Subscribers to Altice USA’s Optimum cable service face the prospect of days ahead without Fox’s broadcasts of NFL football and post-season Major League Baseball if contract talks between the two sides fail.
Fox is starting to tell Altice subscribers via messages on its broadcast stations and cable networks that they face a potential blackout of programming. Fox and Altice have been in discussions for the past several weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter, but remain “materially apart” on terms. The companies’ current contract is slated to end at midnight Thursday, this person says. Meanwhile, Altice believes Fox is seeking rate increases that would be onerous to subscribers.
Approximately 2.5 million subscribers could be affected. Altice provides service to viewers in pockets around the nation, but its biggest and most lucrative area is the one around New York City. Altice provides cable service in and around Long Island and parts of southern Connecticut.
“Fox remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with Altice for Optimum’s continued distribution of our networks. Despite our best efforts for months, we regret that Altice continues to demand special treatment and reject marketplace terms, compelling us to alert our loyal viewers of a potential blackout of all Fox channels by Optimum,” Fox Corp. said in a statement. “This means Optimum subscribers could lose access to the MLB playoffs on Fox and FS1, The World Series, NFL on Fox, College Football on Fox Sports, Fox News, hit shows like ‘The Masked Singer ‘and ‘9-1-1,’ local news, and more.”
Fox has launched a web site, “KeepFox.com,” that gives viewers more of its view on the contract talks.
Altice says discussions are still ongoing. “Optimum is committed to keeping our customers connected to the TV content they love, and we are currently in active negotiations with Fox Networks to continue carrying its suite of channels at a reasonable rate that reflects the best interest of our customers,
the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Fox Networks is demanding unprecedented and excessive fee increases that would raise TV bills. We are working hard to reach a fair deal for our customers and to avoid any disruption.”
The looming showdown would pit a TV company keen to use its top-rated broadcast programming to eke out new deals with distributors of all sorts with a cable company that has, on occasion, battled with some industry heavyweights. In 2010, for example, Disney found itself potentially unable to broadcast ABC’s telecast of the Oscars to subscribers of Cablevision Systems Corp. — the company purchased by Altice in 2015 — after a contract dispute resulted in a blackout of ABC and Disney-owned networks for more than 20 hours. The Disney channels were restored just minutes before the Oscars started.
Many media companies and cable distributors find themselves at odds over streaming: The media conglomerates have launched a bevy of streaming services that serve to accelerate the dynamic known as “cord cutting,” or halting traditional cable and satellite service in favor of picking up programming through other means. While Paramount Global sells Paramount+ and Comcast offers Peacock, for example, Fox’s main streaming offering is the free, ad-supported Tubi. Fox has also kept its sports offerings on TV and not behind a subscription-service paywall.
Altice in August revealed that it had received interest in some of its cable assets, mostly those that it had acquired in 2015 through a purchase of Suddenlink, a company that controls service in parts of the south and central United States.
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