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Broadcasters had been long believed to hold the upper hand in negotiating fees with cable and satellite providers because blacked-out customers usually called the cable company to complain. The cable and satellite operators have appealed for help from federal regulators.

In October, Cablevision Systems Corp. asked the Federal Communications Commission to force Fox stations to keep providing programming while Cablevision sought arbitration to settle a dispute over fees. The FCC declined to get involved, and Cablevision wound up swallowing Fox’s terms, after its customers lost Fox programs for two weeks, including two World Series games.

But Time Warner’s tactics could give cable providers more clout and even the upper hand.

For broadcasters such as Sinclair, the stakes are big. More advertising dollars are shifting to the Web and the growing number of cable networks means increasing competition for the money that is still going into TV. So local stations see fees from Time Warner and other pay TV providers as a crucial second source of income.

Without an agreement, Hunt Valley, Md.-based Sinclair planned to pull its signals from Time Warner and Bright House cable systems. Sinclair owns 33 stations carried by Time Warner around the country, and others in the South _ though not many network affiliates _ carried on Bright House.

Bright House spokeswoman Kimberly Maki said the company arranged to provide the feed from another ABC station to customers in the Florida Panhandle so they won’t miss Saturday’s Outback Bowl.

“We’ve got it covered,” she said. Most of the Sinclair stations carried on Bright House systems are on minor networks, and Maki held out hope the company could get an extension from Sinclair for those stations while negotiations continue.

Before Time Warner and Bright House said they would turn to signals from other cities, some Florida football fans were making backup plans in case they couldn’t watch their favorite team at home. In Cantonment, Fla., Jennifer Stokes adorned her SUV with a Florida Gators front license plate. The Bright House subscriber said she and her family and friends refuse to miss the Outback Bowl.

“We will just go somewhere else and watch it,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”

Time Warner shares fell 8 cents to close Friday at $66.03, while Sinclair shares added 5 cents to $8.18.


AP Writer Melissa Nelson in Cantonment, Fla., contributed to this report.