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Time Warner Cable Argues Against 'Huge' Price Hikes from Programmers

By Ben Fox Rubin Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC) issued a stern warning to television programmers, arguing against "huge price increases," as a handful of new disputes over programming costs have forced new rounds of blackouts for many channels on Time Warner Cable and others. "Consumers are tired of these disputes and so are we--television networks can't continue to demand huge price increases and expect us to silently pass those cost increases on to our customers," the cable-TV provider said. Recently, Time Warner Cable allowed 15 Hearst Corp. television stations to go black, as it complained about Hearst's demands for a sizeable fee increase. Also this month, Dish Network Corp. (DISH) dropped AMC Networks Inc. (AMCX) amid a similar dispute, and DirecTV Group Inc. (DTV) let more than a dozen Viacom Inc. (VIA, VIAB) channels go dark. The most recent spats parallel a late 2010 dispute between Fox Networks and Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC) that dragged on for two weeks and involved both sides blaming the other for the blacked out channels. Fox Networks is owned by News Corp. (NWSA), which is also the parent of this newswire and The Wall Street Journal. Like many of its peers, Time Warner Cable, the second-largest U.S. cable television provider behind Comcast Corp. (CMCSA, CMCSK), has struggled to stanch the flow of residential customers abandoning its video services, though defections have seemed to slow in recent quarters. The company has meanwhile focused more attention on its broadband businesses, where profit margins remain higher. In April, the company said its first-quarter profit rose as its revenue benefited from more high-speed data subscriptions and acquired customers. Shares are up 1% at $83.52. The stock is up 31% so far this year. Write to Ben Fox Rubin at ben.rubin@dowjones.com

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