A Cable Football: Cox vs. Fox

  • Share
  • Read Later
Fox Corporation made another power play against a cable system this weekend when it blacked out its Fox network from three Cox Cable systems. The reason? Cox is refusing to carry two new Fox channels on all of its cable systems. Cox says the timing is a low blow since it leaves Virginia and Texas residents without TV access to their local NFL teams just as the playoffs are beginning. The spat shows just how much America's TV landscape has changed — long gone are the days when the tube was dominated by three networks zapped through the airwaves onto your rabbit ears. Now six networks and a gaggle of cable channels come through a seemingly infinite variety of pay-TV formats. Networks still link to cable companies for free, but increasingly hold them hostage by making the programming's availability contingent on the purchase of the networks' cable affiliates. ABC, for example, recently threatened to pull itself from Time Warner Cable if Time Warner didn't start carrying the SoapNet channel.

This is familiar territory for Fox, which got into a well-publicized standoff with New York City's Time Warner Cable (which, like TIME Online, is owned by Time Warner), prompting Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to demand that Time Warner add two Fox channels. But the effectiveness of the networks' tactics is uncertain. Some industry analysts say Fox could force Cox's hand by prompting local residents to switch to satellite service. Cable's defenders argue that once cable companies package telephone and Internet services, which is already beginning to happen, these tactics will be less effective, since consumers will be less inclined to give up one-stop telecommunications shopping. The cable companies also got a boost when a federal judge threw out Giuliani's suit. Funny, David Sarnoff never seemed to have these problems.