With negotiations for a renewal of their distribution deal stalled, Fox Networks Group has begun warning subscribers to Altice USA’s Optimum cable TV service that channels including local Fox station WNYW-TV in New York, FS1 and FX could be blacked out in the near future.
The commercials, which began airing Saturday during afternoon college football broadcasts, employ Fox TV personalities to say that popular programming including NFL, the MLB playoffs and a new season of primetime series such as Empire won’t be available unless an agreement is struck.
“We are disappointed that despite our repeated efforts to reach a deal over the past several months, Altice refused to engage in any substantive discussion until just last week and is now asking for preferential treatment that’s totally out of step with the marketplace,” a Fox spokesman said in a statement.
“We feel it’s our responsibility to inform Altice’s customers that as a result, they may lose access to Fox , FX, FS1, National Geographic and more, including NFL games on Fox , MLB postseason action on Fox and FS1, Empire, 9-1-1, American Horror Story and Mayans M.C., as well as their local news from Fox and some of their local Fox Sports networks,” the Fox spokesman said.
In response, Altice confirmed it was negotiating with Fox and said it is "disappointed that they have started threatening to black out certain channels in an effort to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in new fees from us and our customers."
"Programming costs are the greatest contributor to rising cable costs, and we urge Fox to stop its threats and instead focus on negotiating an agreement that is fair for consumers," Altice said.
In a spot, Fox said “Attention Optimum customers. Optimum could again drop some of your favorite programming. We’re talking about NFL on Fox, college football, Major League Baseball playoffs, 9-1-1 and more. Optimum may no longer carry your favorite sports shows and local news.” It urges viewers to call a number—866 Keep My Nets—or visit a website, KeepMyNets.com.
Negotiations between Fox and Altice started in May. According to sources, Fox made a proposal but Altice did not respond for months. When Altice did respond, both sides were far apart.
Fox News Channel and regional sports networks including the Yankees’ YES Network are not affected.
Altice acquired Cablevision Systems in New York in 2015. Its Optimum brand service carries popular Jets and Giants football games as well as New York Yankees baseball to millions of homes in the New York market.
In 2010, Fox networks were blacked out on Cablevision for two weeks. When an agreement was reached, just before the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series, Cablevision complained that it had been pressured into a bad deal. “Cablevision has agreed to pay Fox an unfair price for multiple channels of its programming including many in which our customers have little or no interest,” the cable company said at the time.
Since acquiring Cablevision, Altice has had carriage disputes with AMC Networks in 2016, The Walt Disney Co. in 2017 and Starz earlier this year. Altice dropped Starz and Encore channels on Jan. 2. They were restored Feb. 13 after a multi-year agreement was reached.
Altice also owns the former Suddenlink cable systems.
The dispute comes at a time when FX and National Geographic are among the assets that 21st Century Fox has agreed to sell to the Walt Disney Co. But that deal hasn’t closed so Fox will be handling the negotiations for those cable channels.
Fox Networks Group recently averted a blackout of the Big Ten Network on Comcast Systems. In July, Fox began showing ads featuring popular coaches from Big Ten schools warning fans that they might not be able to see college football games unless the dispute was settled.
A renewal was agreed upon on Aug. 24 before the previous 10-year contract expired and before the college football season kicked off.