TAMPA — Both Showtime and The CW television channels disappeared from the screens of Bright House subscribers over the weekend amid a fractious media industry tussle that’s become a case study in why cable subscription rates seem to rise each year.
The disappearance is a side effect of how Bright House is operated in the Tampa Bay area.
On one side of the fight is the national CBS Corp. flagship broadcast network that appears in New York, Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities, and controls The CW and Showtime. On the other side is Time Warner Cable Inc., which provides programming to Bright House Networks in an affiliate relationship.
Both CBS and Time Warner have been arguing their sides of the story in news reports. The CBS station in the Tampa market is not directly affected by the dispute because it is separately owned and shows are produced locally.
Such “retransmission” fights have become almost routine in the world of media, as fees paid by cable and satellite companies to carry local channels have been growing each year — by an estimated 32 percent in 2012, according to Pew Research — and those rates are expected to keep rising. Cable and satellite companies typically pass off those rising costs to subscribers in the form of higher monthly fees.
Such dustups often are settled before channels disappear from TV screens, or shortly thereafter, though with such a long list of content companies and pay-TV providers, a dispute is almost always occurring somewhere on the channel lineup.
Bright House spokesman Joe Durkin said, “we anticipate an agreement will be reached – and the channels restored.” Meantime, Bright House is trying some ways to assuage viewers. In place of Showtime, customers will see the Starz movie channel.
Both content and distribution companies face a deeper upheaval in media, where more viewers are migrating away from subscription packages in favor of watching just the shows they like through Internet-based services like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and Amazon.
Plus, a slew of new gadgets are coming on the market that make it easier to stream video, including the new Google “Chromecast” device that plugs directly into a TV and streams in video from other devices and the Apple TV and Roku devices.
And while more political ad spending is flowing to local broadcasters, Pew found the audience at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates keeps falling, particularly among younger viewers. Of those age 18 to 29, the number who regularly watched local news last year plunged by one third to 28 percent.