FCC Urges Fox, Cablevision to Reach Carriage Deal 'Promptly'

Requests proof of 'good faith' negotiations by Monday; no signs of more talks yet

NEW YORK - The FCC continues to put pressure on Cablevision Systems and News Corp./Fox to reach agreement on a new carriage and retransmission deal to end a week-long dispute.

Meanwhile, the lack of East Coast powerhouses in the World Series may take some of the urgency out of the situation for Cablevision, according to observers.

William Lake, the chief of the Media Bureau of the government agency on Friday sent a letter to News Corp. president, COO and deputy chairman Chase Carey and Cablevision president and CEO James Dolan, urging them to put consumers' interests first and "conclude your negotiations promptly."

He also told the two companies to provide him with details on their dispute by Monday, so his team can evaluate whether negotiations have, as regulations require, been held "in good faith." If the FCC concludes one or both sides haven't engaged in good faith talks, it can demand they start doing so or impose fines.

"In particular, we request that you describe with specificity what has transpired since you initially began your negotiations and detail the efforts your company is making to end the current impasse," Lake said in his letter. "If you are aware of any conduct by the other side that you believe violates the good faith requirement, please so indicate and provide supporting evidence."

The comments came after FCC chairman Julius Genachowski had told the two sides earlier in the week to end their "petty gamesmanship."

Fox said it would reply to the Media Bureau. Cablevision said it welcomed the FCC intervention.

But the two haven't shown any real signs of moving towards a resolution. While spokesmen declined to discuss when more talks would happen, it appeared that no conversations were scheduled for the weekend as both sides said they would focus on providing the FCC the requested information by Monday. The last known exchange between the two sides happened mid-week via telephone.

With the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies both failing to clinch a spot in the World Series, which begins Wednesday, and the New York Giants not scheduled for NFL action on Fox until Nov. 7, Cablevision may feel less pressure to get a new retransmission consent deal for Fox stations in New York and Philadelphia done quickly. "It may stretch it out longer [and] does lessen pressure on Cablevision given how most consumers apportion blame," said Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan.

The stations are a key part of the broader carriage dispute. Due to the Fox blackout, Cablevision customers missed the Phillies' final game on Saturday and the NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Meanwhile, the New York Giants play Monday in a game that will air on ESPN, and the team has a bye week next weekend. 

Fox on Friday issued a statement, suggesting that cable customers look for an alternative to Cablevision given that the World Series is starting on Fox on Wednesday. "We urge those Cablevision subscribers who want to see the World Series (beginning October 27) to switch providers or purchase an over the air antenna now," the company said.

Cablevision said "the tie has come for News Corp. to end the Fox blackout of 3 million Cablevision households" whether through FCC action, binding arbitration, which Fox has rejected, "or any other means."