Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fox vs. Time Warner

You may have read that the Fox TV network and Time Warner Cable are in neogiations for a new contract. Best we can tell, Fox wants more money from Time Warner for the rights to carry its programming. Time Warner is resisting, saying to do so would meaning charging subscribers more money. Should an agreement not be reached by New Year's Day, Time Warner customers in this market could turn on Channel 5 and see a blank screen. (I believe the negotiations also involve several of Fox's sister cable channels.)

Let me tell you the selfish part: I don't watch Fox much once the baseball season is over. For instance, I've never seen "American Idol" (a new season of which starts soon) and, as I've noted in this space in the past, for an ex-sports editor, I am surprisingly uninterested in pro football telecasts.

That said, although I get basic cable from Time Warner, I won't be without Fox because I do most of my TV watching via a DirecTV satellite connection.

But, also for selfish reasons, I'm rooting for Fox and Time Warner to strike a deal before the weekend, because my son, Matt, and his writing partner, Alex Cuthbertson, have written the script for Sunday night's episode of the Fox animated comedy, "American Dad". In short, I want millions of people to see this week's episode to do so. And they won't be able to if Time Warner blacks out Fox.

The broader issue is one that likely will involve more networks, as well as Time Warner, DirecTV and whatever provider is putting pictures and sounds on your television sets.

"Free TV" is basically a thing of the past. Although some Americans still receive TV the old fashioned way, albeit with a government-mandated digital box, most of us pay for the privilege by paying a monthly fee for cable, satellite and/or fiber optics. We pay a lot more for premium channels like HBO, but we also are paying for "basic" channels, as your provider passes along the per-subscriber charge levied by program originators.

There have been few high-profile network-cable disputes such as the current Fox-Time Warner tiff, but this one probably is a preview of what's to come. (On a much lesser scale, it happened this year on DirecTV, which did not strike a new deal with the Versus sports network (home of pro hockey) and took it off the air.

Naturally, the consumer is caught in the middle. Want Fox? You'll pay more. But if the cable company plays hardball, a la Time Warner, you may not get Fox, even if you're willing to pay. There goes "American Idol", "American Dad", "Family Guy", "House", the NFL, "24" and many of your other favorites.

It's hard to find a good guy in these fights. But one thing's sure: You the viewer/customer will be impacted one way or the other.
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