Despite some late inning jockeying by both sides, Fox Networks and Cablevision Systems failed to reach a carriage agreement by the midnight Friday deadline, resulting in three broadcast stations and three cable networks going dark on the MSOs systems in the New York metropolitan area.
The sides were slated to resume negotiations at noon on Oct. 16, according to published reports.
At 12:01 a.m. broadcast stations WNYW channel 5 and WWOR channel 9 in New York went dark before the starts of episodes of The Simpsons and Tyler Perry's House of Payne. WTXF in Philadelphia also went dark for Cablevison customers as did cable networks Fox Deportes, NatGeo Wild and Fox Business Network. On the New York broadcast stations, Cablevision aired a lengthy message beginning : "We regret to inform you that News Corp., in an act of corporate greed, has pulled the plug on Fox 5 and My 9..."
The cable channels aired a terser version: "News Corp. has pulled this channel from your lineup along with Fox 5 and My 9. We are currently in negotiations with News Corp on a new programming agreement and hope to return this channel to your lineup quickly. For more information please tune to Channel 5 or visit cablevison.com/fox. Thank You."
Cablevision executive vice president of communications Charles Schueler urged the programmer to return to the negotiating table.
"News Corp.'s decision to remove Fox programming from three million Cablevision households is a black eye for broadcast television in America," Schueler said in the statement. "News Corp. has refused to negotiate in good faith and rejected calls from dozens of political leaders to not pull the plug and and join Cablevision in binding arbitration. We demand that News Corp. put the viewers ahead of its own greed and immediately restore these channels to our customers and agree to binding arbitration to reach a fair agreement. What is News Corp. afraid of?"
This is the third time a channel has gone dark on Cablevision this year during a carriage dispute. Back in January, Scripps Networks' Food Network and HGTV were dark for about three weeks before a deal was reached to restore them. In March, ABC broadcast station in New York went dark for several hours before a last minute deal was reached, about 10 minutes into the Academy Awards broadcast.
Fox has also had its skirmishes with distributors -- it reached a last minute deal with Time Warner Cable in New York in January after months of contentious negotiations and is currently locked in a battle with satellite giant Dish Network over its cable channels FX, NatGeo and 19 regional sports networks.
Cablevision has maintained that it has proposed paying Fox an amount that is equal to or above what it pays other broadcast channels. The MSO has claimed that Fox is demanding more than $150 million annually for all 12 of the channels it carries, more than double the $70 million the distributor is currently paying. Fox has countered that it is only asking for reasonable compensation for its content, adding that Cablevison pays $124 million a year for two sister regional sports networks - MSG and MSG Plus -- now owned by a separate company Madison Square Garden.
In a statement Fox Networks said Cablevision broke off talks at 8 p.m., declaring an impasse and refusing to negotiate further.
"After days of posturing and the appearance of negotiating, they formally stopped even the pretense of negotiating at 8 p.m. - declaring an "impasse" - and made no further efforts toward reaching a new agreement before the expiration," Fox Networks president of affiliate sales Michael Hopkins said in a statement. "We remain willing to negotiate and hope that future talks ultimately will be productive, but as of now Cablevision has declined to counter our most recent proposal. Regrettably, their efforts were focused more on calls for government intervention than constructive negotiations."
Cablevision tried to prevent the programmer from pulling the channels Friday, calling for Fox to agree to binding arbitration to settle their dispute while still allowing the MSO to carry the networks. More than two dozen legislators supported the move and the Federal Communications Commission even offered to help mediate a solution, to no avail. Fox has said that it believes arbitration would only reward Cablevision for failing to negotiate in good faith. The programmer has stressed that only direct business-to-business negotiations can resolve the dispute.
How long the channels will remain dark to Cablevision customers remains to be seen. Fox is believed to have the most leverage in the negotiations, mainly because of a wealth of upcoming sports programing. The broadcast network carries National Football League games - including the hometown New York Giants -- as well as Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series. If the dispute lasts further into the month, Cablevision customers could miss the World Series whcih begins on Oct. 27.