Updated Our old friends push and shove are back. Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) subs who rely on Fox stations in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey face the prospect of dark TV screens instead of the Giants and the Phillies this weekend unless the cable operator and News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) can move past their current impasse and get a deal done. Fox, which has been willing in the past to continue transmissions when it looks like a deal can be reached, shut down the signal when the contract expired at midnight Friday. Each side accuses the other of refusing to negotiate in good faith. Talks continued intermittently over the weekend and are scheduled to resume Monday with no sign that the results will vary.
It’s deja vu all over again for nearly three million Cablevision subs, who lost the Food Network and HGTV for the first three weeks of 2010 and WABC (NYSE: DIS) the same day as the Oscars. Disney and Cablevision reached an agreement that turned the ABC owned-and-operated station back on as the awards show began. This time, the live event stakes are MLB’s NCLS starting Saturday between the Phillies and SF Giants and this Sunday’s NFL match between the NY Giants and Detroit Lions. Fox also has the rights to the World Series, which could feature two teams from the Tri-State area.
Subs who rely on WWOR (Philadelphia), WNYW (NYC) and WTXF (NJ) also will miss Glee Fox’s primetime shows in real time although most of the shows are available pnline 24 hours later on Hulu and Fox.com
At issue, a retrans fee increase that Cablevision claims is more for New York’s station alone that the operator pays for all other major broadcast affiliates in the market combined. Repeating earlier tactics, Cablevision has offered to submit to binding arbitration and enlisted dozens of politicians to support that option — suggesting Fox is greedy and unfair to consumers for not giving in and leaving its signals up during negotiations. Friday, the FCC offered to mediate — an offer Fox turned down. Cablevision’s full statement is here.
But Fox says it has been trying to negotiate with Cablevision since May and that Friday, when the two finally were meeting fact to in New York with the midnight deadline looming. As for the mediation offer and arbitration requests, a Fox spokesman said: “We appreciate the requests to enter arbitration and we share the concern for protecting viewers’ access to programming. As we previously stated, arbitration would, unfortunately, reward Cablevision for refusing to negotiate fairly and will only ensure that more unnecessary disputes arise in the future. Direct business-to-business negotiation is the only way to resolve this issue, while also preserving the long-term stability of the broadcast system.” Fox has set up a site for Cablevision subs.
That kind of negotiation requires leverage — and this weekend has leverage written all over it. Neither side is going to look good to subscribers who have to scramble to see their sports in other venues or to switch distributors but Fox is gambling this is the only way to get Cablevision to agree a deal. Fox has reached escalating agreements with other operators that should get it from 50 cents or so to around $1. The deal that expired Friday including several other networks, among them Fox Business, and that kind of deal is likely what Fox wants now.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement soon after the stations went dark, chiding both for failing consumers and urging them to negotiate in good faith. The FCC also issued an advisory explaining consumer options.
Fox also at odds with Dish: Dish Network (NSDQ: DISH) won’t be in its usual position to try to capitalize on a cable operator’s woes. Fox and Dish are in the midst of a similar impasse. FX, National Geograophic and 19 regional sports nets went dark for the satellite operators’ subs Oct.1 with no deal in sight and the retrans deal for Fox expires Oct.31.
Updated: Saturday night: Baseball fans who subscribe to Cablevision either need to go antenna, go out or find a broadband alternative for Game One of the NCLS. Talks started midday and ended without any resolution. One sign of the distance between the two: Cablevision’s latest statement features spokesman Charles Schueler with a “demand” that Fox agree to binding arbitration and “mmediiately return its Fox programming to Cablevision customers.