was blacked out from about 3 million customers in many of the nation’s largest cities last Friday.

The dispute centers on how much the cable operator should pay to carry CBS programing in places where CBS owns local affiliates — primarily New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

While a Time Warner Cable spokesman did not disclose the amounts involved, Britt said the return would come “with the new economics TWC reluctantly agreed to during our negotiations.”

The proposal would leave the other terms and conditions of the companies’ recently expired contracts in place.

As an alternative, Britt proposed allowing CBS to make its stations — including the Showtime premium channel — available to TWC subscribers “on an a la carte basis.” CBS could name its own price and terms for its content, and customers would pay the fee directly to CBS.

“This way, rather than debating the point, we would allow customers to decide for themselves how much value they ascribe to CBS programming,” Britt wrote.

Under either scenario, Britt called for the return of CBS to Time Warner Cable subscribers under the terms of the previous contract until the companies can finalize the details of a new agreement. He also called for CBS to stop blocking its online content for TWC’s Internet customers.

A CBS spokeswoman said Monday afternoon that the company had received Britt’s offer “simultaneous with its release to the media,” and was formulating a response.

Up to now, the effect on customers has been limited. Television viewership is typically down in August; when reruns dominate the schedule and vacations cut into normal viewing.

But experts said the return of football in four weeks would make a deal more pressing.CBS has the rights to carry college football games in the most popular conference — the SEC — as well as NFL games primarily involving the AFC conference. The SEC starts its season on Saturday, Aug. 31, with the NFL returning to CBS a week later.

“As we get closer, folks with Time Warner Cable are going to realize they’re not going to get SEC football or some of their NFL games,” said David Miller, analyst with B. Riley & Co. “Time Warner Cable will have the threat of customers switching over to DirecTV or Verizon FIOS.”

The start of the football season is also important for CBS as a way to start hyping its prime-time fall schedule, which begins the week of Sept. 23.

“Promoting their fall schedule in the two biggest markets is a very big deal,” said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG Research.

Chris Isidore and James O’Toole | CNN