Cablevision-Fox spat sure to draw sequels
Since Friday, about 3 million Cablevision subscribers in parts of New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania and Connecticut have lost access to Fox programming - including coverage of Sunday's New York Giants game against the Detroit Lions and the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants.
Fox says it wants Cablevision to pay its fair share for retransmitting its signal. Cablevision says Fox is asking too much. Local viewers -- and local politicians -- are understandably fed up with both companies.
Cablevision is no more loved than, well, other cable companies -- and has a history of cutting off channels because of carriage disputes. Since the whole point of paying ever-increasing sums for cable TV is not to have to worry about losing access to a particular channel, that's no way to win friends.
(Cablevision's responsibility for the Isiah Thomas era at the New York Knicks can't help, either.)
Fox, meanwhile, burned whatever goodwill it might have had with viewers by briefly preventing Cablevision Internet subscribers from watching Fox programs at Hulu or its own Fox.com site.
This clueless shoot-the-hostage move did little beyond making the powerlessness of Hulu's management pathetically obvious -- and showing a profound lack of imagination by the fools at Fox who signed off on it.
A more forward-thinking company would go after viewers wherever it can find them, instead of continuing to bind its fortunes to the existing gatekeepers. Just compare Fox's actions to the aggressive efforts of the Pandora Web-radio service to reach listeners in as many places as possible. Or compare Fox's actions to Fox's actions: This company, with ABC, broke with other networks in signing up for Apple's new, 99-cent TV-show rentals.
The most annoying thing about these carriage disputes is the notion that we viewers should regard any of these companies as being on our side.
Cable and satellite operators can talk all they want about "holding the line" on TV-network demands, but their bluster never seems to lead to lower rates. TV networks, meanwhile, see an easy way to pad their profits by getting TV providers to spend subscribers' money and add more of their channels to ever-bulkier programming bundles.
The networks further insult the intelligence of viewers by suggesting that they switch to other TV services. Even if you have a choice (remember, many people can't subscribe to satellite because of trees or buildings in the way) and don't have to eat an early-termination fee, going to a different provider only postpones the day you get stuck in one of these standoffs.
Up next: Dish Network, which will see some Fox carriage contracts expire Nov. 1. Fox has already set up a site, Get What I Paid For, that pretends to speak for Fox viewers' interests.
One rational solution to this would be allowing viewers to cast their own votes, by choosing to pay for individual channels or not. Since the pay-TV industry appears militantly opposed to a la carte pricing, your other option is one I chose last year -- not to pay for TV at all, relying instead on over-the-air broadcasts and Internet streams.
What's your prediction for the Cablevision-Fox dispute: Will this last through the World Series, will one side or the other cave earlier, or will a significant chunk of Cablevision subscribers remember that TV is free over the air with a little work?
For extra credit, how confident are you that your own TV service will continue to carry the channels you want -- wait, there's more -- without perpetual price increases?
(9:18 p.m. The Federal Communications Commission has a helpful explanation of the dispute that outlines your options. And earlier today, the FCC used its Twitter account to broadcast updates about today's Phillies-Giants game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball.)
| October 19, 2010; 12:07 PM ET
Categories: Gripes, TV, Video
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