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Tribune-Cablevision Deal Ends Blackout in New York Tri-State Area

Cablevision logo - H 2012

After more than two months during which viewers could not watch football and baseball, or shows like "Glee" on Fox, the two sides settle a bitter battle over retransmission fees.

Just in time for the rest of the World Series, a blackout by Cablevision of Tribune TV stations in parts of New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Denver and Pennsylvania caused by a retransmission dispute has finally been settled after an acrimonious two months of negotiations.

The settlement is also good news for NFL fans, and could help syndicated programs, including the Ricki Lake Show, which have not been airing in the affected markets. It also provides access once again to such Fox shows as Glee, X-Factor and NASCAR.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the announcements on Friday.

Cablevision, which has over 3.3 million subscribers, is one of the largest cable TV providers in the tri-state area, so tens of thousands of homes were denied programming from WPIX (Channel 13) in New York City; Fox affiliate WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut;  (Fox CT), WPIX (CW) and WCCT (CW); My Network affiliate WPHL in Philadelphia; and CW affiliate KWGN in Denver, which was carried in some of Cablevision’s Optimum West markets.

It also restores access to WGN-TV from Chicago, which is carried in some Cablevision’s Optimum West service area.

"We are pleased to have reached agreement with Tribune to return its stations to Cablevision, particularly its Fox affiliate in Connecticut, the only source of Fox programming for about 50,000 of our customers,” Cablevision said in a statement issued Friday. “We sincerely appreciate the patience of our customers as we worked to reach an agreement that is consistent with our focus on minimizing the impact of rising programming costs on cable rates."

Tribune said in a statement: "We thank our viewers for their loyalty and continued support. You can look forward to the return of your favorite CW shows.”

This is the latest in a series of disputes over retransmission fees. Those are payments that cable operators make to local stations in their market for the right to carry those signals and re-sell them to their subscribers. In this case, the two month long dispute meant that many viewers were not able to watch NFL games and baseball playoff games that were carried on Fox.

The settlement comes in the wake of increasing political pressure to settle. In recent weeks Connecticut politicians Senator Richard Blumenthal and 114th District State Senator Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford had urged the Federal Communications Commission to bring pressure on Cablevision and Tribune to end the blackout. In reality, the FCC can do little since it is a dispute between two private companies, but the public comments heated up the atmosphere around the secretive negotiations.

In public statements the two sides had made it clear that there was no love lost. Cablevision, based on Long Island, New York, had said that Tribune was trying to hold it up for big retrains payments because it is bankrupt and desperately needs the funds to keep operations going.

Shortly after the blackout began in August, Cablevision said, "The bankrupt Tribune Company and the hedge funds and banks that own it, including Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo Gordon & Co. and others are trying to solve Tribune's financial problems on the backs of Cablevision customers."

Earlier this week Cablevision had asked Tribune to lift the blackout in certain markets so that fans could watch the San Francisco Giants play the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Tribune had rebuffed that request.

Cablevision charged that Tribune was “holding sports fans hostage” not just for money but also by tying the deal to negations for carriage of other less popular Tribune stations, including the CW Network and superstation WGN. Tribune said it just wanted to be paid for all that it offers, not just for the Fox outlets.