Cablevision subscribers in the New York metropolitan area found blacked out Fox channels on their television screens Saturday, while the cable company and Fox parent News Corp. tried to resolve a dispute that threatened broadcasts of baseball playoffs and a football game.
The stalemate that led to Fox pulling its channels after midnight 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 Bronx resident Clifford Taylor.
"We live for sports," Taylor said. "Diehard New Yorker fans, we love to see the Yankees and Giants play."
Representatives for Fox and Cablevision said they were resuming talks at noon Saturday in Manhattan. That gives them less than eight hours to come to an agreement before 3 million cable subscribers in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut miss Game 1 of Major League Baseball's National League Championship Series, when the Phillies take the field against the San Francisco Giants.
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.
Things were slightly less urgent for hard-core New York fans like Taylor, who face possibly missing the New York Giants play the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
"I guess I'm gonna have to run to some local bar or something, to see if they get it," fellow Giants fan Joe Figueroa said. "It's all about the money. They're always greedy."
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."
Several lawmakers have weighed in on the issue. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called for arbitration so viewers wouldn't have their TV programming disrupted, and Israel said in a statement Friday that he had asked the Federal Communications Commission to intervene.
The FCC encouraged the two parties to agree to binding arbitration without suspending service and did not specify a mediator, according to Jack Pratt, a spokesman for Israel.
Fox channels went black for Cablevision customers early Saturday shortly after midnight, when their previous deal expired. The blackout affects Fox 5 and My9 in New York and the Philadelphia-based Fox29. Subscribers also lost access to cable channels Fox Business Network, NatGeo Wild and Fox Deportes.
For Shinequa Gaillard, of the Bronx, this isn't the first time this has happened: Other Cablevision fee disputes earlier this year blacked out The Walt Disney Co.'s ABC broadcast signal and Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.'s Food Network and HGTV.
"I think neither one of the two are thinking about the customers and the viewers — neither one of them," Gaillard said on her way to work in Manhattan on Saturday. "As consumers, what can we do? Nothing."