Fox/Cablevision talks getting political attention


With an apparent wide gulf between retransmission fees Fox would like and Cablevision would like to pay, subscribers in Cablevision’s service area are thinking their immediate future may include a blackout of popular professional baseball and football programming. And that has Rep. Pete King (R-NY) calling for binding arbitration.

King asked that if the two companies fail to agree to submit to arbitration, that at a minimum Fox not pull its channels in the event that an agreement is not reached before the current contract expires.

In a statement, King said, “I am increasingly concerned that this deadline may pass without a resolution, and Long Island consumers will lose their programming. This would be an unconscionable result and unfair to sports and programming fans who have no part in this fight.”

He added, “Accordingly, I urge both Cablevision and News Corp. to agree, now, to submit to a binding arbitration before a neutral third party to get a contract. Further, I urge them, even while that arbitration is pending, not to remove programming from Cablevision customers so long as the parties are engaged in the arbitration or negotiating. This protects both parties’ reasonable positions, ensures a timely contract resolution, and protects consumers from becoming pawns in a price battle between two businesses, both of which are important to Long Island consumers.”

According to the Asbury Park Press, Cablevision says Fox was receiving $70M for the programming in question and now wants more than double that amount. The current contract expires at Friday midnight 10/15/10.

RBR-TVBR observation: Many in Capitol Hill have argued, correctly, that retransmission fees are a free market negotiation; that the free market is the best way in which to establish the worth of program content; and that although the process can be noisy at times, it is almost always resolved in a timely manner.

But for almost any politician, all free market bets are off, if bigtime sports are involved, in the politician’s jurisdiction. That particular combination has the potential to turn the most ideologically-pure free-market enthusiast into what former Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC) called “a born-again regulator.”

We’ll see how this plays out. If it is like 99% of such negotiations, it will be resolved without any disruption of service.

And for all you Cablevision subscribers out there, we have only two words of advice: rabbit ears.