Cablevision, Fox dispute ratchets up ahead of World Series; FCC says stop the "stunts"
Cablevision and News Corp.’s spat over television fees just ratcheted up a notch with both sides continuing attacks through press releases as some New York and New Jersey viewers enter their 10th day of being blocked from Fox shows.
Federal regulators, meanwhile, continued to stay on the sidelines, urging both sides to work out an agreement.
Update at 8 p.m.: On Tuesday evening, Cablevision chief executive James Dolan sent a letter to Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, asking the regulator to mediate talks between the cable company and Fox.
"I respectfully urge you to bring the parties together in the FCC offices tomorrow to work to resolve this matter and bring the World Series to over three million New York, New Jersey and Connecticut homes," Dolan wrote.
Fox, meanwhile, released a statement urging Cablevision to "return to the bargaining table," and sent its own letter to the FCC saying it has conducted negotiations over retransmission fees of its shows in "good faith." Fox has argued that federal mediation would favor Cablevision and that talks should be conducted privately between the two parties.
But the FCC called Cablevision's letter a "stunt," saying in a statement Tuesday evening that Cablevision "should spend less time writing publicity-seeking letters to the FCC, and more time at the negotiating table reaching an agreement."
Earlier Tuesday, News Corp., which owns Fox, on Tuesday sent a cease-and-desist letter to Cablevision after the New York Daily News reported that a representative of the cable service told a customer to get major league sports games on pirated Web sites.
“Copyright law exists to protect the very creative freedoms that fuel our industry. As both a creator and owner of intellectual property – not to mention major sports franchises – Cablevision knows better and should immediately call an end to this unlawful activity,” Fox said in a statement.
Some 3 million New York and New Jersey Cablevision customers have been blocked from major league baseball and other sports games. The World Series, which will be aired on Fox Wednesday, could be a flashpoint for subscribers who may decide to leave the service, analysts say.
Cablevision said it has not encouraged users to visit Web sites with pirated Fox shows. And in a statement, it said Fox has hurt consumers by blocking them from Web based shows more than one week ago.
“Fox should cease and desist its World Series blackout, put its programming back on Cablevision and agree to binding arbitration,” Cablevision said.
The letter comes after Cablevision told the FCC that Fox did not conduct negotiations in “good faith.”
Cablevision said News Corp. presented a “take it or leave it” demand for $150 million for a renewed contract. Fox spokesman Scott Grogin denied Cablevision’s description of negotiations but refused to say how much Fox is asking Cablevision to pay to retransmit its shows on New York’s Channels 5 and 9. In comments filed Tuesday to the FCC, Fox said Cablevision inaccurately describes three words -- "this is it" -- that News Corp. negotiators could have used during talks as a "take it or leave it" threat.
The FCC will allow the companies until the end of Tuesday to reply to each other’s comments to the agency. The agency asked the firms to describe negotiations over the past week to learn whether they were conducting talks in an “honest” and fair way. Commissioner Michael J. Copps has indicated that the agency should intervene directly if it looks as if the two sides are not negotiating in good faith. But the agency doesn’t have clear authority to intervene and would be in uncharted territory if it did.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has drafted a bill that would empower the FCC to step in on disputes over retransmission fees to determine whether they were conducted in good faith. The bill also would allow cable and satellite firms to continue broadcasting channels during negotiation breakdowns.
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