Fox, DirecTV Butting Heads in New Retrans Spat

Fight could put added pressure on FCC to reform process

Let the latest retransmission battle begin. Fox Networks and DirecTV have gotten off to a rocky start in their negotiations over carriage for Fox's 26 cable networks including FX, Fox News Channel, and 13 regional sports networks.

According to an emailed statement from Fox sent Thursday night, DirecTV has threatened to suspend carriage of the networks on Nov. 1. 

"DirecTV sent us a proposal on Tuesday afternoon," Fox's statement said. "They have given us no chance to respond before taking an unnecessarily aggressive posture and going public."

DirecTV countered with a statement from CEO Mike White, who said that Fox is demanding a 40 percent hike in its fees, which he said is "simply unfair and unwarranted."

"We already provide News Corp. nearly a billion dollars a year for their channels, and we have no problem continuing to compensate them fairly," White said. 

The sniping is just the beginning of what is bound to escalate between the two companies. Though this particular agreement covers carriage arrangements for the Fox cable networks, carriage agreements between the two are also due up by the end of the year for Fox's 27 TV stations. And to make things more interesting, Chase Carey, president of Fox Networks parent News Corp., used to serve as CEO of DirecTV.

Fox isn't DirecTV's only problem. The satellite TV provider also has until Nov. 1 to come to a new retrans deal with Belo for carriage of the group's 20 TV stations in markets such as Dallas and Phoenix. Belo is already warning its viewers on its station Web sites that stations could go dark if an agreement isn't reached.

The disputes are sure to bring out both sides on the retrans reform debate on Capitol Hill and put added pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to act on a proposed rule that would govern how companies notify viewers in disputes, but stops short of preventing blackouts.

A recent standoff between LIN TV stations and Mediacom Communications took six weeks to resolve before LIN TV stations were finally restored on the cable systems in markets such as Pensacola, Fla. and Grand Rapids, Mich.