Could 1-million Tampa Bay area cable TV households lose Fox channels due to News Corp.'s fight with Time Warner Cable?
It may feel like a rerun, but Fox TV owner News Corp. is threatening to pull its broadcast affiliates, cable channels and regional sports channels from all Time Warner Cable systems if both sides can't reach an agreement by Dec. 31.
Because Time Warner also secures content for Bright House Networks, the dispute could result in Fox-owned Tampa affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 being pulled from a cable system reaching nearly 1-million Bright House subscriber households in the Tampa Bay area. An additional 800,000 households could be affected in the Orlando region.
Overall, 30-million people in 13-million households could be affected in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Dallas and Detroit, as well as Orlando and Tampa.
The fight also might speak to the future of broadcast television, because Fox is trying to secure cash for the right to re-air its broadcast network.
Joe Durkin, a spokesman for Bright House, downplayed the fight and the possibility it might disrupt programming for Bright House, noting that such threats are often made during tough negotiations.
"This is a renegotiation of a longstanding contract that gets worked out every time," said Durkin. "This is somewhat of a routine part of the business. One side or the other starts to put some, um, an awareness out there for the consumers.But we fully expect this one will be worked out as well.”
The dispute became a news story today as Fox moved ahead with a media campaign to warn viewers about the coming showdown with print advertisements, TV ads, a call-in number 1-866-KEEP-FOX and a Web site dubbed www.keepfoxon.com (complete with a countdown clock and list of shows you's miss).
The Fox site says Time Warner charges as much as $36 monthly for basic cable service featuring six broadcast channels but doesn't share that revenue with broadcasters.
The Fox site highlights broadcast shows such as House, The Simpsons and American Idol, along with cable channels such as the speed network, FX, Fox Sports Networks and the Sun Sports Network.
"According to SNL Kagan, the equitable rate FOX is proposing for all its networks is in the same ballpark as what Time Warner pays for ONE cable network, ESPN," the Fox site says.
Time Warner has created its own site, rolloverorgettough.com, in which it asks visitors if it should "roll over or get tough" regarding unspecified TV networks which want a 300 percent increase in compensation. "In today’s economy, a 300% price increase is excessive," reads Time warner's Web site. "And withholding popular programming is unfair to America’s families – especially over the upcoming holidays."
In the past, cable systems haven't paid to re-broadcast network TV channels because consumers can already pull them in with antennas and broadcasters initially liked the audience reach provided by cable systems.
But with advertising revenue falling, broadcasters have increasingly looked to "retransmission fees" from cable systems as a possible remedy. One reason cable channels can succeed by airing shows which attract much smaller viewership than broadcast networks, is because they make money from advertisements and carriage fees from cable systems.
Time Warner got into a similar struggle last year with Viacom, which threatened to pull popular cable channels such as VH1 and MTV, working out a deal hours before the deadline.
Area residents with long memories will remember a similar fight between Fox and Time Warner back in 1996; back then, the sticking point was carriage of the then-newly formed Fox News Channel in New York.