Cablevision Charges Tribune With 'Illegally Tying' Stations Deals

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Cablevision Systems stepped up the rhetoric Friday in its retrans battle with Tribune Co., accusing the broadcaster of trying to "illegally tie" agreements for its Fox affiliate in Hartford, Conn., and New York's WPIX -- a charge Tribune refuted, saying its approach was lawful and fully complies with FCC rules.

The Bethpage, N.Y.-based operator pulled four Tribune station feeds around midnight Friday, including WPIX, saying Tribune was demanding an tens of millions of dollars in new fees.

Tribune said Cablevision pulled its signals without warning, after the broadcaster told the MSO it was willing to continue providing the station feeds through Aug. 24 while the companies negotiated a new deal. According to Tribune, it is asking for less than a penny per day per subscriber in retrans fees, well below what Cablevision pays to "providers of less well-watched channels."

On Friday afternoon, Cablevision alleged that Tribune was illegally trying to bundle together deals for different stations.

"A major barrier to an agreement is Cablevision's strongly held view that Tribune is attempting to illegally tie the carriage of its Fox affiliate in Hartford to WPIX and other less popular Tribune-owned channels," Cablevision said. "We are pursuing both legal and regulatory options to stop Tribune's illegal tying and will continue to hold the line on increasing programming costs."

Asked for comment, Tribune said, "All of our retransmission agreements in the past with Cablevision, and the negotiations leading up to them, dating back two decades, have been for all Tribune stations in markets served by all Cablevision systems. Our negotiations and agreements with all other major cable providers and satellite carriers have been the same. This approach is more efficient, benefits subscribers, is completely lawful, and fully complies with the FCC's good faith negotiation rules."

The four stations affected are WPIX (The CW) in New York; WCCT (CW) in Waterbury, Conn.; KWGN (CW) in Denver; and Philadelphia's WPHL (MyNetwork). Cablevision is continuing to carry WTIC (Fox) in Hartford.

Cablevision noted that it has not raised rates in nearly two years. "In the face of difficult economy, Cablevision has held the line on rates, with no increase since late 2010 -- unique in the industry," the MSO said. "Tribune and its hedge fund owners should work with us to reach an agreement." 

Cablevision's carriage of Tribune's WGN America cable network, where the operator carries it, is unaffected by the retrans dispute.

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