Scripps/Cablevision PR Battle Escalates

Scripps turns to broadcast airwaves to run its shows
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Senior management at Cablevision and Scripps could be headed
for a meeting Wednesday, (Jan. 6), as both companies are expected to
present 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. 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 today's edition of the New York Times, but steers 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 getting the message out, 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.

Who's winning the PR battle? Neither side. One tweeter,
EarlyDawn, expressed displeasure with both sides, posting this message today
January 6: "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 that: "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, but they don't want to cut their nose to spite their face."

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