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ACA's Polka Blast Fox's ‘Blackmail Or Blackout' Strategy

  On Oct. 16, News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting pulled three TV stations signals from 3 million Cablevision Systems Corp. customers in the New York City area in a blackout that lasted 15 days and included two World Series games. The dispute ended on Saturday, Oct. 30, when Cablevision said it felt it had to sign an unfair deal to carry Fox-owned stations WNYW, WWOR, and WTXF after the Federal Communications Commission declined to require signal carriage pending the outcome of binding arbitration.

After Cablevision's announcement that it had signed a contract with Fox, American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka issued the following statement:

"Fox demonstrated that federal retransmission consent rules encourage broadcasters to harm consumers by adopting a ‘blackmail or blackout' strategy intended to wrest excessive cash compensation from local cable operators.

"ACA commends Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), among others, for recognizing that Fox's 15-day blackout of 3 million Cablevision customers in the New York City market was the last straw and that Congress must step in to prevent bad actors like Fox from making a mockery of its legal obligation to negotiate in good faith.

"True retransmission consent reform won't be achieved, however, unless TV stations are prevented from charging discriminatory fees to small cable operators and forming real and virtual station duopolies designed to gain even more price-gouging leverage over ACA members."

In explaining his agency's position, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said current law does not give the agency the tools necessary to prevent service disruptions, adding that the current system relegated TV viewers to pawns between companies battling over retransmission fees.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) called the existing retransmission consent regime broken, saying it results too frequently in games of high-stakes chicken that leave consumers in the crossfire. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, is schedule to hold a Nov. 17 hearing on his draft legislation designed to prevent TV station blackouts, according to published reports.

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