Cablevision and Fox: No Hollywood Kisses

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At least Cablevision and Fox didn’t finish their retransmission-consent contractual contretemps as best buds.

Cablevision and Fox — after forestalling the festivities last year when the New York Yankees were a much more likely candidate to play in the American League Championship Series (the broadcaster had the rights) and meet the National League-favorite Philadelphia Phillies in the Fall Classic — had been out of contract since Oct. 16. After continually swiping at each other over, they finally struck a retransmission accord in principle in time for the first pitch of Game 3 of the 2010 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers.

As such, the signals for Fox’s broadcast stations in New York (WNYW FOX5 and WWOR MY 9) and Philadelphia (WTXF FOX 29) DMAs, as well as Fox Deportes, Fox Business Network and Nat Geo Wild, were back with Cablevision shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 30.

The parties’ dispute drew local and national political proclamations from on high, not to mention assorted character and economic aspersions (think Gordon Gecko’s greed, not paens on Glee) from each other. In the process, it also tackled Dr. Gregory House and NFL games, including Eli Manning’s New York Giants versus the mighty Detroit Lions; fanned the former tenants of the Polo Grounds in their six-game triumph over the Phils in the National League Championship Series; and shut out the first two games of the Fall Classic for some on local TV for the first time since 1994, when Bud Selig and the Major League Baseball Players Association engaged in their own game of economic disconnect.

The Cablevision and Fox deal, terms of which were not disclosed, came the day after the programmer and Dish Network ended their own license-fee stalemate. That one had kept 19 regional sports networks, FX and Nat Geo from Dish customers since Oct. 1. The accord also averted a much wider retrans battle with Fox owned-and-operated stations that could have ensued with the expiration of their deal on Nov. 1.

That prompted Gleeful statements from the formerly conflicted: “After prolonged negotiations to reach a fair deal, we’re pleased to enter into a long term agreement with Fox and to assure our customers that they can continue to enjoy these channels,” said Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming for Dish Network, in a statement. “We thank our customers, our retail and channel partners, and our employees for their support through these negotiations, which we believe resulted in a fair deal that reinforces Dish Network’s position as the best value in television.”

For his part, Mike Hopkins, president, Fox Networks affiliate sales and marketing, enthused: “I want to thank our partners at Dish Network who worked tirelessly to help us reach a successful conclusion. This agreement provides a strategic partnership between Fox and Dish to bring the best programming to Dish subscribers.”

But when all was said and done on Saturday evening, the programmer and the predominant New York MSO couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to feign Hollywood kisses.

Fox was matter of fact with its statement: “Fox Networks and Cablevision announced today that they have reached an agreement in principle for a new distribution agreement to provide more than 3 million households with programming from WNYW FOX5 and WWOR My9 in New York, WTXF FOX29 in Philadelphia, and the cable channels Fox Deportes, Fox Business Network, and Nat Geo Wild. The signals for all stations and cable channels were restored Saturday prior to the first pitch of World Series Game 3 on Fox.”

The cable operator wasn’t: “In the absence of any meaningful action from the FCC, Cablevision has agreed to pay Fox an unfair price for multiple channels of its programming, including many in which our customers have little or no interest. Cablevision conceded because it does not think its customers should any longer be denied the Fox programs they wish to see.”

Cablevision then thanked the 175 government leaders that echoed its call for binding arbitration, before rallying again for legislative correction: “It is clear the retransmission-consent system is badly broken and needs to be fixed.”

The MSO concluded by saying: “In the end, our customers will pay more than they should for Fox programming, but less than they would have if we had accepted the unprecedented rates News Corp. was demanding when they pulled their channels off Cablevision.”

Say what you will about the value of Fox, versus other broadcasters and the license fees paid to cable networks of varying quality and viewership.  It’s called pay TV for a reason, and it’s inevitable that distributors and ultimately consumers — unless they’re dropping out of the TV game altogether or cutting cords to inconveniently receive less access to the hundreds of available networks, and replace them in large part by video clips on smaller screens — are going to pay more for it.

In recent years, the parties on both sides of the traditional viewing equation have voted to air their license-fee negotiations and retransmission-consent laundry in public. Those elections may finally result in real — as opposed to the threat of — government and/or FCC intervention in these matters. Can’t imagine programmers and distributors truly see that as a happy Hollywood ending.

Kiss. Kiss.