Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fox/Cablevision: Day 3 Of Standoff Continues

RBR-TVBR Here it is: Tuesday, 10/19/10 and the battle continues: It is over retransmission fees which to a number of reports Cablevision is estimated to be paying $70 million a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in dispute. Fox parent, News Corp., is rumored to want more than $150 million a year for that same programming.

And 3 million Cablevision homes are without Fox programming which includes the National League baseball championship series between the Giants and Phillies and NO NFL football and consumers, politicians are all getting into the act.

Monday, 10/18/10, Charles Schueler, Cablevision's executive vice president of communications, put out this release stating: "When broadcasters like News Corp. remove their signals, they hurt viewers in an attempt to gain business leverage. Cablevision agrees to submit to binding arbitration, as called for by more than 50 elected officials from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut as the fastest and fairest way to return Fox programming to Cablevision viewers. We call on News Corp. to do the same."

The fight over retransmission is a continuing battle and a prime example of how networks are struggling for profit. Advertising dollars in many respects are shrinking as money is redistributed to 'New Media' portals.

But the networks are seeing their programming cost escalate. Networks broadcast their signals free over the airwaves but with increased programming costs especially with live sporting events networks are pitted against cable TV and satellite operators for dollars for their programming and signals.

The networks are claiming the cable operators are charging hefty subscription fees every month.
Editors note: Just examine the number of broadcast packages offered by any cable/satellite company and if you are a customer you know those fees. And in many respects consumers in the current economy have cut back on their paid programming packages.

Now we have the first mega stand off between two giants and it is over money and once this is resolved wonder how much the consumer is going to pay.

The New Jersey delegation to the US Senate, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), are calling for the FCC to impose itself into the dispute over retransmission fees between News Corp./Fox and Cablevision. The senators represent constituents in both the New York and Philadelphia DMAs, both affected by the dispute.

In a letter for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, they urged the FCC to act as an intermediary between the two, and to begin swift action of a petition to modify the rules governing retransmission consent negotiations pending since March.

“Unfortunately, the FOX and Cablevision dispute is not an isolated incident,” they asserted. “Disputes between broadcasters and video providers appear to be increasing. Just last March, Cablevision and Disney/WABC-TV failed to reach an agreement and the WABC-TV signal was pulled from Cablevision. While that signal was eventually restored, it was only after Cablevision customers were without WABC-TV for approximately 20 hours, including the first 15 minutes of the Academy Awards broadcast."
"Upcoming retransmission consent negotiations between FOX and the DISH Network may put even more hardworking New Jerseyans at risk of losing television programming that they have come to expect and rely on for their local news and entertainment. We are deeply troubled that consumers are repeatedly being used as pawns in these programming disputes.”

They concluded, “We urge the FCC to work diligently and expeditiously to consider the comments that have been filed on that petition and revise its rules. We ask that the FCC provide us with a response within five business days that outlines a firm schedule for the FCC’s action on the pending retransmission consent petition (MB Docket No. 10-71). Continued delay in reforming the retransmission consent process will only harm consumers in New Jersey and throughout the country.”

Consumer note: If you check the web, News Corp. set up a website pointing Cablevision subscribers to find other ways to get Fox programming, http://www.keepfoxon.com/ helps consumers find providers by zip code.

FCC Issues Consumer Advisory Over Fox/Cablevision Dispute

Consumers stuck in the middle of the retransmission fee dispute between News Corporation programming properties and MVPD Cablevision are no doubt frustrated. The FCC responded by issuing a consumer advisory that explains what’s going on and suggests options that may be at a Cablevision subscribers’ disposal.

First among them is one that Cablevision might not be too fond of – it is the option of going to a competing MVPD. The FCC notes that AT&T, DIRECTV, DISH Network, RCN (limited areas of Brooklyn), and Verizon FIOS are possibilities, although not all are available throughout the Cablevision service area.

The FCC also suggests picking the three affected Fox television O&Os -- WNYW & WWOR in the New York City area and WTXF in the Philadelphia area, directly off air, using a digital receiver or an analog receiver run through a converter box, each with an appropriate antenna.

RBR-TVBR observation: Despite frequent requests from elected politicians, the FCC has taken pains to point out that it has very little power to do anything. It also made a statement that echoes what the NAB has been saying all along. It’s statement – “In almost all cases, agreement is reached and the station is carried without interruption.” – is practically NAB boilerplate.

Legislators make the law – maybe they should learn the law as well. By law, this is a free negotiation – according to the FCC, other than requiring that negotiations be conducted “in good faith” – and try proving bad faith in court some time – Congress has given the FCC no teeth in the matter.

The danger here, of course, is that Congress WILL do some lawmaking. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is already on record saying he will get the ball rolling.

Companies that want to play hardball within the business – and Cablevision is a frequent player – just ask Disney/ABC and Scripps/Food Net/HGTV – may soon find themselves playing hardball on Capitol Hill.

Broadcast Union News: The airwaves belong to the people, you remember, the "We The People" mentioned from time to time. Perhaps Fox doesn't deserve an FCC license and maybe Cablevision subscribers should get a rebate on their cable bill for services purchased, but not provided. Greedy and greedier, fighting over who can gouge the most is particularly ugly when the public interest is ignored. Shame on them both.

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