My Turn

Willner Seeks 'Cease Fire'

10/22/2010 4:09 PM

Cable CEO Michael Willner backed peer Jim Dolan today as the Cablevision-Fox retransmission dispute continued.

In his blog, Michael’s Insight, the Insight Communications chief said the prospect of Cablevision’s customers being locked out of watching the World Series raises the question of whether Fox has a public-interest obligation that goes with exclusive TV rights to the pinnacle of the nation’s pastime. He even raises the sensitive  prospect of “government oversight:”

“There is no question in my mind that Fox indeed has a corporate responsibility to refrain from withholding such an important event from consumers while they battle a distributor over money. They should do the right thing and simply call a cease fire during the week of the World Series and return the channel carrying the games to Cablevision customers.”

The FCC, meanwhile, has other advice for the 3 million Cablevision customers who haven’t gotten their Fox on since Oct. 16: Get an antenna and watch the digital over-air signal of the games if the outage persists. Not a bad idea, given that the online option after the fact hasn’t been completely predicable.

Fox offered similar advice:

“Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear that Cablevision believes FOX has very limited value to their customers. We urge those Cablevision subscribers who want to see the World Series (beginning October 27) to switch providers or purchase an over the air antenna now.”

Cablevision welcomed the FCC’s call to both parties to explain how they’ve been bargaining in good faith:

“Whether through FCC action, binding arbitration or any other means, the time has come for News Corp to end the Fox blackout of 3 million Cablevision households.”

Finally, the folks at UCBComedy.com posted a hilarious parody video of Cablevision’s blue screen of death. It’s pretty much an even-handed skewering. (Thanks to The Gothamist and Leslie Jaye Goff for the link.)

I none too sagely noted in print that there’s no precedent for having a big broadcast network off the air for an extended time (some affiliates have been off for weeks, though owned stations have been shorter outages). So I’ll spare you my prediction of how long this will last, other than to say it sounds like both sides are digging in.

Filling none of us here with glee.

March