Article: Fox, Cablevision standoff continues

No material progress made during Sunday negotiations
By CYNTHIA LITTLETON
Variety
October 17, 2010
Spin war as stations go dark

Execs from Cablevision and Fox ended their meeting on Sunday with no resolution to the carriage dispute that has left three million subscribers in Philadelphia and Gotham without Fox stations.

According to sources, no material progress was made in today’s meeting. But execs did agree to meet again on Monday.

This was the second day of negotiations that began hours after Fox’s stations went dark on Cablevision systems when the previous carriage deal expired.

Fox played serious hardball on Saturday in blocking Cablevision broadband subscribers from accessing programming on Fox.com and Hulu.

A source familiar with the situation said Fox took that step in an effort to maximize its leverage with Cablevision, but backed down after it became clear that the move would cause major strife in Washington, where Congress and the FCC are already in the midst of setting net neutrality and broadband policies. Such manipulation of consumers’ broadband access is exactly the type of action that net neutrality, endorsed by the FCC and Obama administration, is designed to prevent.

Cablevision broadband customers were blocked from accessing Fox.com and Hulu for hours on Saturday but all access was expected to be restored by Saturday evening, a source said.

Ed Markey (D-Mass.), raised a red flag about Fox’s broadband-blocking step in a letter he sent to FCC chief Julius Genachowski Saturday urging him to bring the companies to the FCC and have the commission “broker an agreement.” The FCC “needs to actively defend Internet freedom and consumer rights,” Markey wrote in reference to Fox’s broadband-blocking move.

“Fox has sunk to a new low in its bullying tactics, blocking Cablevision customers from accessing Fox and Hulu websites,” said a statement from the American Television Alliance, a coalition of cable operators, including Cablevision, satcasters and telco operators that is pushing the FCC and pols to make major changes on the law governing station retransmission agreements.

The loss of the Fox’s WNYW and WWOR New York and WTXF Philadelphia. via cable comes just as WNYW carried Saturday’s start of baseball’s National League Championship Series and Sunday’s Detroit Lions-New York Giants football game.

The contract fight has been heightened by the intensity of the public spin war waged as the companies make their cases to viewers in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. (Cablevision systems also serve outlying areas of the Philadelphia market.) Genachowski let the companies know in a statement issued Saturday ayem after the shutdown that he’s keeping a close eye on the dispute and that he expects the companies to “live up to (their) responsibility” to consumers.

Cablevision has sought to push the FCC to mandate that the station signals stay up while the sides engage in third-party binding arbitration to reach a deal.

“We have accepted the bipartisan calls from scores of political leaders to reach a fair agreement, and demand that News Corp. also agree and immediately return its Fox programming to Cablevision customers,” Cablevision said in a statement Saturday afternoon.

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