The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping in on the retransmission dispute between Fox and Cablevision that has left 3 million pay TV subscribers without access to Fox broadcasts in Cablevision households. FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake sent a letter to News Corp. President Chase Carey and Cablevision CEO James Dolan this morning, saying that the commission is “deeply concerned” about the impact of the Fox blackout in Cablevision’s service area.
The letter was meant to remind Fox and Cablevision that broadcasters and cable providers are both required to negotiate these retransmission agreements in good faith, and demands that the companies to illustrate how they’ve fulfilled this requirement. The letter also asks for Fox and Cablevision to tell the commission if they believe the other has violated the good faith requirement, and to provide supporting evidence.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that the FCC can do in this situation to get both sides back to the negotiating table. If it finds that one or either side are not operating in good faith, it could levy a fine against them. But given that the stakes are so high — Fox is reportedly seeking up to $150 million for retransmission of its broadcast signal — the fine would have to be pretty hefty to dissaude the parties from acting up.
The commission could also try to assert its authority by requiring the parties to take part in binding arbitration, but that would probably end up with it being taken to court. (The FCC reportedly proposed mediation, but Fox declined.) But given that the FCC is still reeling from the ruling against it for censuring Comcast after the cable company was found to throttle peer-to-peer packets, the commission might not be anxious to defend itself again in court anytime soon.
The FCC is requesting the information by next Monday, October 25, and there’s always the possibility that the whole dispute could be over by then. But with the NY Giants playing their matchup against the Dallas Cowboys on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, the NY Jets taking their bye week and the World Series not starting up until next Wednesday, Fox loses some leverage over the weekend with local and national sports schedules. Considering that the dispute and blackout have gone on this long, it wouldn’t be surprising if it extended into next week.
Whatever happens, I think we’ve all learned that the FCC live-tweeting the World Series probably isn’t a solution.
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