Fox and Cablevision partner on TV Nowhere

Cable TV Perhaps Fox has calculated that Congress or the FCC will soon change the rules regarding must-carry and retransmission consent in any case, and the current round of negotiations with cable and satellite distributors will be the high water market of their leverage. So they might as well go for broke now. If it’s to be downhill from here, might as well try to set the baseline as high as possible now.

Such a calculation might explain why Fox would risk the wrath of regulators — to say nothing of viewers — by letting Channel 5 go dark for Cablevision’s 3.1 million viewers in the New York area on the eve of a NY Yankees playoff game and an important mid-season match for the NY Giants. Maybe Fox thinks this fight really is for the ages and so it simply has to win it.

I’m kidding, of course. Chances are, the broadcaster simply doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the viewers (or its advertisers for that matter) and is happy to let them suffer if it helps squeeze a few more bob out of Cablevision. After all, it can. It has the law on its side, as well as the exclusive program rights. The law says Cablevision must carry all broadcast stations in its footprint. It further says that broadcasters can ask any fee they want to let cable operators fulfill their legal obligation to carry the signals.

Nice work if you can get it.

Still, I wouldn’t base business decisions on any particular outcome in Congress right now. Senator Kerry vowed over the weekend to introduce new legislation to overhaul the retransmission system, but who knows what anyone could get through Congress these days, let alone come January? Especially when you have members of Kerry’s own party saying bewildering things like this gem, from Democratic Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who told the FCC in a letter “the current retransmission consent regulations have worked well,” for stakeholders.

Really? Which stakeholders are you referring to, Congressman? Surely not the hapless viewer.

“In order to continue fostering strong competition,” the Congressman gamely added, “private companies should engage in these negotiations without government intervention,” evidently overlooking the fact that the instant negotiations are entirely the creation of the government’s must-carry rules. Take away those rules and you’d have a lot less brinkmanship.

With that sort of penetrating analysis animating the regulatory process, is it any wonder the viewer keeps ending up in the dark?