Scripps/Cablevision PR Battle Escalates
Senior management at Cablevision and Scripps Networks may cross paths today when the sparring companies present Jan. 6 at Citi’s global entertainment and media investor conference at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
Last night, however, their separate PR teams were in DefCon 1 mode seeking to explain to three million furious viewers in the New York region why they can’t see Food Network or HGTV on their local cable system. Scripps yanked the services after failing to get Cablevision to discuss a renewal of its carriage contract for the two channels.
According to cable sources, Scripps is looking to gain between 30 cents to 40 cents per household per month for HGTV and slightly less for Food Network. Other sources close to Scripps suggest the figure is more like 20 cents to 30 cents. Currently, Scripps receives 13 cents for HGTV and eight cents for Food Network. Scripps is arguing it deserves a rate on par with other top-rated channels–Lifetime, for instance, receives 28 cents. It points out Cablevision-owned channels are paid more than Scripps.
Cablevision-owned music channel Fuse earns eight cents, according to figures from SNL Kagan.
For its part, Cablevision took out full page ads in the New York dailies Wednesday with a simple message: “In what market is a $20 million annual increase considered ‘fair market price?’” The small print suggests Scripps is holding viewers hostage and urges viewers to call a hotline to get Scripps to return the services to air. Cablevision is also airing an onscreen video which describes that $20 million rate hike as “astronomical in these economic times.” One cable executive suggested that Cablevision is particularly irked by the percentage of the increase that Scripps is asking for.
Food Network President Brooke Johnson and HGTV President Jim Samples explain the company’s disappointment at not being able to resolve the contract fight in a print ad which appears a couple of pages after Cablevision’s full page ad in the Jan. 6 edition of The New York Times, but they steer clear of any talk of retrans. “We know the reasons for this impasse with Cablevision are not what matters to you,” reads the open letter. “What matters most to you is that you can’t enjoy the shows you’ve come to love. And for that, we’re deeply sorry.”
Meanwhile Scripps told B&C yesterday it was examining alternatives to get programming out to viewers. The Wall Street Journal reported today that Food Network’s Iron Chef America: Super Chef Battle, which stars the First Lady, will run Sunday evening on Tribune Co.’s WPIX in New York, and WTXX in Hartford, Conn. Tribune owns a small stake in Food Network.
Both PR teams are using Twitter to its fullest extent, with Food Network talent such as Bobby Flay saying the spat was “tripping people out,” while urging his followers to contact Cablevision. “Food Network is having a tough negotiation with Cablevision being the only cable operator to hold out. Call them and tell them you want it,” read one of his recent tweets.
It’s not clear, however, that either side is winning the PR battle? One tweeter, EarlyDawn, expressed displeasure with both sides: “I’m pretty pissed at both #scripps, for exploiting the PR opportunity, and #cablevision, for being tight-asses.”
One PR expert Peter Himler, principal of Flatiron Communications, observed, “If I was advising Scripps, I’d suggest they point people to Verizon Fios. I think Scripps is on terra firma in terms of their argument: ‘Look at other networks and the price they’re getting!’ It’s a pretty good argument. Cablevision owns the pipes and they can do what they want. Scripps doesn’t have a lot of leverage, but they could ratchet up the argument.
Still, Himler added, “they don’t want to cut their nose to spite their face.”