It is unclear how long respite would last

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has weighed in on the Fox-Time Warner Cable retransmission consent drama, urging the sides to agree to a temporary extension to prevent Fox channels from going dark on Time Warner systems on Friday.

“Companies shouldn’t force cable-watching football fans to scramble for other means of TV delivery on New Year’s weekend,” Genachowski said in a statement issued Thursday.

Fox and Time Warner are facing a deadline of midnight tonight for reaching a new carriage agreement covering 14 Fox-owned stations in nine markets, as well as FX and other cablers. The sides are continuing to negotiate today but they remain far apart on price for a new deal, with Fox seeking a monthly fee of $1 per subscriber for its broadcast retrans rights, while Time Warner’s offer was about 30 cents.

Genachowski in his statement praised Sinclair Broadcast Group and cable operator Mediacom for agreeing to an eight-day extension on a deal that was to expire at midnight tonight.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has said he’ll ask the FCC to mandate continued carriage if Fox stations go dark on Time Warner. A rep for Genachowski would not comment specifically on whether he would take those steps in the Fox-Time Warner case. But in regards to Sinclair-Mediacom, Genachowski’s statement emphasized that “companies have to accept shared responsibility for protecting their audience’s interests.” He said that so long as Sinclair and Mediacom continue to negotiate “in good faith” he would not seek “a further continuation of carriage absent a new agreement between the parties.”

Still, Genachowski’s statement ratchets the pressure on Fox and TW to come to terms lest they face a political firestorm if the channels go dark. Time Warner went on the offensive on Wednesday, saying it would accept Kerry’s suggestion that the sides submit to binding arbitration to settle the fee dispute.

Fox had no comment on Genachowski’s statement. Time Warner said it agreed with the FCC chief. “We’ve done everything we can to reach a fair agreement, and now it’s really up to Fox,” TW said in a statement.

Update: As the midnight deadline passed in East Coast time zones, Fox and Time Warner Cable execs are still negotiating and Fox has yet to pull its stations and cable nets from Time Warner systems. Time Warner said it had received a “brief extension” for the channels in question, but it was unclear how long it that respite would last.

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