Fox, Cablevision war of words goes on; Dolan asks for mediation again

The Civil War it's not, but the battle between Cablevision and Fox over retransmission fees continues to drag on with Fox threatening to sue, Cablevision reiterating it wanted the FCC to help mediate the dispute, and at least one competitor hitting the streets of New York to offer viewers affected by the blackout an alternative.

Yesterday, Cablevision CEO James Dolan reiterated his willingness to work toward a solution in the fight that has left some 3 million Cablevision subscribers without Fox programming since Oct. 16. Dolan sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski promising to meet with News Corp.'s Chase Carey should Genachowski decide to call a meeting in Washington between the two.

"In the interest of ending this impasse with News Corp. and ensuring that our customers are not deprived of the World Series, I am writing to reconfirm our commitment to a mediation process," Dolan wrote. He also said that "only with your assistance" could "productive, good faith talks occur." Dolan vowed he'd "come ready with new, constructive offers, prepared to reach agreement (Wednesday)."

Whether News Corp. is willing to listen is another matter. The company has continued to maintain the issue is one that must be negotiated between the two companies, without the need of government or agency intervention.

"Cablevision's assertions that Fox has been operating in violation of the FCC's good faith rule should be dismissed," it told the FCC. "Once Cablevision realizes that it has to negotiate with Fox, rather than the government, they will hopefully come back to the table and begin negotiating again in earnest." Fox also maintained that the FCC isn't empowered to order arbitration. And, it said, if the FCC attempts to force Fox to give Cablevision access to its signal, it would be a First Amendment violation. "The Commission cannot mandate carriage of a broadcaster's signal without its consent," Fox said.

Cablevision claims News Corp. is seeking some $150 million for rights to its content, more than the MSO currently pays for ABC, CBS and NBC combined. News Corp. has disputed that number, saying it's simply looking to get value for its product.

Today, Fox said it is considering threatening legal action against Cablevison, claiming Cablevision customer service agents are making false claims about Fox when they talk to consumers who want to cancel subscriptions. Fox also said Cablevision is suggesting customers look to Internet sites that carry Fox content during the impasse.

For it's part, Cablevision today said it's continuing to negotiate in good faith, and again called for the FCC to get involved.

“We are trying to reach a deal that is fair for everyone, including our customers, but there has been absolutely no movement by Fox in their attempts to gain massive fee increases from Cablevision customers to carry broadcast signals that are free over the air," said Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s executive vice president of communications. "The FCC is the government agency charged with protecting television consumers and oversight of broadcast licenses.  We do not understand how protecting and interceding on behalf of TV viewers in 3 million blacked out households in the Northeastern United States does not fall under the FCC's purview. The FCC has the facts and our customers are demanding that the FCC act.”

The brouhaha has led to an increase in the number of antennas being sold in the New York metro area as well as driven viewers to sites that carry Fox content online.

One of them, start up ivi TV, which describes itself as a web-based cable operator, is making hay from the battle. The company streams broadcast content to the web, live, from all of the channels in the New York market, including Fox affiliate WYNY, and charges customers $4.99 a month. Over the past several days, ivi TV has had teams handing out flyers in the city, said spokesman Hal Bringman.

"We sent emails to all the Cablevision executives offering to partner with them so that they could leverage that against FOX’s tactics, but they have not responded," he said. "The blackout has been amazing for us because the affected FOX channels are available on ivi TV. No one needs to miss any of the games or their favorite shows."

Ivi TV CEO Todd Weaver yesterday said the operator has seen growth of 320 percent in New York, with 300 percent of that coming from homes with Cablevision connections.

For more:
- see this Forbes article
- see this Broadcasting & Cable  article

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