Last night I got to watch the Phillies’ Doc Halladay and the Giants’ Tim Lincecum in a tense pitching duel. But if you live in New York and subscribe to Cablevision, it was blacked out — thanks to a high-stakes game of chicken between Cablevision and News Corp.

This shouldn’t have happened. But in a monopoly industry that has only token competition, this sort of thing is not uncommon. We’ve gotten far too used to media companies putting the screws to us through high prices, poor service and lousy selection. Isn’t it time we regulated the cable industry, and restrained the media companies that provide content? As far as I’m concerned, cable is now a utility — and should be regulated like one:

NEW YORK — Cablevision, the service provider for 3 million customers in the New York area, and Fox parent News Corp. failed to solve a dispute over rates Saturday, leaving baseball fans who wanted to watch the opener of the National League Championship Series with a blank screen instead of a marquee pitching matchup.

Both sides met throughout the afternoon Saturday but adjourned before the start of the playoff game between the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants, said Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella. Negotiators plan to meet again Sunday.

The stalemate that led to Fox pulling its channels and, briefly, online content from subscribers in parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut early Saturday was the latest in a series of programming fee disputes that have led to blackouts of programs such as the Oscars. But the impasse amounted to more than corporate wrangling for Bronx resident Clifford Taylor.

“We live for sports,” Taylor said. “Die-hard New Yorker fans, we love to see the Yankees and Giants play.”

[…] According to Cablevision, the dispute is about $80 million, to be precise. The cable company says that News Corp. is asking for that much more a year for access to 12 Fox channels, including those in dispute. That would more than double the yearly rate to $150 million, says the company, which is demanding that Fox enter into binding arbitration.

Fox, meanwhile, blames Cablevision Systems Corp. “In an effort to avoid this very situation, we started this process in May and made numerous reasonable proposals, Mike Hopkins, president of Fox Networks Affiliate Sales and Marketing, said in an earlier release.

“As long as there is a serious effort on the part of Cablevision, we will be at the table,” Fox spokesman Scott Grogin said Saturday. “We want to settle this as quickly as possible.”

After negotiations ended later in the day, Cablevision issued a statement accusing News Corp. of using the sporting events “to hold viewers hostage,” calling it shameful.

By Saturday afternoon, Cablevision’s Internet customers were blocked from watching Fox content on the network’s website and on the video site Hulu, prompting U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., to call on the Federal Communications Commission to broker an agreement and step in to “defend Internet freedom and consumer rights.”

5 thoughts on “Monopoly

  1. Seems to me the loss of Fox outlets could do nothing but improve the carrier’s credibility. As for baseball, there’s always the option of an antenna to pick up the local stations.

    My Comcast HD box went wonky during last Sunday’s Ravens game and I had to hook up a random piece of wire to get CBS’s broadcast. Unfortunately for me, I’d never before hooked up an antenna to the digital TV — and it took nearly 20 minutes to scan the available channels. As a result, I missed the last half hour of the game.

    Of course, this only works if you have a digital TV or one of those converter boxes they were pushing last summer. YMMV …

    Today’s cable woe was horribly distorted audio that afflicted the first segment of Howie Kurtz’s Reliable Sources. It was bad on both HD and standard definition channels, yet the commercials were clear as a bell. A call to a friend in NYC revealed she had the same problem, so the fault lay with CNN. They fixed it about 18 minutes into the show.

  2. Did you catch the “Fix Your Teeth” and “Hippy Trash” signs that Phillies fans held up for Lincecum? Nice folks.

  3. For generations, Philly sports fans had reputations for nastiness that was attributed to having to put up with bad local teams.

    But now that the Phillies are the best team in the National League, and arguably in all of baseball, what can their excuse possibly be?

  4. Watched the Giants football game at Mom’s today – she’s in south Jersey and has Comcast, and mentioned that FOX pulled this same stunt with them not too long ago (they’ve also blackmailed DishTV and Time Warner). There are no good guys here, though; this is the third time this year Cablevision (our provider) has had channels blacked out. We did without the Food Network and other Scripps channels for over three weeks, and of course the article mentions the Oscars debacle with ABC. I wish this sort of thing could be more regulated, but as you point out these companies have had undisturbed near-monopolies for so long, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Interestingly, Cablevision’s on-air smears of FOX actually include some true information many viewers might be unaware of, concerning the waiver granted them from the laws stating one company can’t own two papers or broadcast stations in the same market.

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