Fox-Cablevision spat feeding web-based cable company's growth spurt

Jim O'Neil

News Corp.'s blackout of Cablevision in the New York and Philadelphia area has certainly caused some viewer consternation. Some three million of them have missed their favorite Fox programming like Glee, the National League Divisional Series, several football games and, starting tonight, the World Series.

But Todd Weaver, CEO of start up web cable company ivi TV has watched the nearly two-week-long brouhaha (and has his eye on the looming fight between Fox and Dish Network that could start Sunday) with the anticipation of a cat watching a fishbowl.

Ivi TV, which launched a month ago, live streams content from TV stations in Seattle and New York on the web for $4.99 a month... including the Fox affiliate in New York, WNYW. That means, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection, you'll be able to watch, with no delay, everything you're missing while Cablevision and Fox fight their death match.

Weaver won't talk about the number of subscribers ivi TV has attracted, he's in the process of putting together funding and so is keeping the numbers quiet. But, he now says the company is "growing faster than any cable company has ever grown" and says, it's outstripping many small operators. In fact, he says ivi TV has shown 320 percent growth in the New York area. He says 300 percent of that are people with Cablevision connections at their homes. Of course those numbers can be attributed to the subscriber base being so small to begin with, any growth will seem explosive. But, the fact of the matter is that Weaver's company is showing growth... can Cablevision say that?

Rumor is that subscribers are cancelling with Cablevision by the boatload. And that, one reader tells me, is causing call center waits of up to 30 minutes. Cablevision also is suggesting subscribers who can't get Fox content to buy an antennae.

According to Antennas Direct, Cablevision subscribers are listening.

"Once again, the gods have smiled upon us, and we are blessed by the bad fortune and shortsightedness of the cable companies," said Richard Schneider, AD president. "A DTV antenna is bringing their subscribers the content they can't deliver with a much better picture and all at no cost. We love competing with cable companies."

With the World Series about to start, things are getting a little more tense at Cablevision as well, where president and CEO Jimmy Dolan yesterday reiterated his plea to the FCC that they step in and get negotiations moving.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Dolan wrote that Cablevision was ready to meet with News Corp.'s Chase Carey should Genachowski call a meeting between the two. And, he promised, he'd arrive with "new, constructive offers, prepared to reach agreement." Fox has maintained that this is a deal that can only be worked out between the two companies and threatened a lawsuit, claiming Cablevision reps were demeaning it to customers and sending them to web sites that carry Fox content.

Curiouser and curiouser. However if a deal is to be reached, it had better happen soon... or ivi TV's Weaver could end up being one fat cat. -Jim

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