Cablevision, Fox Have Brief Talks, But Bickering Continues

Still no deal; companies to negotiate more on Tuesday

NEW YORK - More talks, more bickering, still no progress. That's the bottom line of day three of the programming blackout that resulted from a carriage fee dispute between News Corp./Fox and Cablevision Systems.

The news seemed to confirm expectations on Wall Street Monday that the latest carriage showdown would not immediately be resolved.

More conversations between the two sides are expected Tuesday, but not in person at News Corp. headquarters, the focus of the action in recent days, but via phone, a Fox spokesman said. It is believed that key Fox executives are on their way back to the West Coast.

"Monday morning the parties talked again briefly," Fox said in a statement after the market close Monday. "Unfortunately, no significant progress was made because Cablevision continues to demand preferential treatment and rejects the same fair terms that have been accepted by other providers in the market."
Once again, calls for third-party arbitration or political intervention were part of the rhetoric Monday, and satellite TV provider Dish Network joined Cablevision's call for the government to take a role in major disputes.

"When broadcasters like News Corp. remove their signals, they hurt viewers in an attempt to gain business leverage," a Cablevision spokesman said. He reiterated the cable company's willingness to submit to binding arbitration, adding: "We call on News Corp. to do the same."

"It is increasingly clear that Cablevision’s real intention is to continue making this their subscribers’ problem in the hope that with enough inconvenience, politicians will intervene to protect Cablevision’s huge profits - nearly $795 per subscriber last year," Fox said. "That is why Cablevision is calling for “arbitration” despite knowing that this is not a serious solution. After all, Cablevision would never agree to arbitration for its own MSG cable network."
Fox also once again took issue with Cablevision's argument that Fox is seeking $150 million in fees, calling that "false information."

Meanwhile, Dish, which has been in a cable channel carriage dispute with Fox that led to the loss of networks at the beginning of the month, is also facing a loss of Fox TV stations at the end of the month as the two firms haven't reached a deal yet either. A Dish spokeswoman said the company hopes that the Cablevision-Fox dispute will "shed light on our own dispute." She added that Dish was "pleased that so many consumers, political leaders and public policy groups have recognized the need for government intervention to protect consumer rights."

Sen. John Kerry on Saturday repeated his call for new legislation to update the FCC's role in arguments over what kind of retransmission consent fees broadcasters should get from distributors. A spokeswoman for him said Monday that he plans to introduce a bill that would ensure continuing network carriage in the case of disputes, as well as give the FCC the power to recommend binding arbitration, between the mid-term election and January's start of the new Congress. He doesn't have a co-sponsor in the House of Representatives yet. Kerry is also proposing that if one side doesn't agree to arbitration, both parties' best final offers would be made public.

The FCC, which on Friday did recommend that the two parties bring in a third-party mediator, on Monday reiterated its view that it is doing what it can. "We are continuing to urge the parties to reach a quick resolution for consumers," a spokeswoman said. "Until this matter is resolved, the FCC will continue to educate consumers about all of their options."