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Fox-Cablevision fees spat leaves NY, NJ viewers in dark through weekend

The fees dispute between Fox and Cablevision continued into Monday with New Jersey and New York customers seeing no end to their channel blackout and lawmakers calling for federal intervention.

On Saturday, News Corp.’s Fox pulled its signal for Cablevision’s 3 million customers, blocking them from viewing professional sports games and other entertainment. The battle over retransmission consent fees extended temporarily to Cablevision’s Internet service customers who were also blocked from watching Fox content on Fox.com and Hulu.

Fox and Cablevision said they would meet again on Monday, but both sides said there was still major disagreement. Cablevision said Fox had demanded $150 million for annual fees, more than double what it was paying before. The cable provider called for arbitration to help end the stalemate. Fox, however, said the fees it is demanding (it will not confirm it has asked for $150 million) is in line with what other cable and satellite providers are paying. And it has resisted arbitration.

In an open letter to Cablevision viewers, an executive for New York’s WNYW Fox 5 criticized Cablevision and urged viewers to consider the cable provider’s competitors for television service.

“Fortunately you have options,” wrote Lew Leone, general manger of WNYW. “It is no accident that Cablevision keeps getting into these fights over and over and over again.”

The blackout on television and the Web brought criticism from public interest groups and lawmakers who said the broadcaster-cable contract dispute harmed consumers. And some called for the Federal Communications Commission to step in to mediate negotiations.

“The Commission’s broader public interest role requires the agency to take regulatory note of the unique circumstances in the New York area,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), said in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Sunday.

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) said he would introduce a bill that would empower the FCC to act as a more active mediator in such disputes. Fox and Cablevision’s battle is the sixth retransmission dispute this year to result in television blackouts, and analysts say each battle becomes a new watermark for even more aggressive contract negotiations for other firms.

Genachowski has not indicated if the agency would intervene directly in negotiations. In a statement last Saturday, the chairman said federal law leaves such negotiations to private companies.

But he said the agency has urged the two firms to “engage in good faith negotiations and to reach an agreement that will end this viewing interruption as quickly as possible.”

Markey noted that Fox’s blocking of its content to Cablevision’s Internet subscribers presented additional concerns that it was violating FCC’s guidelines that consumers should be able to access content on the Internet of their choice.

“The FCC needs to more than monitor negotiations in such circumstances in my view,” Markey wrote. “It needs to actively defend Internet freedom and consumer rights.”

By Cecilia Kang  | October 18, 2010; 12:01 AM ET
 
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Comments

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Posted by: jeremyrenner18 | October 18, 2010 2:23 AM | Report abuse

People went to bars (that had DirectTV) to watch the NY Giants game. I also didn't hear about a stampede to Walmart or Radio Shack for TV antennas like what happened earlier this year with Cablevision-ABC dispute (just before the Oscars). The message that Cablevision put on the screen doesn't even suggest that viewers can get an TV antenna to watch Fox over the air. Also, I don't hear Verizon capitalizing on this with ads telling Cablevision viewers to switch to FiOS. All I know is that people with Cablevision are mad a both sides of this dispute.

Earlier this year, Rob Pegoraro wrote in his Faster Forward blog after the Cablevision ABC dispute ended that this would happen again. If it keeps happening maybe you'll see more antennas a satellite dishes on rooftops as a result?

Posted by: TheNervousCat | October 18, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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