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Time Warner Cable Says It Will Keep ‘Open Mind’ on Reinstating Al Jazeera
BY BRIAN STELTER JANUARY 3, 2013 3:07 PM
Time Warner Cable minced no words when it announced on Wednesday night that it was dropping Current TV, just hours after Al Jazeera acquired the channel. “Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service,” the distributor said. “We are removing the service as quickly as possible.”
Critics of the distributor’s decision didn’t hold back, either, calling it cowardly, shameful and just plain dumb. On Twitter and Facebook, many people assumed that Time Warner Cable was expressing corporate opposition to Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news giant, by taking Current off its cable systems in the United States.
But executives at the cable company said the channel wasn’t removed for political reasons. It had more to do, they said, with Current’s low ratings and its contract, which had a “change of ownership” clause that allowed it to be terminated. Time Warner Cable, which has 12 million subscribers, enough to make it the second-largest cable company in the country, has taken a hard line against low-rated channels.
That said, Time Warner Cable doesn’t want to be seen as outwardly hostile to Al Jazeera, especially at a time when other major distributors are keeping Current on their cable systems. (DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon, and AT&T were among the distributors that consented to the takeover of Current.) Al Jazeera plans to replace Current with a channel, potentially called Al Jazeera America, that incorporates new programming from the United States and currrent programming from its headquarters in Qatar.
On Thursday afternoon, as complaints continued, Time Warner Cable issued a statement that opened the door to carrying the channel in the future. “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network,” the statement read.
Time Warner Cable noted that it had what is called a “hunting license” in the television industry: an option to carry Al Jazeera’s current English-language channel if it so chooses. To date, it hasn’t acted on that option. Time Warner Cable and other major distributors have been reluctant to carry Al Jazeera English, in part because they feel there isn’t adequate demand for the channel from their customers. They also resent that the channel is streamed free over the Internet.
Through separate pacts between Al Jazeera English and local broadcasters, the channel is already accessible through Time Warner Cable in New York and Los Angeles.
Time Warner Cable may simply be betting that if it negotiates a new contract with Al Jazeera, the terms will be more favorable than the ones in the old contract with Current. A  spokeswoman for the distributor declined to comment on that prospect.
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