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Tribune, Cablevision spar as blackout drags on

WPIX owner urges viewers to complain; cable op offers free NFL Net

Tribune Broadcasting and Cablevision are sparring anew as the retrans blackout of WPIX New York and other Tribune stations stretches into its fifth week.

The sides haven’t had much in the way of substantive negotiations since the stations went dark shortly after midnight on Aug. 17. And they can’t agree on the nature of the exchanges that have taken place.

Tribune Broadcasting prexy Nils Larsen said Tribune recently put forth a proposal “that they’ve chosen never to respond to.”

Cablevision maintains that it has agreed to meet Tribune’s asking price for its Fox affiliate in Hartford, Conn., but not for its CW affils WPIX, WCCT Hartford, Conn. and KWGN Denver and MyNetwork affil WPHL Philadelphia. Cablevision wants to restore Fox affil WTIC Hartford because of Fox’s NFL package.

“Tribune is continuing to insist on illegally tying carriage of its Hartford Fox affiliate to other less-popular stations it owns, in an attempt to extract tens of millions in new fees from Cablevision customers,” Cablevision said.

Cablevision serves about 3.6 million subscribers primarily in Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Tribune has been hammering the message that Cablevision subscribers are not getting all the Gotham-area stations they pay for as part of basic service packages. The company has mounted websites and radio spots blasting Cablevision, and it’s set to run a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of the Long Island Press that directs viewers to a toll-free telephone line where they’ll be connected to Cablevision.

Tribune said it’s heard from 100,000 viewers during the past few weeks. A Cablevision spokesman said customer interest in the blackout has been “minimal.”

Cablevision has been running a free preview of the NFL Network in the prime channel 11 slot normally reserved for WPIX. That has the affect of blunting the impact of WPIX’s telecast of Thursday’s New York Giants-Carolina Panthers game. WPIX bought the local broadcast rights to that particular game, but it’s also airing simultaneously on the NFL Network.

As is often the case in retrans disputes, Tribune execs emphasize that Cablevision pays more in carriage fees for some cable channels that draw much smaller auds than WPIX, which has the home-field advantage of offering local news and entertainment fare.

“They’ve been charging (subscribers) for our content for years and now we’re being told that these stations are of no value,” Larsen said.

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