At noon Friday (December 16), KFMB/Channel 8 viewers on Cox Cable saw their television screen go dark as the cable company and CBS's local affiliate failed to reach an agreement over fees Cox pays to MidWest Television Inc., the station's parent company.
Cox says the station demanded a 1000 percent or tenfold increase in the payments it agreed to in contracts from three years ago that expire now. Meanwhile, Cox customers can pick up free antennas to snatch CBS 8 programs out of the air at Cox stores, according to spokeswoman Ceanne Guerra.
"We know our customers want us to keep CBS 8," Guerra said. "They pulled their signal when we couldn't reach agreement over the retransmission consent fees." Guerra declined to answer questions about the current fees.
Because both Cox and KFMB are privately held, it is difficult to get clear, accurate information about the current retransmission fees. But Wall Street analysts say the national average is around $1.40 per subscriber per station per month.
Last year, KFMB got into a similar fight with DirecTV and went off the air for three weeks. The station's big stick in negotiations is the Chargers games — with one against the Oakland Raiders scheduled for Sunday afternoon (December 18) here in San Diego. (At press time there were more than 1800 tickets available for those who really need a Chargers fix.)
Calls to the station and its parent company for comment were not returned Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, KFMB's website encourages its viewers to contact Cox and insist that KFMB return to its cable stable.
In November, the station celebrated ratings at the top of the TV news pile. "San Diegans have voted and CBS News 8/KFMB-TV wins the local TV race as San Diego's most watched television news station, dominating first place in every local newscast during the November 2016 ratings 'sweeps' period according to data released by the A. C. Nielsen Co."
Retransmission consent fees are paid to local television stations that broadcast their own signal over the airwaves, allowing cable and satellite providers to retransmit the signal. The fees are a source of revenue for local stations and a cost to cable and satellite providers, who raise customers prices to pay their bills.
According to TV Technology, local stations across the U.S. will take in $7.7 billion in 2016, up 20 percent since 2015.
Taking a page from last year's DirecTV fight, Cox has put up a page called CoxCommitment.com that tells customers: "You deserve the most value from every show, network, event or team you pay to watch on TV, and delivering that value is Cox Communications' responsibility."
Last year, DirecTV fended off a barrage of calls and emails from subscribers — similarly rallied by KFMB — that said: "When disputes arise with programmers over their rising prices, this site will keep you up to date with clear and direct information."
In the meantime, KFMB fans will have to bust out those antennas and hope they can catch the signal from the station's Kearny Mesa facility.