Surprise! Broadcast Net And Affiliates Battle Over Cable Retransmission, But Comcast Isn't The Culprit

by , Feb 10, 2011, 4:30 PM
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For the better part of a year, TV critics hounded Comcast's potential ownership of NBC Universal -- especially in regards to where Comcast would stand with NBC affiliates. The threat? Making NBC into a cable network.

Apparently, critics were focusing on the wrong network. According to reports, cable retransmission discussions have become so heated between Fox and its affiliates that senior network executives have threatened to look to other forms of "distribution " if things don't go their way.

The affiliates believe they still represent big value to Fox, in terms of both local news and network promotion. Fox has been pressing for big dollars from cable operators -- especially since it is still the number one network, with the number one show in the land ("American Idol"), and a share of the most profitable sports TV franchise (NFL). These factors contribute to strong financials for Fox stations.

This is one of two main areas where News Corp. President/COO Chase Carey has been pretty vocal. The other: getting more money from Fox's digital platform associations, such as Hulu.

Fox stations are already pulling in up to $1 per subscriber per month from cable operators. That would be more money than many cable networks.

News Corp. isn't afraid of controversy, or of ruffling broadcast station feathers. One executive has told TV Watch that Fox wants to get 75- 80% of all its affiliates' retransmission revenue.

No wonder why things are testy.

In a recent letter to affiliates, Mike Hopkins, president of sales and affiliate marketing for Fox, said: "From our perspective, the [negotiating] committee has been largely non-responsive to our views and unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Rather than continue to waste time on fruitless arguments, we feel it is time to move on and negotiate an equitable and practical [retrans sharing] agreement with each of you."

Should the standoff continue, Hopkins added: "Fox will have to pursue different distribution channels to receive fair value for our programming and continue to serve our viewers....We don't want that to sound like a threat, but it is a fact."

Okay. It's all out there -- a threat from the strongest broadcast TV network.

And you thought all the hard-hitting stuff ended with Fox's Super Bowl telecast.

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