News Corp. and Cox Communications executives sealed a new retransmission deal late Thursday, restoring the local Fox signal to cable systems in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Dallas, Houston and Austin.
The two sides were tight-lipped about the new deal, releasing a joint statement that said News Corp. and Cox officials agreed not to disclose any terms of the agreement “by mutual consent.”
Fox-owned stations in those markets had been off of Cox Cable systems since Jan. 1, after the two sides reached a stalemate over retransmission consent. Those stations’ signals were restored to Cox subscribers effective Thursday night.
Fox had been pressing Cox to offer the cable channels FXM and Fox Sports World on the MSO’s digital tiers as it implements digital service around the country. But Cox executives had called the request “extortion.”
The Fox blackout affected approximately 440,000 customers and the Fox-owned stations WTTG-TV, Washington; WJW-TV, Cleveland; KRIV-TV, Houston; KDFW-TV, Dallas; and KTBC-TV, Austin.
Pols push for agreement
The Fox-Cox deal came about the same day U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Cox CEO Jim Robbins and News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch, asking the two sides to extend the prior retransmission consent agreement or at least restore service while continuing to negotiate.
In the letter, the senators said the “entire structure of retransmission consent will become unworkable” if broadcasters and cable systems don’t take a more proactive approach to negotiations.
In a response posted on Cox’s Web site, Robbins said he agreed with the senators’ letter: “We are deeply disturbed by the callous disregard for viewers exhibited by Fox.”
Other faceoffs averted
The new retransmission agreement will preempt any faceoff in Orange County and Phoenix, where deals with the Fox-owned stations in those markets were set to expire on Jan. 31.
Separately, Fox affiliate WVBT-TV, Norfolk, Va., remains off Cox Cable’s systems in that market.
The debate there revolves around channel placement. LIN Broadcasting, which manages WVBT through an LMA, wants Cox to move the Fox affiliate, which is currently at channel 43, down to a channel position between 2 and 13.
Cox, meanwhile, says moving WVBT from channel 43 would be disruptive to viewers.