Fox, Cablevision dispute unsettled

NEW YORK -- Cablevision, the service provider for 3 million customers in the New York area, and Fox parent News Corp. failed to solve a dispute over rates Saturday, leaving baseball fans who wanted to watch the opener of the National League Championship Series with a blank screen instead of a marquee pitching matchup.

Both sides met throughout the afternoon Saturday but adjourned before the start of the playoff game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants, Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella said. Negotiators plan to meet again today.

The stalemate that led to Fox pulling its channels and, briefly, online content from subscribers in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut early Saturday was the latest in a series of programming fee disputes that have led to blackouts of programs such as the Oscars. But the impasse amounted to more than corporate wrangling for Clifford Taylor of the Bronx.

"We live for sports," Taylor said.

Hard-core hometown fans like Taylor could still hold out hope: No New York teams were scheduled for games broadcast on Fox until today, when the New York Giants play the Detroit Lions. The American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Texas Rangers, which began Friday, is airing on TBS and isn't affected by the dispute.

On Saturday night, Theresa McCluskey, 42, of Hicksville was at a bar in Penn Station with three friends as they waited for a train and watched All-Star pitchers Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum in the first game of the NLCS.

"We pay enough money for every station that we get now," she said. "Why subject us to not having our stations that we paid for originally?"

"We'll have to come out to the bar, spend more money," she added, laughing.

According to Cablevision, the dispute is about $80 million, to be precise. The cable company says that News Corp. is asking for that much more a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in dispute. That would more than double the yearly rate to $150 million, says the company, which is demanding that Fox enter into binding arbitration.

Fox, meanwhile, blames Cablevision Systems Corp. "In an effort to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and made numerous reasonable proposals," Mike Hopkins, president of Fox Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, said in an earlier release.

"As long as there is a serious effort on the part of Cablevision, we will be at the table," Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said Saturday. "We want to settle this as quickly as possible."

After negotiations ended later in the day, Cablevision issued a statement accusing News Corp. of using the sporting events "to hold viewers hostage," calling it shameful.

By Saturday afternoon, Cablevision's Internet customers were blocked from watching Fox content on the network's website and on the video site Hulu, prompting Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to call on the Federal Communications Commission to broker an agreement and step in to "defend Internet freedom and consumer rights."

A person familiar with the situation who wasn't authorized to speak on the record said online video access would be temporarily restored by the evening to accommodate Cablevision Internet customers who paid for cable television services through other providers not involved in the dispute.