The Cablevision - Fox standoff continues to drag on: Cablevision subscribers haven't had access to Fox for over nine days. And with the World Series just days away, the prognosis is not good — sources tell me they're still far apart on negotiations and the two sides haven't talked since Thursday. This isn't just about the tens of millions of dollars in retransmission fees Cablevision pays Fox, this is about the future of government intervention in broadcast deals.
Tonight is the FCC's deadline for both Fox and Cablevision to submit proof that they're negotiating in good faith. The FCC sent both companies a letter Friday, demanding that they "detail the efforts your company is making to end the current impasse."
The letters are unlikely to be made public, but we can guess what they'll say. Cablevision will outline the case for the FCC to intervene, advocating that the FCC order binding arbitration and mandate that Fox return programming to the airwaves. Fox will send the FCC a chronological recount of what's happened, how they believe they've acted in good faith and are simply looking for the same fees from Cablevision as they get from other carriers.
Every day that passes, the stakes grow higher for all the constituents in this battle. Fox, which is losing the eyeballs in three percent of TV homes in the country, faces growing fees to advertisers to compensate for lost ratings. Cablevision risks losing subscribers to rivals like Verizon FiOS or DirecTV. And consumers are getting angrier and angrier about the prime-time programming like "Glee" and the sports they're missing out on.
What next? If the FCC finds the companies aren't negotiating in good faith it can penalize them with fines, and it can order them to return to the negotiating table. The FCC has jurisdiction to demand negotiations, citing Cablevision and Fox's statutory duty as broadcasters and programmers. But here's the key thing: the FCC does not currently have the legal authority to force binding arbitration. But that could change. The FCC could get an emergency order from Congress to intervene, and Senator John Kerry has proposed legislation to give the FCC more authority.
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