Archive Post. Originally posted January 1, 2010.
[Update: Fox, Bright House and Time Warner reached an agreement. Fox stays on the cable channels. This wasn't the case between a recent negotiation between Scripps Network and a large cable provider. They ended their relationship. Now, what does this mean for media buying trends and media consumer costs?]
What happens when a top network like Fox is not carried by a major cable carrier in a large(ish) market? Doesn’t really affect Fox or the cable companies much. It does impact cable subscribers’ access to popular programming (House, Bones, The Simpsons, American Idle, sports). Most importantly, it signals a new potential trend in how media is purchased, possibly moving to an “a la carte” system for cable subscribers or worse: cable comapnies will only broadcast inexpensive programming.
Midnight, January 1, 2009, Bright House and Time Warner Cable subscribers were waiting for Fox stations to go dark on their televisions. The cable companies are under negotiations with Fox regarding the new contract for several Fox station broadcasts. In my neighborhood, that includes WTVT13, FX and several sports stations. Of greatest concern in my neighborhood was the possibility of not being able to watch the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl this evening. Well, no worries, Fox did not go dark, yet. The game aired, and the network and cable companies are still negotiating.
So, what is all of this negotiating about? Fox is demanding $1/month per cable subscriber to provide its programming. Bright House and Time Warner say this is too much. Viewers are mixed in their responses. Many say, “good bye, Fox” accusing the network of being greedy, right-winged, etc. Others are shocked that they may lose programming to their favorite shows and sports. Some are saying, “hey, just add the dollar to my already inflated cable bill. I won’t notice.”
To that last sentiment, I ask, what if we just added $1 onto your cable bill for every network your cable company choses to carry? This includes all of the networks that you never watch.
Okay, so what if we just pay that dollar for the cable networks we do want to watch? This is the “a la carte” programming mentioned previously. Well, I guess that would be capitalism at its limiting finest.
What do I mean by that? Networks are expensive to run. Networks such as Discovery and Scripps do not draw the numbers of viewers that Fox does. So, fewer people will pay that extra dollar for this programming, programming that already has very limited income from commercials compared to Fox. That means that these networks probably won’t be offered by smaller cable companies and quite likely the networks couldn’t afford to continue. That means no more Discovery Science, Food Network, HGTV, etc.
St. Petersburg Times columnist Eric Deggens reported today on his blog, “In another cable fee fight gone bad, Scripps Networks has decided to pull its popular cable channels The Food Network and HGTV from the Cablevision system after its contract expired at the start of the New Year. The removal, affecting more than 3-million subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, was sparked by Scripps’ efforts to increase its retransmission fees for the channels.
‘We wish Scripps well and have no expectation of carrying their programming again, given the dramatic changes in their approach to working with distributors to reach television viewers,’ read a statement issued last night by Cablevision.”
In the end, this isn’t a critical problem regardless of how it plays out with any network in any market. Networks and cable companies will still exist, though they may reduce. Viewers will still have plenty of stations to click through on their remotes. Choices may be more limited. Media consumers may watch more programming on the web. Cable prices will continue to rise… on this you can rely. What will the future of cable programming look like?