Time Warner vs. Fox: Here We Go Again

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I’ll say this for being a Time Warner Cable subscriber — for the second year in a row, it’s brought a little extra drama to the holiday season.

Last New Year’s Eve, I was prepared to cut the cord on my cable because Time Warner nearly couldn’t work out a deal with Viacom. And now this year Fox and Time Warner are in a transmission fee standoff counting down to Jan. 1, one that’s started much earlier and gotten much nastier, potentially leading to TWC dropping Fox channels from its service for some subscribers.

Per Paul Sweeting on GigaOM Pro (subscription only), only 3.9 million of TWC’s 14 million subscribers will be affected by the blackout, in areas where Fox-owned stations overlap with Time Warner. But according to Fox’s site, as a Los Angeles subscriber I’m yet again one of them.

Both sides have put together sites to lay out their positions — Time Warner borrowing phrases from truck commercials with rolloverorgettough.com, and Fox explaining what customers stand to lose at keepfoxon.com. There’s no image quite as iconic as last year’s crying Dora the Explorer, but that’s because the range of programming at risk this time isn’t quite as broad.

If TWC and Fox fail to negotiate, I and others in my area stand to lose Fox, MyNetwork TV, Fox’s sports channels (some of which, like Fox Soccer Channel, aren’t included in my current plan), and FX. So how profoundly this affects you probably depends on how much you use Hulu and how big a sports nut you are; while fans of both American and international football will miss out on key games (including the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and lead-up games to the 2010 World Cup), they’ll still be able to catch Fox dramas and comedies online. While American Idol won’t be the same as it is when watched live, plenty of video is available on the official site.

The same doesn’t go for FX programming, however, as not all of it is available online — It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is on Hulu, for example, but Damages (which is produced by Sony Pictures Television) currently has only its first season up on Crackle.

Reading through both TWC and Fox’s sites as an affected subscriber, I have to say that I found myself much more convinced by Fox’s argument that the programming it offers is of equal value to, say, that of TNT, which receives a $1 transmission fee per subscriber (a channel I’m sure many people watch a whole lot less than Fox). The question is, though, whether or not TWC will pass the cost onto subscribers — and if we’re really ready to admit that the line between broadcasters and cablers, at least from the perception of viewers, has become much more fuzzy.

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