Time Warner makes concessions in FOX fight

TV Arts


Time Warner Cable agrees to arbitration
Firm battling Fox over retransmission fees
By Nellie Andreeva

Time Warner Cable extended an olive branch in its tense retransmission
consent negotiations with Fox, agreeing to submit the dispute to
binding arbitration before the FCC as well as to an interim carriage
agreement that would keep Fox and its cable siblings on the TWC
systems if the two sides don't reach a resolution by the midnight Dec.
31 deadline.

TWC made the offer Wednesday morning in an open letter to Sen. John
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communication,
Technology, and the Internet.

It is a response to Kerry's Dec. 22 letter to News Corp. president
Chase Carey and TWC chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, in which Kerry urged
them to resolve their spat by New Year's Day so viewership of the big
college football games isn't disrupted. (Fox is set to air the Sugar
Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl between Jan. 1-5.)

"We do not want consumers waking up on the first day of the new year
wanting to watch football and instead finding that they have to take a
trip to the electronics store to purchase a digital receiver in the
hope that they receive a clear over-the-air signal," he wrote in his
letter, which proposed several options for breaking the deadlock,
including arbitration.

In the letter to Kerry, on which Carey was cc'd, Britt wrote that "TWC
will agree to whatever interim steps are necessary to preserve
consumers' uninterrupted access to Fox programming after our current
agreement expires on Dec. 31, including your suggestion to enter into
binding arbitration."

Additionally, if a deal is not reached by midnight on Dec. 31 "we
would enter into an interim agreement with Fox that applies existing
terms and conditions or an interim rate subject to a true-up once a
final rate is established."

Britt stressed that TWC would go for an interim agreement even if Fox
doesn't agree to arbitration.

Fox is yet to respond to TWC's letter.

At the core of the two companies' dispute is the size of the
retransmission fee TWC should pay for Fox programming, which had been
free thus far. Fox insists on $1 per subscriber per month, noting the
strength of its lineup, which includes "American Idol," "24" and
professional and college football. TWC has called that demand

"Fox's well-publicized effort to change the economics of the
retransmission consent by making unprecedented demands for cash
compensation for its broadcast signals -- despite the transmission of
that same programming over the air -- is placing the retransmission
consent process under strain," Britt wrote.

The public battle is crucial for the other broadcast networks, which
also are seeking fees from cable and satellite operators for their
programming to supplement falling ad revenue.

In another wrinkle to the spat, TWC insists that Fox's Dallas stations
fall under the "must-carry" provision, which allows it to carry their
signal without Fox's consent. 

"In 2008, Fox failed to timely notify Time Warner Cable that it wished
to negotiate for terms of carriage for its Dallas affiliates, KDFW and
KDFI," TWC said in a statement. "Therefore, under FCC rules, Time
Warner Cable had no choice but to treat those stations as 'must
carry.' Time Warner Cable is operating pursuant to FCC rules and will
not drop those channels from its lineup on Jan. 1, 2010."

Fox vigorously disputes TWC's interpretation and insists that TWC is
prohibited to carry the Dallas stations beyond Jan. 1 if no deal with
the Fox station group is reached.
And would this have even been a problem in the good old days of analog
TV with rabbit ears?  No, of course not.  So much for progress.
That depends on where you live. We went through this in 2005 with Cox
Cable vs. CBS. Cox gave out rabbit ears to get the local CBS station.
Didn't help. Crappy broadcast signal, unwatchable reception, no CBS
for ten months. 

I can't expect a cable company to pay for a proper roof top antenna.
I'm pretty sure that affiliates could and did have problems with the
Nowhere near to this extent in the slightest.  There was never a
situation when a significant number of affiliates would black out a
network's entire programming.  Besides, the point is that in the
analog age one didn't have to worry about having to suddenly not see
their football game and have to go out and get a digital antenna, if
they didn't have one already, so as to be able to watch it, it's that
everybody already had an antenna to not have to worry about getting
one and still got to watch it.  I guess you forgot what free TV used
to be like when cable and satellite didn't call all the shots.
I haven't forgotten what free TV used to be like.  "In the analog
age", even if you had the best roof antennas along with a couple of
rotors, depending on the weather and/or the state of repair of your
equipment and/or your roof, you might not be able to watch what you

While I have my quibbles with digital, I'll take digital cable and the
attendant corporate negotiating bullshit over the iffy OTA reception
of yesteryear.  Back in the day, to whom would you complain about
inaudible audio and severe video static?  Your roofer?  At least now,
we can bitch to the cable companies and our local govt. entities that
license the providers.
You haven't seen how nice a picture you can get with just a digital
antenna and without any cable or satellite at all, have you?  Of
course, it depends where you live and your results might suck if
you're out in the sticks, but what I've seen has impressed me enough
to consider giving up cable.
I have, although I readily acknowledge that I'm not working with the
best tech.  Since my portable Sony Watchman was forced into
obsolescence, I bought a portable LCD Digital TV.

There are a lot of good things with LCD Digital.  It's a color TV,
with an 8" screen v. the b&w Watchman 4.5" screen.  I can get a bunch
of subchannels with the LCD Digital that I obviously couldn't receive
with the Watchman.

However, I still have the "placement" issue with the antenna.  Move it
an inch to the right or left . . . the channel disappears.  This isn't
much different than analog, where snow, rain, or wind could completely
wipe out a station.  

And, while I'm in bitching mode, as to satellite . . . almost all
hotels now use sat TV providers, and I can't tell you how many
transmission screw-ups we've been subjected to during our stays.  The
absolute last choice for us would be sat TV.  


We've never been in the sticks, just the Philly 'burbs, but our
experience has been that the dreaded Comcast has never gone out in the
time we've lived here (almost 8 years).  It did go out in our last
home, but rarely.

Do I think Comcast overcharges?  Definitely.  We looked into Verizon
FIOS, but once their introductory period was over, they were even more
expensive.  However, return to OTA?  Not happenin'.