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Fox, Cablevision joust on eve of World Series

Dolan calls for meeting at FCC; Fox sends cease-and-desist letter

As Cablevision and Fox wage war over Gotham’s airwaves, relations between the two have deteriorated into legal skirmishing over allegations that Cablevision reps have directed complaining customers to websites offering unauthorized coverage of Fox’s sports telecasts.

Meanwhile, Cablevision prexy-CEO James Dolan pressed the issue directly with FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a letter sent Tuesday that urged Genachowski to call him and News Corp. prexy Chase Carey to a meeting at the FCC today.

Dolan said the urgency stems from his effort to “ensure that our customers are not deprived of the World Series,” which bows today exclusively on Fox.

Fox’s Gotham and Philadelphia stations have been dark for Cablevision’s 3 million subscribers since Oct. 16, marking the longest retransmission consent wrangle in the nation’s largest TV market since the law took effect in 1993. The sides have not had face-to-face talks since the middle of last week, when Dolan and Carey met briefly in Gotham.

FCC execs had reached out to both companies with an offer to help them select a mediator for the dispute in the days just before the stations went dark.

“I can assure you that only with your assistance in bringing the parties together will productive, good faith talks occur,” Dolan wrote.

Fox insiders called Dolan’s move a “stunt.” A senior FCC official opined that Cablevision “should spend less time writing publicity-seeking letters to the FCC and more time at the negotiating table reaching an agreement.”

Genachowski last week chided both companies for spending more time on verbal sparring than negotiating. Both firms supplied details Monday to the FCC of the yearlong negotiation process that led to the shutdown (Daily Variety, Oct. 26).

It’s still unclear what, if any, steps the FCC can take to prod the sides to a resolution, other than imposing fines if one or both are found to be violating the good-faith clause that governs retransmission consent negotiations between broadcast station owners and cable, satellite and telco TV providers. Cablevision and Fox have another day to send responses to the FCC on each other’s comments on the negotiations process.

In another indication of the bad blood between the companies, Fox on Tuesday sent Cablevision a cease and desist letter following a report in the New York Daily News alleging that Cablevision customer service reps were guiding subscribers to websites offering pirated access to Fox’s NFL and Major League Baseball coverage.

“As both a creator and owner of intellectual property — not to mention major sports franchises — Cablevision knows better and should immediately call an end to this unlawful activity,” Fox said in a statement.

The report was based on what the Daily News said was a recorded phone call between a Cablevision customer service rep and a subscriber complaining about losing access to Fox’s WNYW-TV.

Cablevision insiders disputed the notion of a coordinated effort to guide subscribers to unauthorized online access to Fox’s sports coverage. Publicly, the company used Fox’s legal maneuver as an opportunity to reiterate that on the first day of the blackout, Oct. 16, Fox went so far as to block Cablevision broadband subscribers from watching Fox shows online via Fox.com and Hulu. That raised immediate red flags.

“This is an obvious tactic from News Corp., which blocked the Internet, to shift focus away from their pulling the plug on 3 million New York households,” Cablevision said. “Fox should cease and desist its World Series blackout, put its programming back on Cablevision and agree to binding arbitration.”

The letter from attorney John Hooper of law firm Reed Smith was sent via FedEx Tuesday morning to Dolan–and promptly distribbed to media outlets covering the Cablevision-Fox saga.

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