Sports fans ensnared in Fox, Cablevision rate duel

Negotiators for Cablevision and Fox parent News Corp. entered
another round of talks Sunday to resolve a dispute over rates that
has blacked out Fox’s channels, but subscribers who wanted to watch
an afternoon New York Giants football game were forced to make
alternate arrangements.

Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said the two sides were meeting but
reported no progress so far on Sunday. Fox and Cablevision also met
Saturday but failed to resolve the dispute.

Cablevision is the service provider for 3 million customers in
the New York area.

The stalemate that led to Fox pulling its channels and online
content Saturday was the latest in a series of programming fee
disputes that also have led to blackouts of other programs – such
as the Oscars – in parts of New York, New Jersey and
Connecticut.

The negotiations resumed hours before the start of the National
League Championship Series playoff game between the Philadelphia
Phillies and the San Francisco Giants. Game 2 of the series was
scheduled to air Sunday.

Cablevision says that News Corp. is asking for an additional $80
million a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in
dispute. That would more than double the yearly rate to $150
million, says the company, which is demanding that Fox enter into
binding arbitration.

Fox, meanwhile, blames Cablevision Systems Corp. ”In an effort
to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and
made numerous reasonable proposals, Mike Hopkins, president of Fox
Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, said in an earlier
release.

Grogin has said that Fox will continue negotiating ”as long as
there is a serious effort on the part of Cablevision.”

After negotiations ended later Saturday, Cablevision issued a
statement accusing News Corp. of using the sporting events ”to
hold viewers hostage,” calling it shameful.

By Saturday afternoon, Cablevision’s Internet customers were
blocked from watching Fox content on the network’s website and on
the video site Hulu, prompting U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to
call on the Federal Communications Commission to broker an
agreement and step in to ”defend Internet freedom and consumer
rights.”

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. has also asked the FCC to intervene.
The FCC encouraged the two parties to agree to binding arbitration
without suspending service and did not specify a mediator,
according to Jack Pratt, a spokesman for Israel.

Fox channels went black for Cablevision customers Saturday
shortly after midnight, when their previous deal expired. The
blackout affects Fox 5 and My9 in New York and the
Philadelphia-based Fox29. Subscribers also lost access to cable
channels Fox Business Network, NatGeo Wild and Fox Deportes.

This isn’t the first time this has happened: Other Cablevision
fee disputes earlier this year blacked out The Walt Disney Co.’s
ABC broadcast signal and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.’s Food
Network and HGTV.

And in a separate dispute with satellite TV company Dish Network
Corp., Fox cut access on Oct. 1 to 19 regional sports networks, FX
and the National Geographic Channel for some 14.3 million Dish
subscribers. That fight foreshadows more tough negotiations, as the
deal for Fox broadcast signals on Dish expires Oct. 31.