The Fox-Cablevision Drama Is Getting Emmy-Worthy

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The ongoing dispute between Fox and Cablevision is becoming the fall’s best drama, full of twists and turns and exciting guest stars: in this case, the FCC, which hopes to end this conflict by getting both sides to submit information on their negotiations.

Previously, on Fox vs. Cablevision: Two weeks ago, Cablevision lost access to Fox programming and customers were (temporarily) blocked from accessing Hulu. Since then the battle has continued, with tensions rising as the World Series approaches, which Cablevision subscribers will be unable to watch on Fox should the situation not be resolved. Oh, and the FCC’s first attempt to get involved? Live-tweeting an NLCS game.

Michael C. Hopkins, president of affiliate sales and marketing for Fox Networks, wrote yesterday (PDF) in a letter addressed to FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake that “[t]his entire process has been very discouraging for us,” before detailing the last year of negotiations. He concluded that he believes binding arbitration — which is what Cablevision is pushing for — would not be “an effective path to the resolution of retransmission consent disputes.” Hopkins also accuses Cablevision of taking a stand to score points with Congress and the press.

Hopkins declined to bring up any conduct by Cablevision that might violate its good faith obligations in the letter, however, but maybe that’s because he hadn’t yet heard about how a Fox employee, on a taped call, received instructions from a Cablevision service representative on how to watch Fox programming on illegal websites, as the NY Daily News reports.

During last year’s Time Warner v. Fox standoff, Time Warner posted a three-minute video showing consumers how to connect a PC to a TV (and let me say this in all caps so it’s clear: A CABLE COMPANY SHOWED CUSTOMERS HOW EASY IT COULD BE TO CUT THE CORD), so it’s no wonder that Fox was suspicious of similar shenanigans.

But encouraging piracy is definitely a special sort of crazy, and this afternoon Fox served Cablevision with a cease-and-desist letter regarding that sort of activity.

Cablevision CEO James L. Dolan, in his own correspondence with the FCC, repeatedly accuses Fox of “take it or leave it” bargaining and negotiating in bad faith, detailing his negotiations with Fox and concluding:

“News Corp. has engaged in multiple unfair tactics in the course of the current negotiations — deliberately structuring the timing of its agreements and negotiations so it could withhold its signal immediately prior to a “must see” marquee event; making a “take it or leave it” proposal in which it demanded a cash payment that far exceeds the retransmission consent demands of other broadcasters; hiding behind most favored nation clauses in other agreements as the basis for refusing to negotiate a reasonable rate for WNYW; and refusing to enter into arbitration in which the reasonable value of its programming could be determined.

Dolan’s dialogue is a little dry, but he makes his point. The FCC now has plenty of information to look over — but judging by the tone of both documents, it seems both sides are far from reaching an agreement.

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