Civilian casualties in Fox-Cablevision war

Locals flee to FiOS, sports bars, antenna service

Locals aren’t taking kindly to the Cablevision and Fox feud that’s blacked out Fox’s WNYW and WWOR for Cablevision subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

With the standoff in its third day Monday, viewers — especially football and baseball fans — are buying antennas, frequenting sports bars (most of which have satellite service) and abandoning their cable subscriptions in favor of Verizon FiOS and DirecTV.

Bar owners have seen a boom over the past few days, reporting unusually large crowds for the start of Saturday’s National League Championship Series baseball playoffs and bumper crops for Sunday’s Detroit Lions-New York Giants game, both carried by Fox.

“We had all the games, baseball on Friday and Saturday night and football on Sunday,” said Tony Murphy of Lily Flanagan’s, a bar in Babylon, in Cablevision’s subscriber stronghold of Long Island. “It was probably a larger crowd than usual. People were coming in asking, ‘Do you have the game? It’s on Fox, you probably don’t have it.'”

The loss of the Fox signals was particularly painful for fans of the Phillies, who have split the first two games of their best-of-seven series with the San Francisco Giants for the NLCS.

Mulligan’s, a Phillies-fan bar in Hoboken, N.J., is hoping for a big turnout for today’s late-afternoon start for Game 3. “It’ll be interesting to see tomorrow at 4,” said Mulligan’s staffer Paul Dawson.

Most of the animosity from fans inconvenienced by the wrangling seems directed at Cablevision.

“I have (Verizon) FiOS at home, and I’m telling you, I’m glad I switched,” said Laurie, an employee at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown, N.Y., which saw increased biz over the weekend.

With the World Series on the way, some consumers are taking more extreme measures.

“I can’t tell you exactly how many units we’ve moved, but we’ve gotten a lot of calls about antennas,” said a sales rep at the Best Buy in East Northport, N.Y.

Meanwhile, the fighting between two of Gotham’s most powerful media giants has become very public.

Attack ads from both sides in newspapers and on the radio are fanning the flames, with Fox taking out consecutive ads in Sunday and Monday’s New York Post, among others. Cablevision had a full page ad in Monday’s New York Times decrying News Corp.’s position.

Lew Leone, g.m. of WNYW and WWOR, also distribbed an “open letter” to Cablevision subscribers via the media and the stations’ websites.

“We offered Cablevision the exact same price that other companies are paying for our stations,” Leone said in the letter. “Instead of negotiating like a responsible business, Cablevision decided to make this your problem in the hope that if they caused you, the viewer, enough inconvenience, the politicians would intervene.”

Cablevision is seeking binding arbitration in the dispute.

Cablevision’s statement was no less strongly worded.

“Cablevision currently pays $70 million per year for News Corp.’s programming,” the net told subscribers. “Now they are asking for more than $150 million for the exact same programming — no new programming, just another $80 million per year for News Corp.”

Fox is actively promoting Cablevision’s competitors as well. All the print ads feature the Verizon and DirecTV logos at the bottom of the page next to the words “Fox has agreements with other providers.”

Verizon spokesman John Bonomo declined to specify exactly how many new FiOS subscribers the company had signed in the affected areas (Long Island and parts of Philadelphia and New Jersey) in recent days, but said that “we were busy over the weekend, we were busy today, and we’re expecting a busy week ahead of us.”

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