The dispute between Fox and the cable television company Cablevision over carriage fees has exploded, with the two companies publicly exchanging angry words about each other's behaviour during negotiations.
Three million Cablevision customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lost access to Fox's WNYW Fox 5 and My9 WWOR-TV when the clock ticked over to midnight (EST) on Saturday morning. According to The New York Times, a voiceover was subsequently read on the two stations launching a barrage of complaints against News Corporation, the owner of Fox.
Cablevision customers in Philadelphia also lost access to WTXF Fox 29 when midnight hit, while the Fox Business Network, NatGeo Wild and Fox Deportes cable channels went off the air as well.
The dispute between Fox and Cablevision stems from negotiations over a new agreement for carriage fees: payments made by Cablevision to obtain the rights to retransmit Fox stations. After months of fruitless wrangling and frantic efforts to agree on a deal in the last few days, the deadline for the completion of talks expired at midnight.
As the deadline approached, neither party appeared interested in reaching a deal with the other. The New York Times reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had offered to mediate between the two sides, but Fox knocked back the proposal, saying that "direct business-to-business negotiation" was required.
Both sides made it clear that based on their respective positions, an agreement was not close. The inability to reach a deal will deny affected viewers the ability to watch events such as the Detroit Lions-New York Giants football game on Sunday, and the start of Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series.
'Extortion', 'greed', 'posturing'
In a statement read out on air and published on its website, Cablevision accused News Corp of attempting to "extort" exorbitant carriage fees by increasing its demands to $150 million per year. It said that Fox's demands were more than Cablevision paid for "all of the other broadcast stations combined".
"News Corp, in an act of corporate greed, has pulled Fox 5 and My9 from your Cablevision channel lineup. This is an unfortunate attempt to extort unreasonable and unfair fee increases from Cablevision and our customers," the company said.
Variety reports that Fox launched its own volleys at Cablevision, accusing the cable provider of being uncooperative and hypocritical. Mike Hopkins, Fox Networks' president of affiliate sales and marketing, said that Cablevision had failed to negotiate in good-faith in response to "reasonable proposals".
"We remain far apart and Cablevision has made it clear that they do not share our view regarding the value of Fox's networks. After days of posturing and the appearance of negotiating, they formally stopped even the pretense of negotiating at 8pm - declaring an 'impasse' and made no further efforts toward reaching a new agreement before the expiration."
Fox said that Cablevision had been trying to secure "preferential treatment" in talks over retransmission consent.
As previously reported in TSR, Cablevision is one of several cable companies which joined together earlier this year to call for the FCC to take an active role in dispute resolution. The FCC does not currently have the power to submit parties to binding arbitration.
Nevertheless, the agency's chairman Julius Genachowski chided the parties in a statement, saying that they "share responsibility for protecting their audience's interests".
Media Spy discussion: US Television