Time Warner plays hardball with UPN stations

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UPN and Time Warner Cable are battling over distribution in Cincinnati, Ohio and Syracuse, N.Y., where UPN has low-power TV affiliates - stations that aren't covered by must-carry regulations.

Although the cable company is not violating any rules, UPN executives charge that the MSO is using its monopoly power to block a potential rival from competing in the local marketplace. "I can't understand what other explanation there could be," said UPN Chief Operating Officer Adam Ware.

Instead of giving a space on its basic-cable tier, like the rest of the over-the-air station in the Cincinnati market receive, the cable giant has told UPN officials it wants a direct-affiliation aggrement with the network, says Ware. That's not unlike the deals that The WB has made with some cable operators in the 100-plus TV markets. Otherwise, the cable company has said, it may import (at an estimated cost of more than $3 million a year) WSBK-TV Boston, the satellite-delivered superstation tyhat is also a UPN affiliate. That way, Time Warner can get UPN programming without giving cable access to another local competitor.

Meanwhile, UPN's local Cincinnati affiliate, WBQC(TV) is devoting a a big chunk of its Web site to what it call "The War" with AOL Time Warner. The site urges viewers to call their congressmen and demand a change in the must-carry laws to include low-power TV outlets that have secured network affiliations.

And UPN is pursuing a legal angle, as well: It's urging the FCC to authorize the granting of network-non-duplicaion rights to low-power stations. Currently, such rights apply only to full-power stations. - John Higgins

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