Fox Nixes Arbitration in Carriage Feud with Cablevision

With the American League Championship Series looming, lawmakers hope to push the cable provider and the channel into a resolution

Bad news for New York baseball fans.

Fox rejected calls Thursday from top New York lawmakers to enter arbitration with Cablevision over retransmission fees.

Without a resolution,  signals for Fox could be pulled from area homes on Friday during several key playoff games.

At issue is whether the cable provider will shell out the additional $80 million that Fox reportedly is demanding to carry its programming. Making the push for a resolution particularly intense: The Yankees are making another run at a World Series title.

Cablevision said it would accept some sort of mediation in its dispute, but Fox isn't budging.

With the deadline approaching, politicans were hoping to pressure the parties to get back to the bargaining table. New York State Representatives Pete King and Steve Israel have backed Cablevision’s appeals for binding arbitration, while Rep. Eliot Engel said he was pushing the FCC to find a regulatory fix in order to prevent similar disputes from cropping up in the future.

“It would be a shame if a legislative solution needed to be found, as I would much rather have businesses sort out their own dirty laundry without having others clean it for them,” Rep. Engel said in a statement.

Rep. King echoed Engel’s concerns in his own prepared statement calling for mediation. "I am increasingly concerned that this deadline may pass without a resolution, and Long Island consumers will lose their programming. This would be an unconscionable result and unfair to sports and programming fans who have no part in this fight," he said.

For its part, however, Fox isn't interested in arbitration.

“Binding arbitration would, unfortunately, reward Cablevision for refusing to negotiate fairly and will only ensure that more unnecessary disputes arise in the future,” the company said in a statement. “Direct business-to-business negotiation is the only way to resolve this issue, while also preserving the long-term stability of the broadcast system. We continue to negotiate and are committed to putting all our resources towards reaching a fair resolution.”

This current fight is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing series of carriage disputes; one that already almost prevented area residents from seeing the first few minutes of the Oscars last March. That standoff involved Cablevision and ABC.

But as channels look for ways to replace falling ad revenues, the kind of brinksmanship centered on a big high-profile event has become a fixture. Don’t look for the Federal Communications Commission to intervene in this round, according to a report from media research firm Stifel Nicolaus.

"While we’re skeptical the FCC will intervene at this time in the retransmission disputes, the more that programming disputes escalate and signals get pulled — particularly if they disrupt high-profile sporting events — the more pressure we believe there will be on the FCC and Congress to do something to prevent such consumer disruptions, and that could affect broadcaster leverage," the report reads.

The clock is ticking. The first game of the ALCS match up between the Yankees and Rangers is scheduled to air live at 8 PM, EST this Friday on Fox.

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