December 12, 2013

Loss of NECN angers Time Warner viewers

As fans of the channel complain, the company says viewership and cost were factors, and the decision is final.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Some subscribers in Maine are outraged over Time Warner Cable’s plan to drop New England Cable News from its channel lineup Dec. 31, but industry observers say the decision ranges far beyond Maine, to the cable giant’s ongoing effort to shed underperforming networks.

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NECN, a regional network based in Newton, Mass., covers news across New England.

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Reporters Amy Sinclair, left, and Marnie MacLean, who cover Maine for NECN out of Portland, say they don’t know what Time Warner’s decision means for the future of the bureau.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

The change will affect about 300,000 customers in Maine, leaving some to wonder about the fate of NECN, a regional network based in Newton, Mass.

“I’m ready to scream,” Julie Deroche of Gray said in a phone interview, joining a chorus of angry Time Warner customers who posted similar opinions online. “They are making the poorest change, in my mind. The bottom line is greed. It’s all about money.”

The announcement followed this week’s breakdown of contract negotiations between NECN and Time Warner, which pays fees to cable channels to carry them on its system.

Time Warner Public Relations Director Scott Pryzwansky said the decision was based on several factors, including cost, viewership and unique content, and is final.

“We do not believe NECN represents a good value for our customers,” he said. “We know any channel change we make necessarily makes some customers unhappy.”

Mike St. Peter, senior vice president and general manager of NECN, said viewers will suffer for the decision.

NECN is “actively investing in improving our service to our viewers,” he wrote in an email. “We have negotiated with Time Warner Cable and are very disappointed in their decision, which will result in fewer options and diminished service for their New England customers.”

St. Peter declined further comment.

Steve Donohue, who reports on the cable industry for the online newsletter FierceCable, said Time Warner has aggressively negotiated its contracts with cable and broadcast channels in recent years, leading to many service interruptions and dropped networks. The stalemate with NECN is simply the latest step in the hardball bargaining between the cable giant and content providers, he said.

“Time Warner is looking to cut costs,” Donohue said. “They put networks on notice: ‘If you are not generating strong ratings, we will drop you.’ ”

CHANGES IN NEWS DELIVERY A FACTOR

NECN covers news across New England. It is owned by NBC Universal, which was purchased earlier this year by Comcast Corp., a giant cable provider that competes with Time Warner.

The dispute reflects the changing nature of television news and the way money is generated in the cable industry, said Paul Niwa, associate professor and interim chairman of the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston.

Because of NECN’s 24-hour approach, its viewership is segmented into many factions, and many viewers who turn to NECN for news stream the channel on their mobile devices. That makes it less attractive to advertisers and less lucrative for cable providers, Niwa said.

“This is a national decision from the corporate headquarters,” he said. “How much sensitivity the national entity has for the local systems, we really don’t know. But this is a much bigger deal than just NECN.”

Time Warner customers in western Massachusetts learned this week that they, too, will lose NECN, as did subscribers in parts of Vermont and New Hampshire.

NECN will remain on other cable systems in Maine, including those run by Comcast.

NECN’s Maine news bureau in Portland employs two reporters, Marnie MacLean and Amy Sinclair, who share a full-time job, and photojournalist Dave Brosemer.

MacLean said she is “extremely disappointed that Mainers will no longer have access to NECN. It means that viewers in Maine will no longer be able to see the stories we cover in the state we live in.”

Maclean and Sinclair said they don’t know what the decision means for the future of NECN’s Portland bureau.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Al Jazeera English Channel staff prepare for the broadcast.

The Associated Press

  


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