Policy

Dolans, Murdoch In Next Retrans Scrap

9/13/2010 11:15 AM Eastern

The next big retransmission-consent deal on cable’s
calendar — between Cablevision
Systems and Fox Broadcasting —
appears to so far be without the enmity
usually associated with such
negotiations, either a sign of a new
era of decorum in carriage talks or
just the calm before the storm.

Cablevision’s retransmission-consent deal with Fox — involving
WNYW, the Fox owned-and-operated
network flagship station, and
possibly some cable networks —
will expire in October, and so far,
all is quiet on the hype front. Cablevision
officials were not available
for comment. News Corp.
appeared to start up the rhetoric
in another potential fight —
its carriage agreements with Dish
Network expire in October and
November — but so far has been
silent regarding Cablevision.

According to a report on TVPredictions.com, a TV and technology
Web forum, Dish’s agreements
with FX, Fox Sports Net and National
Geographic Channel end on
Oct. 1 and its deals with owned-and-operated local Fox TV stations
expire on Nov. 1. On Sept. 8,
according to TVPredictions.com,
some Fox stations warned of the
impending Dish agreement expiration
and urged viewers to go
to www.getwhatIpaidfor.com for
more information. However, as of
Sept. 9, that Web site was not live and
Fox station websites made no references
to the Dish negotiations.

Representatives from Fox and
Dish declined to comment.

While there is still more than
a month to go before negotiations
should reach a head, so far
the Cablevision-Fox talks are
free from any early posturing on
either side. That is in stark contrast
to Time Warner Cable and
The Walt Disney Co., which revived
retrans-oriented Web sites
last July to “educate” consumers
about a deal that didn’t expire
until Sept. 2.

Although a deal was
reached earlier this month, early
on in the negotiations, Time Warner
Cable also had to weather an
ad campaign from rival Verizon
Communications’ FiOS TV, which
took out full page ads in July in
the MSO’s biggest markets warning
customers they could lose access
to ABC programming unless
they switched to FiOS.

FiOS TV spokeswoman Heather
Wilner said the telco is not planning
a similar campaign against
Cablevision, at least for the time
being. “We will assess the situation
as it comes up and we’ll go
from there,” Wilner said.

Just how the negotiations evolve
is anyone’s guess, but if the past is
any indication, these talks have all
the makings of a battle royal.

Cablevision has had two recent
carriage dustups that have resulted
in networks being pulled by
programmers from its systems
— with Disney’s ABC television
station in New York in March,
which was resolved 43 minutes
into the Oscars’ broadcast, and
with Scripps Networks Interactive
in January, which resulted in
the loss of HGTV and Food Network
for about three weeks. Cablevision
in both matters refused
to pay what they called exorbitant
fees that would ultimately
be passed on to customers.

Asked on an August conference
call to discuss second-quarter
results if Cablevision learned
anything from those carriage disputes,
Cablevision chief operating
officer Tom Rutledge replied: “Every
company is different.”

Fox had its own retrans dustup
in New York in January with
Time Warner Cable, which despite
a round of name-calling on
both sides, was resolved without
any service disruption for cable
customers.

Fox appears to have more leverage
against Cablevision in
that the broadcast network is
scheduled to carry major league
baseball’s Nat ional League
Championship Series, beginning
on Oct. 16, and the World Series,
starting Oct. 27. Also during the
month and beyond, Fox will continue
to carry National Football
League contests.

Miller Tabak media analyst David
Joyce said in an e-mail that he
believes both sides see the danger
in a protracted fight and may take
measures to avoid a battle. He added
that because Cablevision operates
in essentially one market, it
must “tread carefully” to retain subscribers
and preserve the long-term
economics of its business model.

“Fox could play tougher here,
but as with the Time Warner Cable/
Disney agreement, there is a
possibility this time around that
a longer-term, more broadly-encompassing
deal could be involved
that could integrate ‘TV
Everywhere’ authentication aspects
and more VOD aspects of
video content,” Joyce wrote.

Collins Stewart media analyst
Tom Eagan said he believes the
negotiations have the potential
to turn nasty.

“I don’t think it will be quite as
easily negotiated,” Eagan said.

September