Down to the wire: Will Fox yank TV programming from Bright House and Time Warner tomorrow?
Recent signs show Fox is playing to win; despite efforts by U.S. Sen. John Kerry to suggest a solution and Time Warner's offer to enter binding arbitration, News Corp rejected the idea Wednesday.
That means about 2-million households in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando could lose access to Fox programming when the company's contracts to reair their affiliates and some Fox-owned cable channels expires at midnight tonight.
Time Warner is a partner in the Bright House Networks cable system and helps secure their programming. Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network are not affected by this standoff, though channels such as FX, Speed, Fuel and Fox Sports are.
More than 1-million households in the Tampa Bay area receive TV service through Bright House, the community's dominant cable system. And the local Fox affiliate station, WTVT-Ch. 13, is owned by News Corp., which means it could vanish from Bright House cable.
The outage could be a particular problem for people who counted on cable service to help with the transition to digital TV, declining to update their television sets to digital technology because the cable system kept up service to analog TV sets.
At issue: Can broadcast networks get the same kind of payments for rebroadcasting content from cable systems that cable channels such as ESPN enjoy -- about $1 per subscriber?
As I noted during an interview with WUSF-FM Wednesday, Fox may have the stronger hand here, as consumers tend to blame cable systems for programming losses. Bright House and Time Warner also face competition from other TV providers who will continue to have Fox channels, including Verizon FIOS, DirecTV and DISH networks.
A Tampa lawyer has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop disruptions, while Florida U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis sent a letter to executives at Fox and Time Warner asking for a temporary extention of their current contract.
What has many Florida fans in a uproar is the possibility of missing star University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow's last game in the Sugar Bowl Friday, scheduled to air on Fox stations (a hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled at noon today, as Bright House is airing ads alerting subscribers to the coming crisis).
Following Fox's rejection of arbitration, Kerry has also threatened to involve the Federal Communications Commission to force continued service if a resolution isn't found today. But there have been previous outages without federal intervention, and given the alternatives for consumers, can the government justify intervention at this stage?
For the answer, as always, stay tuned.