- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cable, satellite TV and other video providers have asked the government to intervene in ongoing fee disputes with TV networks - big-money fights that are expected to escalate this year as more contracts expire.

The most recent showdown between the two sides left millions of Cablevision customers around New York with a black screen at the start of the Academy Awards.

About 15 minutes into the show, a scrolling announcement told viewers that a tentative agreement had been reached.

As advertising revenue has weakened, TV networks have begun to demand cash for their programs rather than some of the advertising swaps that have been acceptable in the past.

Rising tensions between cable and the networks has brought together one-time rivals including Time Warner Cable Inc., Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and even a consumer rights group.

The companies and a consumer rights organization sent a petition the Federal Communications Commission, seeking an intervention Tuesday.

They cited concern over the leverage that broadcasters have during negotiations, namely the ability to cut TV signals when talks don’t go their way.

Last weekend was not the first time such tactics had been used.

Late last year, Time Warner Cable customers faced the threat of losing their Fox stations, which broadcast shows including “The Simpsons,” and “American Idol,” during a standoff with News Corp., which owns Fox.

“Consumers are increasingly being put in the middle of disputes,” Time Warner Cable said. “The petitioners implore the FCC to act expeditiously to help prevent further consumer harm.”

Cable companies want regulators to end the ability of broadcasters to yank TV signals during contract talks. They also want the FCC to put into place mandatory arbitration or other measures to prevent black TV screens.

The National Association of Broadcasters is not backing down.

“To see billion dollar pay TV companies asking for government intervention to protect their exorbitant profits is just plain wrong,” the industry group said.

One cable company was conspicuously absent from the petition sent to the FCC.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, will become a broadcaster if its plan to take control of NBC Universal is approved.

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