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.