WTMJ vs. Time-Warner: And the Winner Is…AT&T U-verse

Was it worth it?

At the time of my last post, Time Warner Cable and Journal Broadcast Group had just resolved their very public dispute, in which Time Warner removed WTMJ from its lineup for almost two months. In a recent article posted on JSOnline.com, it was reported that Time Warner had lost 10,350 area subscribers in the third quarter. That could represent more than $12 million in lost subscriber fees in a year.

On the opposite side, WTMJ-TV has continued to see a drop in ratings and share even after they have been back on the air for a few months.  During the key 7 to 9 a.m. time slot occupied by the “Today” show, they lost 19 percent in viewership share since the May ratings period. In other not-so-good news, the “Morning Blend” lost 200 percent of its share. The only day part that has shown an increase in share is the 10 p.m. news.  The lost share and ratings will definitely result in lost advertising revenue over time. However, that calculation isn’t as precise as Time Warner’s loss.

This is definitely a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. When viewers were forced to find alternate news programming during the summer, they did not come racing back when WTMJ returned to basic cable.  Does this mean that local newscasts are interchangeable from the perspective of the viewer?  It might.

Obviously, we are not privy to the negotiations that went on between the two media companies behind closed doors. However, I don’t see how the loss in subscribers, ratings and advertising revenue can result in a clear winner. If there were any winners in this scenario, I am guessing it would be DirecTV and AT&T.  Cable cutting had never been this tempting.

I am sure this won’t be the last local station “blackout” we’ll see.  But I would think that this recent battle will be a good case study for anyone considering a similar negotiation tactic in the future.  Viewers aren’t as loyal as the stations or the cable systems think they are.  If you push them away, they might not come back.