It sure seems like Cablevision has the leverage in its carriage fee dispute with the Tribune station group. Among the reasons: a struggling network and some horrible baseball teams.
At the heart of the stand-off is Cablevision’s blackout of WPIX in the New York market -- now 11 days old. Under most circumstances, a cable operator going without a broadcast station can bring significant customer backlash and an urgency to settle. But in this case, Cablevision might be thinking: “What’s the rush?”
That’s not to say Cablevision has always been quick to work these things out A 2010 blackout battle with Fox lasted two weeks and later had a top company executive under pressure on Capitol Hill. But this time, Cablevision looks to have the capital advantage.
Cablevision covers a huge portion of the New York area. So with WPIX losing access to so many homes, the station could be losing huge ad dollars -- a problem potentially accentuated in an election year with political monies at stake.
The trouble WPIX faces versus the cable operator is it may not have the programming to prompt Cablevision to move quickly. WPIX is the affiliate of the CW network, which badly needs a new hit. And, it carries the New York Mets, which really need some hits.
Even if the CW had more momentum -- last season, national ratings were down in its key demo by 16% -- its new season isn’t slated to start until Oct. 2. In addition, devoted fans of “Gossip Girl” or “90210” can find the shows online.
WPIX only carries a handful of Mets games. But if the team were in a pennant race, that might bring some angry phone calls to Cablevision. Instead, the team is an embarrassment.
What else does WPIX have to offer? Sitcoms in syndication that are available elsewhere and newscasts in a market saturated with them. It does have “Jerry Springer,” but he may not be enough to force Cablevision’s hand.
Of course, only Cablevision knows how many subscribers WPIX's absence may be costing it, which will affect how long its brinksmanship lasts.
As the 2012-13 CW season approaches, WPIX might begin to receive some pressure from the network since the CW’s ratings could be significantly impacted. The New York market accounts for a sizable portion of the country and as the media capital includes a lot of pop-culture influencers.
The wider Cablevision-Tribune battle also has the CW affiliates in Denver and Hartford blacked out in Cablevision homes. Plus, the MyNetworkTV affiliate (WPHL) in the Philadelphia area. MyNetworkTV carries no original series, and while WPHL offers some Phillies games, the team is as miserable as the Mets.
Tribune did make what appears to be an offensive move on Friday by taking its Fox affiliate off the air in Cablevision homes in the Hartford market. It also removed WGN America in every market.
Fox offers it some leverage with “The X Factor” debuting Sept. 12 and, maybe more importantly, the NFL before that. WGN America not so much. The network by one measure has been averaging 111,000 viewers in the 18-to-49 year-old demo in prime time nationally.
Cablevision argues it's largely unaffected by the recent maneuver, saying it provides Fox exclusively to only 50,000 homes in the Hartford area. Many homes there, it says, can receive the Fox station out of New York.
Carriage disputes resulting in blackouts are never a positive for either side. It’s just this time the bad situation seems to be a bit better for Cablevision.