CBS, Time Warner fee battle may leave millions in the dark

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CBS and Time Warner Cable are in a public spat over fees in three major TV markets.

If it's not resolved, six local CBS TV stations could go dark for around 3 million Time Warner Cable customers in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas starting Wednesday.

The dispute could also cause a blackout of CBS-owned Showtime for those of the 11.9 million Time Warner Cable video customers nationwide who pay extra to watch it.

The dispute centers mainly on how much Time Warner Cable pays for the right to retransmit signals from six CBS-owned stations: WCBS and WLNY in New York; KCBS and KCAL in Los Angeles; and KTVT and KTXA in Dallas.

Dozens of blackouts have occurred nationwide in fee fights over the years, but many get resolved at the last minute.

Selling retransmission rights has become a big business for broadcasters like CBS. Research firm SNL Kagan estimates retransmission fees will reach $3 billion industry-wide this year and double to $6 billion by 2018.

Time Warner Cable said Thursday it is resisting a fee hike demand by CBS so prices don't go up for customers. CBS said Time Warner Cable isn't agreeing to terms that its competitors have accepted.

(Read more: Tribune to Buy 19 TV Stations for $2.73 Billion)

If the fight lingers, some Time Warner Cable customers could lose access to new episodes of "Under the Dome" and the 15th season of "Big Brother." Both are available online after a slight delay.

"Under the Dome" is available online to members of Amazon Prime, a $79-a-year shipping service, four days after airing.

CBS makes full episodes of "Big Brother" available on its mobile app for free a day after they air.

—By The Associated Press.