In a further escalation of the war between programmers and operators, Fox
Sports Midwest may go dark on Charter Communications Inc.'s suburban St. Louis
systems Saturday if the network can't cut a new carriage deal.
Charter is balking at Fox Sports' demand for a rate hike that chairman Jerry
Kent said would double the MSO's current license fee. Kent would not disclose
the fee, but regional sports networks typically charge around $1 per subscriber,
Charter accounts for 250,000 of the regional sports network's 3.2 million
subscribers. Charter's deal with Fox Sports expired at year-end, but the MSO has
an extension through Friday night.
Kent would not say whether Fox was trying to package a contract renewal with
deals for its other networks, such as the 25 percent increase Fox Entertainment
is seeking for the ailing Fox Family Channel.
'Right now, we're focused on Fox Sports Midwest,' Kent said. 'Something's got
to give. The sports inflation problem has gotten out of control. Many sports
programmers believe they have a blank check to go out and buy sports rights at
any price and put it to our customers to pay.'
A Fox Sports spokesman would not comment.
The network carries Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals, the National
Hockey League's St. Louis Blues and the National Basketball Association's
Indiana Pacers. But with baseball not yet in season and the Pacers not being a
hometown team in St. Louis, Fox doesn't have quite as much immediate leverage as
it might in other situations.
Kent emphasized that the next move is Fox's, adding, 'Rest assured that
Charter will not take it off. If people wake up Saturday morning and Fox Sports
isn't there, it's not because Charter did it.'
- John Higgins