This could be the scenario should News Corp. and Time Warner Cable's testy negotiations explode into a full-blown war -- one that could result in 15 Fox-owned stations being dropped. (The Fox network comprises 27 Fox-owned TV stations and 150-plus affiliate stations.)
The contract is due to end Dec. 31. The expiring agreement includes carriage for other networks, including FX and Fox Sports regional networks.
News Corp. wants a bold $1 a cable subscriber per month, believing that its stations are worth at least as much -- if not more -- than many cable networks. Top cable network, ESPN, for example, gets $4 a subscriber. Recent estimates were that new retrans deals could give broadcast TV stations some 50 cents a subscriber.
NBC and CBS executives are keenly watching this battle, and could alter the strategies for their own future retransmission negotiations. All broadcast networks believe their financial models need to change -- radically - for them to survived.
Time Warner has been doing some unusual marketing to get ahead of the typical bad PR effects that happen with these negotiations. Under its RollOverOrGetTough.com, it tries not to finger-point any bad guys in this battle. Rather, it asks customers for ideas.
All this in preparation for those phone calls and emails when Time Warner customers can't get to see those early-round results of singing knuckleheads on "Idol," or that late-fourth-quarter playoff game comeback by a NFL team for its NFL Sunday game coverage.
The real question Time Warner -- and, to a lesser extent, News Corp. -- isn't asking customers is this: What does a particular show mean to you, right now, on a Sunday afternoon in January, or a Tuesday evening in February?
As an experiment, Time Warner should offer up a multiple-choice question as an experiment to give cable subscribers some perspective: What would you pay to watch "Idol" for a particular evening? $1.99? $2.99? 50 cents?
Viewers might not bite -- or perhaps take it the wrong way, especially when they are already paying $75 a month for hundreds of channels of TV programming, most of it stuff they don't view regularly.
But it would give customers more to think about when deciding how they want video programming packaged -- and how much to pay for it -- in the future.
A la carte programming, anyone? Or perhaps a fuller, more-costly TV meal?