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Fox, Cablevision: The Money Game

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In addition to robbing some 3 million subscribers in New York and Philadelphia of the MLB National League Championship series between the Phillies and Giants, as well as Fox Sports’ NFL lineup and prime-time hits like Glee and House, the standoff between Cablevision and News Corp. is once again shining a rather unflattering light on retrans consent.

The blackout of Fox5 (WNYW in New York), My9 (WWOR in New York), Fox29 (WTXF in Philadelphia) and a clutch of cable channels (including Fox Business Network) marks the fifth time this year negotiations have broken down between a cable system and a programmer.

Despite the aggravation such clashes excite, internecine warfare accounts for a negligible percentage of service outages. (You’re 25 times more likely to lose a station signal in an electrical storm than as a result of a carriage beef.)

That said, consumers perhaps should get used to these sort of theatrics. TV stations consider the fight for retrans dollars a fight for their future while cable systems see rising retrans fees cutting into their profit margins. And there’s no discounting the impact cable’s dual-revenue-stream model has had on the broadcast groups.

When the economy is kicking the advertising market in the teeth, it’s always nice to have a steady stream of guaranteed dollars flowing in, thanks to long-term carriage deals. By 2017, Wells Fargo Securities estimates that retrans consent for all broadcast networks will hit $4.6 billion. Big stakes indeed.

For charts and analysis on the stakes involved in the retrans game, click here.