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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Fox, Time Warner and Bright House reach deal to keep channels on cable

1

January

Fox_vs_Time_Warner_Cable Nothing like waiting until the final minutes to cement a deal.

But Time Warner Cable and Fox TV executives announced at about 8 p.m. that they had finally reached an agreement to keep Fox broadcast affiliates and cable channels on the the Time Warner and Bright House cable systems, minutes before the start of tonight's Sugar Bowl competition.

Neither side would divulge details on the agreement, which nearly kept 6-million cable subscribers across the country -- more than 1-million households in the Tampa Bay area alone -- from seeing college football bowl games scheduled to air over the weekend.

Fans feared the worst as Fox threatened to pull its programming from Time Warner and Bright hHuse at midnight Friday when their retransmission contracts expired. But the first surprise for TV fans came at that deadline, when Fox’s New Year’s Eve telecast kept airing after reporter Rick Leventhal rang in the New Year.

As American Idol winner Kris Allen tore into a song, publicists for both sides confirmed Fox has agreed to allow their channels to remain in place until 3 a.m. East Coast time.

When that deadline came and went, officials disclosed another extension, this time to 11 a.m. By noon Friday, spokesmen for Time Warner and Bright House would only say negotiations were continuing and Fox’s channels would continue to air on the cable systems until a new development occurred.

More than seven hours later, the two sides announced a deal.

The conflict between Time Warner, Bright House and Fox owners News Corp. drew the alarmed attention of the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, an assortment of Congressmen and sports fans from across America.

Cable customers, already wary of rising fees, feareds the $1 per subscriber monthly charge Fox desires might be duplicated by every broadcaster and passed along to them by cable systems.

But experts said the future of free television may hang in the balance in the long term, as TV stations increasingly struggle with diminishing profits from advertising.

Forced to compete with cable channels which have two income streams – advertising revenue and payments from cable systems – broadcasters say such retransmission payments are crucial to the long-term future of network TV.

Experts only expect such fights to increase. Sinclar Broadcast Group, which owns or operates 58 TV stations nationwide (including MyNetworkTV affiliate WTTA-Ch. 38 in Tampa), agreed to extend its retransmission deal to Jan. 8 with cable provider Mediacom, citing concerns over viewers access to football games.

After the extension was announced, the FCC stated it would not intervene to continue transmissions if talks failed.

Here's the press release:

The Fox Networks Group and Bright House Networks announced today that they have agreed in principle to a comprehensive distribution agreement to provide Bright House’s more than 2.4 million customers with programming from Fox Television Stations, Fox Broadcasting (FOX), Fox Cable Networks and Fox’s regional sports networks.  Of particular interest to Bright House’s Florida customers is confirmation that tonight’s Allstate Sugar Bowl will air at 8:30 pm ET on FOX.

"We're pleased that, after months of negotiations, we were able to reach a fair agreement with Bright House Networks -- one that recognizes the value of our programming,” said Chase Carey, Deputy Chairman, President and COO, News Corporation.

“We’re pleased that an agreement has been reached with no disruption in programming for our customers,” said Steve Miron, Chief Executive Officer, Bright House Networks.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:04pm]

    

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