In Fox-Cablevision battle, both sides lose - and so do viewers

A collection of tech videos with The Washington Post's Faster Forward columnist, Rob Pegoraro.
By Rob Pegoraro
Friday, October 22, 2010; 8:45 PM

As the Fox-Cablevision hostage drama grinds into its second week, there's no sign of a resolution at this writing - but plenty of hints that we'll see a sequel on other TV providers.

Since just after midnight Oct. 16, about 3 million Cablevision subscribers in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have lost access to Fox programming - including coverage of last Sunday's New York Giants game against the Detroit Lions and the National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants.

News Corp. subsidiary Fox says it wants Cablevision to pay its fair share for retransmitting its programming, the same as other providers. Cablevision says Fox asks for more than it pays any other network. Local viewers are understandably fed up with both sides.

Cablevision is no more loved than, well, other cable companies - and has a history of cutting off channels because of carriage disputes. Because the whole point of paying ever-increasing sums for cable TV is not to have to worry about having something to watch, that's no way to win friends.

Nor is failing to promise refunds to subscribers for their inconvenience during this impasse. (The Bethpage, N.Y., firm's responsibility for the horrific Isiah Thomas era at the New York Knicks can't help, either.)

Fox, meanwhile, burned whatever goodwill it might have had with viewers by briefly preventing Cablevision Internet subscribers - even if they paid another company for TV service - from watching Fox programs at Hulu or its own site.

This clueless, quickly reversed shoot-the-hostage move did little beyond making the powerlessness of Hulu's management obvious - and showing a profound lack of imagination by whoever in Fox's Los Angeles headquarters signed off on it.

A more forward-thinking company would go after viewers wherever it could find them, instead of continuing to bind its fortunes to the existing gatekeepers in its industry. Just compare Fox's actions with the aggressive efforts of the Pandora Web-radio service to reach listeners in as many places as possible.

Or compare Fox's actions with Fox's actions: This company, along with ABC, broke with other networks in signing up for Apple's 99-cent TV-episode rentals.

And yet Fox won't pledge to refrain from pulling this kind of stunt again.

Although local politicians have lined up to denounce both companies and demand they settle their differences like grown-ups, government action seems unlikely.

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