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Fox-Cablevision feud makes NYC area miss baseball playoff

/ Source: staff and news service reports

Cablevision and Fox parent News Corp. have walked away from the negotiating table for the evening, leaving 3 million customers in the New York metropolitan area with little hope of watching the first game of baseball's National League Championship Series from their couch.

Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said both sides met for hours Saturday afternoon before walking away. He said negotiators plan to meet again Sunday.

Instead of the baseball playoff game between the Phillies and Giants, Cablevision subscribers in New York City and some suburbs saw and heard a recorded message from Cablevision blaming Fox for its "corporate greed."

"We regret to inform you that News Corp., in an act of corporate greed, has pulled Fox 5 and My9 from your Cablevision lineup. This is an unfortnuate attempt to extort unreasonable fees. ... Why is News Corp making these outrageous demands? Greed."

The message goes on to say that Cablevision would accept arbitration and would like Fox to restore the channel in the meantime.

In many suburbs, Cablevision customers were able to see the broadcast of the game through other Fox stations, such as those in Hartford and New Haven.

The impasse amounted to more than corporate wrangling for Bronx resident Clifford Taylor.

"We live for sports," Taylor said. "Diehard New Yorker fans, we love to see the Yankees and Giants play."

When representatives for Fox and Cablevision said they were resuming talks at noon Saturday in Manhattan, that gave them less than eight hours to come to an agreement before Game 1 of Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series, when the Phillies take the field against the San Francisco Giants.

The American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Texas Rangers, which began Friday, is airing on TBS and isn't affected by the dispute.

Things were slightly less urgent for hard-core New York fans like Taylor, who face possibly missing the New York Giants play the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

"I guess I'm gonna have to run to some local bar or something, to see if they get it," fellow Giants fan Joe Figueroa said. "It's all about the money. They're always greedy."

According to Cablevision, the dispute is about $80 million, to be precise. The cable company says that News Corp. is asking for that much more a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in dispute. That would more than double the yearly rate to $150 million, says the company, which is demanding that Fox enter into binding arbitration.

Fox, meanwhile, blames Cablevision Systems Corp. "In an effort to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and made numerous reasonable proposals, Mike Hopkins, president of Fox Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, said in an earlier release.

"As long as there is a serious effort on the part of Cablevision, we will be at the table," Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said Saturday. "We want to settle this as quickly as possible."

Several lawmakers have weighed in on the issue. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called for arbitration so viewers wouldn't have their TV programming disrupted, and Israel said in a statement Friday that he had asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene.

The FCC encouraged the two parties to agree to binding arbitration without suspending service and did not specify a mediator, according to Jack Pratt, a spokesman for Israel.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a statement Saturday afternoon that he would introduce legislation to create “new rules of the road” for retransmission consent, The New York Times reported.

Kerry's bill would “allow signals to continue transmitting until the FCC evaluates the last best offer of the firms, determines whether they were made consistent with good faith negotiation and market conditions, and if they were, then recommends or does not recommend binding arbitration during which carriage would continue.” If one company rejects an arbitration recommendation, both would “publicly disclose the parameters of their last best offer to each other in order for consumers to determine for themselves which party they side with.”

Fox channels went black for Cablevision customers early Saturday shortly after midnight, when their previous deal expired. The blackout affects Fox 5 and My9 in New York and the Philadelphia-based Fox29. Subscribers also lost access to cable channels Fox Business Network, NatGeo Wild and Fox Deportes.

For Shinequa Gaillard, of the Bronx, this isn't the first time this has happened: Other Cablevision fee disputes earlier this year blacked out The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC broadcast signal and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.'s Food Network and HGTV.

"I think neither one of the two are thinking about the customers and the viewers — neither one of them," Gaillard said on her way to work in Manhattan on Saturday. "As consumers, what can we do? Nothing."

And in a separate dispute with satellite TV company Dish Network Corp., Fox cut access on Oct. 1 to 19 regional sports networks, FX and the National Geographic Channel for some 14.3 million Dish subscribers. That fight foreshadows more tough negotiations, as the deal for Fox broadcast signals on Dish expires Oct. 31.