LOS ANGELES - Football fans and "American Idol" devotees can breathe a sigh of relief. Fox and Time Warner Cable have reached a deal in principle that will keep the network on the cable provider after Fox threatened to pull the plug over a fee dispute.
Friday's agreement, which included Bright House Networks, ended a week of public sparring that had some viewers worried they'd miss Friday night's Sugar Bowl, Saturday's Cotton Bowl and Sunday's professional football lineup, as well as an array of other programming.
Fox had been threatening to force Time Warner Cable and Bright House to drop the Fox broadcast signal from 14 of its TV stations and half a dozen of its cable channels as a contract expired at midnight Thursday. But signals were extended into Friday as talks continued, allowing more than 6 million cable subscribers in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., and other markets to continue viewing programs. Neither company would divulge the terms of the deal.
Fox wanted to be paid $1 per cable subscriber each month for the broadcast signal it had once given away freely from the stations it owns. Other Fox affiliate stations that are owned by different companies had already cut deals to be paid by cable operators for a fraction of that fee. "We're pleased that, after months of negotiations, we were able to reach a fair agreement with Time Warner Cable - one that recognizes the value of our programming," said Chase Carey, chief operating officer at News Corp., which owns Fox.
Time Warner Cable Inc. Chief Executive Glenn Britt said he was "happy to have reached a reasonable deal with no disruption in programming for our customers." Politicians and regulators had gotten in on the dispute, especially because Fox sends its signals out freely on public airwaves on a frequency it obtained for nothing, with the obligation that it serve the public interest.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski congratulated both companies and his staff for the deal. But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., raised concerns about the effectiveness of a 1992 cable law that allows broadcasters to seek compensation from cable and satellite operators for their signals. "I will reach out to both parties, the FCC, and consumer advocates to assess lessons learned from this dispute and what, if any, changes to law are necessary," Kerry said in a statement.
Fox said it could no longer give away its stations' signals to cable companies because the network is facing stiff competition from cable channels, such as the Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, which earn subscriber fees on top of advertising dollars. That dual revenue stream allowed ESPN to outbid Fox for high-priced events such as the college football Bowl Championship Series - including the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl that are now on Fox - from 2011 to 2013.
Time Warner Cable, in the meantime, had vowed to hold the line on cable bill increases, and said the vast of majority of viewers who went to its Web site, www.rolloverorgettough.com, urged it to "get tough" and fight back against higher costs.