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Deadline looms in TV impasse

If officials from Fox TV and Time Warner Cable can't reach an agreement by midnight Thursday, Florida football fans might not be able to watch the Sugar Bowl on Friday. And folks who follow American Idol, The Simpsons or Glee might miss their favorite shows.

"Negotiations are still ongoing, and we may be able to reach some sort of decision before that deadline," Bright House Networks spokesman Joe Durkin said Monday. "But a lot of our viewers are very concerned."

Nearly 1 million homes in the Tampa Bay area subscribe to Bright House, which carries WTVT-Ch. 13 as well as other Fox channels, including Speed, FX and Fox Sports Networks. (Fox News and Fox Business Network have separate agreements.) The contract between Fox and the cable company is set to expire Dec. 31, and officials on both sides have been struggling to agree on new terms.

Fox wants the cable company to pay to re-air its broadcasts. The fee it is requesting, its Web site says, is "in the same ballpark as what Time Warner pays for … ESPN."

Time Warner, which oversees content for Bright House, reports that Fox is asking for a 300 percent increase in compensation. "In today's economy, a 300 percent price increase is excessive," says Time Warner's Web site.

Each corporation has set up a site: www.keepfoxon.com and www.rolloverorgettough.com. Hundreds of viewers have commented on both sides.

"If an agreement is not reached in time, Fox still has the choice to allow the signal to continue after the deadline," Durkin said. "It's Fox's decision."

"Obviously, Fox cannot provide our programming to a cable company in absence of an agreement," said the Fox Web site. "No responsible business can give away its product for free."

Broadcast stations traditionally haven't charged cable systems to re-air their shows, but with advertising revenue falling, they're looking to such fees for new income.

Fox officials say cable companies make money by charging fees for a basic package that total as much as $36 per month.

"Not one penny of that is being shared with Fox," says the Web site. "Based on the comparable cost of our programming, the Fox stations could charge $4-5 per subscriber per month. TNT gets $1 per subscriber, but spends about 80 percent less on programming than Fox."

Fox's Web site says its stations attract more viewers than the five most expensive cable networks combined (ESPN, TNT, USA, ESPN2 and the NFL Network). "The price being asked for as compensation for all this value is extremely reasonable," says the Web site.

If Bright House stops airing Fox shows, other viewers will still be able to see the network's programming on DirecTV, Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse and Dish Network. And if you have a digital antenna, you can catch Channel 13 the old-fashioned way.

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825. Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans contributed to this report.

Deadline looms in TV impasse 12/28/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 28, 2009 10:23pm]

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