Fox-Cablevision Dispute Threatens World Series

Lack of East Coast teams may weaken programmer's leverage; NFL Network seeks to capitalize on showdown

NEW YORK - The 10-day old Cablevision Systems-News Corp./Fox dispute is more and more likely to keep the World Series out of Cablevision's 3 million East Coast cable homes.

The Series starts on Fox on Wednesday, and while the FCC has put pressure on both sides to find a resolution ahead of the baseball season's final showdown, the two sides still don't seem closer to a new agreement that would allow Cablevision to carry Fox station signals and other content, the New York Times reiterated Monday.
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 today. The last known exchange between the two sides happened mid-week last week via telephone.

However, Wall Street analysts said that the biggest pressure on Cablevision to reach a quick deal is off with the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies both failing to clinch a spot in the World Series. Plus, the New York Giants are not scheduled for NFL action on Fox until Nov. 7.

"There is less time pressure now, but News lost some of its bargaining power since Cablevision systems are in both New York and Philly markets," said Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce. The Fox stations in those markets air MLB games and are a key part of the broader carriage dispute.

"It may stretch it out longer [and] does lessen pressure on Cablevision given how most consumers apportion blame," echoed Wunderlich Securities analyst Matthew Harrigan about the effect of the World Series matchup on the dispute.

Still, there remains quite a bit at stake. Fox may miss out on ratings and advertising revenue if the World Series doesn't air in Cablevision homes. Joyce said Cablevision homes make up 3% of Fox's ratings base, "which has an effect on ad revenue," although he didn't have an immediate estimate on how much money is at stake. A good percentage of playoff and World Series ad inventory is sold in packages well ahead of the games.

But at the same time Cablevision must worry that consumers will switch to Verizon's FiOS TV, DirecTV or other alternatives.

Fox on Friday issued a statement, suggesting that cable customers look for an alternative to Cablevision ahead of the World Series. "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.

Meanwhile, the NFL Network is looking to capitalize on the carriage dispute between Cablevision and Fox to get its own carriage agreement with Cablevision that would bring its Thursday night games to the cable company's subscribers, the New York Post reported Monday.

The network has asked Cablevision CEO James Dolan to accept the same binding arbitration process that the cable operator is insisting Fox agree to, according to the Post.

NFL Network chief Steve Borstein in a letter to Dolan said: "I'm encouraged to hear that Cablevision supports binding arbitration and would recommend that approach in our own discussions with you for carriage of NFL Network."
Cablevision declined to comment, the Post said.