Cablevision Subscribers Facing Loss of Fox Shows

Cablevision customers may want to make backup plans for watching this Sunday’s Giants football game.

There is a possibility that Cablevision’s three million customers in the New York metropolitan area will lose access to Fox programming if the cable company cannot come to new terms with the News Corporation , the owner of Fox Broadcasting, by Friday night.


The two media giants are locked in contentious negotiations over retransmission consent, which gives Cablevision the right to carry local Fox stations like WNYW Channel 5 and WWOR Channel 9. As is common in these disputes, an advertising battle is now under way, and viewers are being asked to choose a side.

The News Corporation’s biggest cable channels, like Fox News and FX, are not directly affected by the negotiations, but three of its smaller channels, the Fox Business Network, Fox Deportes, and Nat Geo Wild, are.

Cablevision’s current contract expires at midnight Friday, so the programming will stop early Saturday morning unless the parties agree to new terms or agree to extend negotiations.

“It is News Corp.’s decision whether or not to pull the plug,” a Cablevision spokesman said on Wednesday night.

Retransmission disputes routinely go to the wire, but rarely result in the loss of programming. Cablevision and the News Corporation, though, have each played hardball in other recent disputes.

At stake, according to Cablevision, is at least $80 million, which eventually is paid by TV subscribers. In a print advertisement Wednesday, Cablevision claimed that the News Corporation wants “over $150 million per year” in fees for the Fox stations and for some of its cable channels, up from the “over $70 million a year” that Cablevision currently pays for the channels.

In the ad, Cablevision accuses the News Corporation of “threatening” to take away sports matches that are to be televised by Fox, like Sunday’s Giants-Bears game.

In a competing ad on Wednesday, the News Corporation placed the onus on Cablevision, claiming that “Cablevision could be taking your teams away from you!” The ad directed customers to two competing distributors, DirecTV and Verizon.

Lew Leone, vice president and general manager at Channel 5 in New York, said in a televised commentary Tuesday night, “Personally, I pay Cablevision $211 per month, and on Sunday, I hope to be able to enjoy the Giants game from my home. If not, it’s off to my parents’, where they have a service that already recognizes the exceptional value of our two TV stations.”

Television production is expensive, and stations say retransmission deals create a critical source of revenue. Distributors like Cablevision push back, saying that the stations are still available free over the public airwaves and on the Internet.

Confrontations between channel owners and the distributors of those channels are now a regular event, and in March, customers of Cablevision lost access to the ABC network, and the beginning of the Academy Awards show, for almost a full day before a new retransmission deal was struck. Invariably, the two sides eventually come to a compromise.

Separately, the News Corporation is also fighting with the Dish Network over carrying its Fox regional sports networks and two entertainment channels, FX and the National Geographic Channel. They were all taken off of Dish’s system on Oct. 1 and remain off because of the impasse.

The loss of access to Dish’s 12 million subscribers seems to be having an impact on the entertainment channels: Viewing on FX has declined since Dish was cut off. For the 10-day period from Oct. 1 to 11, FX averaged 565,000 viewers for its total day of programming. For the comparable period in September, the channel averaged 765,000 viewers. National Geographic Channel has seen a similar decline, to 200,000 viewers from 260,000.

The FX fall-off is notable because in mid-September, the network brought back its most popular hourlong program, “Sons of Anarchy.” The show is down about 10 percent in the ratings from last year.

Executives at FX declined to comment on the record because they have been discouraged from speaking about the fee dispute with Dish. But one executive who works for Fox Cable Networks said it was assumed at the company that the loss of viewers could be tied, at least to some degree, to losing Dish access.

The dispute between Dish and the News Corporation could intensify at the end of the month, when Dish’s contracts for retransmission of local Fox stations come up for renewal in the midst of the World Series, to be televised by Fox.