October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
After living underneath a rock for the past weekend, I turned on my telly today expecting to see Hugh Laurie diagnose yet another medical mystery with an endless array of quips and pseudo-American wit, but alas what I got was far less entertaining.
It was a white screen with a Cablevision logo in the bottom right and a pre-recorded message that could basically be summarized as ‘Fox is evil’ or more specifically, News Corp. is making unreasonable demands for retransmission fees. Now the typical viewer will react with moderate indifference until realizing that the message is indeed a blackout.
Fox blacked out channel 5, along with My 9, to Cablevision customers for a third day in a row, leaving 3 million viewers in the NY metro area in the dark–or in this case, in the ambiance of a bright white screen with looping audio of an angry retort by Cablevision.
While television viewers are accustomed to such messages of thinly veiled threats concerning contractual negotiations on the air, this recent spat between Fox and Cablevision is perhaps one of the most nastiest to date.
In March, it was all about a rumble between Cablevision and ABC, owned by Walt Disney, which culminated in a truncated broadcast of the Academy Awards. The blackout in that case had only lasted about 20 hours before both parties caved in to pressure.
And therein lies the rub: such blackouts, though heated, are bad for both sides. The provider is unable to provide viewers with programming, angering and perhaps losing customers, and the network suffers losses in ratings, which ultimately affect how much they can charge for ads.
It’s a lose-lose situation, one that has a journalistic angle of course.
The so-called retransmission fees refer to how much a provider, like Cablevision, needs to pay a network, like Fox, to air the latter’s content. Such demands from networks to steeply increase retransmission fees point to an underlying problem of profitability.
Fox, which is asking for $150 million from Cablevision (up from $70 million), is not much different from other networks which have similarly put the pressure on providers to pay more for programs in an effort to decrease their dependence on ad revenue.
Retransmission fees as an alternate revenue stream may seem all honky dory aside from the fact that such networks, Fox in particular as one of the major networks, has a commitment to public service in the form of news programming.
Fox made the dispute personal when it cut off access to its content to Cablevision internet users on Hulu, angering not only the tv crowd, but the web geeks and nerds (a phrase that is becoming less and less meaningful as we are all begin to spend our lives living on the web).
While no one can say just how long this stalemate will last, I think we can all agree that it’s rather unpleasant when the news actually affects our lives–or at least our television habits.