Cox Communications Inc. will be giving roughly 90,000
subscribers in Texas and Arkansas $1 refunds off their cable bills to compensate them for
the six-day loss of their local Fox-owned TV stations.
But the MSO won't offer rebates to 335,000 subscribers in
Fairfax County, Va., and Cleveland, who lost their Fox stations, as well, officials said
The refunds are part of the aftermath of Cox's nasty
retransmission-consent dispute with News Corp., which pulled its Fox owned-and-operated TV
stations off cable systems involving about 425,000 Cox subscribers Jan. 1. The two sides
came to an agreement Jan. 6, and the Fox stations went back on Cox cable.
Cox let its local system managers decide whether or not to
offer refunds to subscribers in the markets where Fox pulled its owned stations, according
to a Cox spokeswoman.
In the systems affected in Texas -- outside Dallas, Austin
and Houston -- and in Jonesboro, Ark., the managers decided to pay the $1 refund to each
subscriber household on their next cable bill. That's because at those systems, Cox didn't
run any replacement programming on the channel where the Fox TV station had been carried
-- the channel had just been left black.
"We have made a decision to offer a $1 service credit
in Texas and Arkansas," a Cox spokeswoman said. "It's compensation to them for a
loss of value. There was no replacement programming aired on those systems."
No rebates, however, will be paid to the 260,000
subscribers in northern Virginia or the 75,000 in Cleveland who temporarily lost their Fox
programming in the dispute. That's because those systems did air programming -- from
Starz! Family -- in place of their local Fox stations, the Cox spokeswoman said.
"We offered replacement programming -- Starz! Family,
a premium service -- for free," she added. "That was the root of our decision
[not to offer refunds in Virginia and Cleveland]."
Cox is trying to determine how many subscribers it may have
lost of a result of its dispute with Fox, the MSO spokeswoman said. "We don't know
yet," she added. "We're trying to find out."
Cox still has an ongoing retransmission-consent flap with
Fox in one market -- Hampton Roads, Va., which affects 410,000 subscribers. The Fox
affiliate there, WVBT, pulled its signal Jan. 1. WVBT is seeking a lower dial position,
which Cox has refused to grant. Cox has been airing HBO Family as replacement programming
in that market.
Norfolk-area residents were particularly upset last week
because Fox was set to air the National Football League playoff game this past Saturday
between the local favorite Washington Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- programming
Cox subscribers won't be able to get without rabbit ears.
To help area residents, WVBT rented a 350-seat theater at
the Naticus Maritime Museum in Norfolk Saturday and Sunday, where it planned to show the
Redskins-Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams-Minnesota Vikings games free-of-charge, offering
residents snacks and soft drinks, according to Ed Munson, general manager of WAVY-TV,
which manages WVBT.
Munson said he asked Cox to submit this ongoing dispute to
binding arbitration, but he was turned down.
Without cable carriage, WVBT's ratings for some Fox
primetime programming, such as The X-Files,have plummeted. But Munson said
other shows, such as WVBT's 10 p.m. newscast, haven't lost any viewers.
Because of the drop in ratings, some local advertisers
aren't buying any time on WVBT now.
Jeff Doy, vice president of media services for O'Brien Et
Al Advertising, which is based in Virginia Beach, Va., said his recent local TV buys have
not included WVBT because it lost its cable carriage.
"We haven't even called them," Doy said.
"They're missing out on revenue opportunities."
He added that he can't see how WVBT can afford to stay off
Cox's systems, especially once the February sweep begins. "Cox is going to stick to
its guns," Doy said. "And WVBT has to come back on by the February sweep. That's
an important [Nielsen Media Research] book for them."
He doesn't think WVBT needs a lower dial position, since
Fox has destination programming such as pro football and fare like Ally McBeal,which
viewers will seek out and find anywhere on the dial.
WVBT is reportedly making good on lost ratings points to
its current advertisers by giving them additional spots on its own air or on WAVY-TV.
Apart from Hampton Roads, there are still a number of
retransmission-consent renewals being negotiated.
Last week, The Walt Disney Co. and its ABC unit gave Time
Warner Cable a second extension, through Feb. 15, of retransmission consent for ABC-owned
TV stations. Time Warner's first extension expired Jan. 15. Disney is seeking carriage for
its new cable network, SoapCity, in exchange for retransmission-consent for ABC stations.
On that topic, the American Cable Association filed
suggestions last week for modification of retransmission-consent rules with the Federal
One of the ACA's biggest beefs is its contention that giant
media conglomerates have "held broadcast retransmission consent hostage to forced
carriage of cable-programming services."
In a prepared statement, ACA president Matt Polka said,
"The unfair leverage exerted by the larger broadcaster and cable-programming media
conglomerates on smaller cable is going unchecked ... The FCC will have to recognize the
many wrongs that have been committed in retransmission-consent negotiations and then fix
Trying to protect its members -- small independent
operators -- the ACA asked the FCC to ban what it calls "common"
retransmission-consent practices such as:
Insisting that an operator carry either digital
signals or other satellite-cable programming in exchange for retransmission consent;
Refusing to offer a smaller company the same terms
and conditions of what amounts to a de facto exclusive retransmission-consent agreement
given to larger companies;
Refusing to deal with smaller cable or its
representatives, such as the National Cable Television Cooperative; and
Failing to offer smaller cable operators terms and
conditions, including price terms, at least as favorable as those offered to competitors.
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