Another retransmission-consent fracas has broken out, this
one pitting Cox Communications Inc. against a Fox TV-station affiliate in Norfolk, Va.
WVBT-TV, angling for a lower dial position on Cox's
program lineup, is threatening to pull its signal from the cable operator Jan. 1, which
would affect roughly 410,000 subscribers in the Hampton Roads, Va., market.
WVBT currently has a must-carry deal with Cox that expires
Dec. 31, and it wants retransmission consent for next year. The station, managed by LIN
Television Corp., is now carried on channel 43 by Cox, and it wants to be moved down to
anywhere between channels 2 and 14 so it can be more competitive with other broadcasters
in the market.
Both Cox and WVBT are running full-page ads in local
newspapers arguing their cases to the public. And both of their Web sites outline their
arguments in the dispute.
Cox's Web site, for example, includes a letter from
Cox general manager Franklin Bowers, who says, "We simply want to keep Fox on Cox, as
In an interview, Bowers said there is no space in the
lower-channel slots for WVBT, a former The WB Television Network affiliate that converted
to Fox just over a year ago.
"We really don't have enough flexibility,"
he said. "We don't think we have to turn everything upside down. It's a
Bowers added that a Cox survey found that 90 percent of
respondents said they were fine with WVBT being on channel 43, and that they had no
trouble finding it and punching it into their remotes.
WVBT's battle cry is, "Let's put Fox lower
on Cox." On its Web site, the channel asks Web surfers to vote on whether they want
the TV station moved to a lower channel slot on Cox's lineup.
The station claimed that it offered to pay Cox "for
the time and effort it would take to change our cable-channel position." WVBT station
manager Chris Nesbitt said the station offered Cox cash and said it would run an ad
schedule on the cable system in exchange for getting a lower channel position. Cox
declined the offer.
Nesbitt argued that as a Fox affiliate, rather than a WB
outlet, WVBT "became a much stronger station," and it deserves a better
The standoff in Hampton Roads isn't the only place
where cable operators and TV stations are at odds over the renewal of their
In Columbus, Ohio, Time Warner Communications has gone to
court to stop a CBS affiliate, WBNS-TV, from pulling its signal effective Jan. 1. In that
DMA, the owner of the TV station is trying to force Time Warner to carry its regional news
service, Ohio News Network.
In 1993, Cox had a dispute with LIN's owned station in
Hampton Roads, NBC affiliate WAVY-TV, which resulted in the broadcaster temporarily
pulling the station from the cable system.
On the Cox Web site, Bowers said, "At Cox, we know
that nobody wins in these situations, and a confrontation like this is the last thing we
want. But at the same time, we don't appreciate our customers being bullied."
Referring to the current standoff with WVBT, Bowers said,
"This is a typical LIN move. It's very aggressive."
Nesbitt has his eye on a couple of lower channel slots
where he thinks Cox could put WVBT. The cable operator carries LNC, a local news network,
on channel 4, and local community-programming service WCOX on Channel 11.
Bowers wants those two services to stay put. He pointed
out, for example, that WCOX is not destination programming, and viewers will have a hard
time finding if it has a high channel position.
He added that viewers looking for marquee Fox programming,
such as The X-Files,will find WVBT regardless of its channel slot.