The fight between the Triangle's cable-TV provider and Walt Disney, the owner of ESPN, ABC 11 and other channels, is coming down to the wire.
Time Warner Cable and Disney officials have been in negotiations for months, but haven't agreed to terms of a new contract. If they don't reach a deal by Wednesday, the spat could lead to blackouts for millions of cable subscribers across the country -- just in time for football season and the new fall-TV lineup.
Time Warner Cable has about 2.1 million customers in the Carolinas, including 830,000 in the region from Raleigh to the coast.
In today's News & Observer, Time Warner Cable ran a full-page ad blaming Disney for the blackout threat, and directing customers to a website: www.rolloverorgettough.com. It argues that networks such as ESPN are responsible for driving up the cost of cable, and that it's protecting customers.
Disney, meanwhile, has its own site, www.ihavechoices.com, that contends that the fight is Time Warner Cable's fault, and explaining how viewers can get their programming online or through other pay-TV providers.
Such private contract disputes have become much more public in recent years, and often get resolved at the last minute.
"We've made significant progress in just the last day or so," Keith Poston, Time Warner Cable's spokesman in the Triangle, said in a phone interview this morning. "Right now both companies are very focused on getting a deal done before Wednesday."
Broadcasters such as Disney want to collect new fees from cable providers to boost revenue and offset weaker advertising sales. Time Warner Cable doesn't want to pay more for programming.
One point of contention is that Disney wants to be paid a fee of about 10 cents a month per Web customer for ESPN3.com, Bloomberg News reports.
“We’re very focused on reaching a fair agreement with Time Warner Cable, and we will not comment on the specifics of the negotiations,” ESPN wrote in a prepared statement.
The talks involve transmission rights to Disney's cable channels, such as ESPN, ABC Family and Disney Channel, as well as the 10 TV stations it owns across the country, including WTVD in Raleigh.
Time Warner Cable officials also are in discussions with Capitol Broadcasting, the Raleigh-based owner of WRAL and Fox 50. Their contract was set to expire at the end of June but the companies have extended their negotiations several times.
"We don't believe there will an interruption there," Poston said. "The best thing for the viewers is that there is no programming interruption."
Read our full report from May about the situation here.