Among the signs of a new year: a ball (or acorn) dropping, champagne popping and TV titans fighting.
Television broadcasters and pay-TV providers are increasingly at odds over programming fees. With many contracts tied to the calendar year, the disputes tend to flare up as Jan. 1 approaches.
This year's edition pits Time Warner Cable, the Triangle's dominant pay-TV provider, against Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns WLFL, or CW22, and WRDC, or MyRDC. Both sides are warning customers of blackouts when their contract expires at midnight on Dec. 31.
An extended blackout could disrupt fans of popular CW shows such as the Vampire Diaries, Nikita, 90210 and Gossip Girl, left.
Time Warner Cable has about 2.1 million customers in the Carolinas, including 830,000 in the region from Raleigh to the coast.
"At Time Warner Cable, we think it's wrong to put viewers in the middle of business negotiations," the company writes in a full-page ad in today's News & Observer. "We know you're tired of these public contract disputes. So are we. But broadcasters keep demanding higher and higher fees for their programming -- driving up TV prices -- and we're determined to fight back."
This month, Time Warner Cable raised rates for most of its services, blaming rising operating costs. That included increasing the cost of basic cable $5 to $64.99 a month. Those annual rate hikes anger customers and spur some to drop service.
Sinclair says it's seeking fees that are lower than what Time Warner Cable pays for less-popular programming. It points out on its website that viewers can switch to Time Warner Cable rivals such as DirecTV or AT&T's U-Verse service.
"You have alternatives and you should let [Time Warner Cable] know that you will use them if they don't provide the same level of programming as their competition," Sinclair writes in a Q&A posted online here.
Including its Triangle stations, Sinclair owns 58 TV stations in 35 markets.
For Time Warner Cable, this is its third public squabble in the past year. Last year at this time, the cable-TV company warned of potential blackouts of Fox cable-TV stations because of a dispute with News Corp. Over the summer, Time Warner Cable sparred with Walt Disney Co., owner of ESPN and ABC11.
As with previous disputes, those fights ended in last-minute settlements.
Unlike its heated and public spats with other broadcasters, Time Warner Cable has been involved in private negotiations with Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting for much of this year. Capitol owns WRAL and Fox 50 in the Triangle, as well as stations in Charlotte and Wilmington.
The companies' previous contract expired in July, but the two sides kept extending it as officials continued negotiations. They settled on a new agreement on Dec. 14, said Time Warner Cable spokesman Keith Poston. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Time Warner Cable has posted more information about its dispute with Sinclair on its "Roll Over or Get Tough" website here.