Cablevision customers lose Fox channels in fee dispute

Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:29pm EDT

* Cablevision loses Fox 5, My9 and some Fox cable stations

* Fox says Cablevision declared 'impasse' in negotiations

* Cablevision demands Fox restore channels immediately

NEW YORK, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Cablevision Systems Corp (CVC.N) customers in the New York area could miss Major League Baseball playoff games and NFL games this weekend because the cable operator failed to reach a programming deal with News Corp's (NWSA.O) Fox Networks before a midnight deadline on Saturday.

New York stations Fox 5 and My 9, and cable channels NatGeo Wild and Fox Business Network, were among those that went dark on Saturday after the existing carriage deal expired.

Both sides accused the other of bad faith negotiations as more than 3 million homes lost the channels hours before the New York Yankees play the Texas Rangers in the second game of the MLB American League Championship series. The NFL's New York Giants were scheduled to play the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

In prepared statements, each company blamed the other for the loss of programming.

"We demand that News Corp put the viewers ahead of its own greed and immediately restore these channels to our customers and agree to binding arbitration to reach a fair agreement," Cablevision spokesman Charles Schueler said in a statement.

Cablevision has said it currently pays News Corp $70 million every year for its channels, but the Rupert Murdoch-run company is demanding more than $150 million a year.

Fox Networks said Cablevision was seeking "preferential treatment" in negotiations.

"After days of posturing and the appearance of negotiating, they formally stopped even the pretense of negotiating at 8 p.m., declaring an "impasse," and made no further efforts toward reaching a new agreement before the expiration," said Mike Hopkins, Fox Networks' president of affiliate sales.

"We remain willing to negotiate and hope that future talks ultimately will be productive, but as of now, Cablevision has declined to counter our most recent proposal."

Both companies have been at loggerheads with other parties this year over the contentious issue of rising programming fees paid by cable and satellite operators.

Some of Fox's channels are currently off air on Dish Network (DISH.O) and there is a possibility more Fox stations will go dark on Dish at the end of the month.

In January, Cablevision customers lost Scripps Networks' (SNI.N) HGTV and Food Network for a few days. It also lost the Walt Disney Co-owned (DIS.N) local ABC station for several hours in the run-up to the Oscars telecast in March.

(Reporting by Yinka Adegoke)

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