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Cablevision drops WPIX in fees dispute

The Cablevision Systems Corp. headquarters in Bethpage. (Nov.

The Cablevision Systems Corp. headquarters in Bethpage. (Nov. 19, 2010) Credit: Bloomberg News

Cablevision Systems Corp. stopped carrying WPIX-TV in Manhattan Friday because of a dispute over fees sought by the station's owner, Tribune Co.

The disagreement over retransmission charges could lead to a television blackout on Long Island and elsewhere of Saturday's and Sunday's Mets games.

Fees for retransmission of local television stations by cable and satellite companies have become a thorny issue in recent years, sparking a number of controversies in the industry. Blackouts of key sporting events and popular shows have occurred.

Saturday's 7:05 p.m. Mets game in Washington against the Nationals will only be broadcast by WPIX; it's not available from the Mets-owned SNY. The same holds for the Mets-Nationals game at 1:35 p.m. Sunday.

"We are aware of the situation and, obviously, hope it gets resolved quickly," spokesmen for the Mets and SNY both said Friday.

Cablevision also stopped carrying Tribune's Antenna TV, which shows classic series, including "Dragnet" and "Father Knows Best."

Bethpage-based Cablevision said Tribune was responsible for the possibility that Mets fans on Long Island wouldn't be able to watch Saturday night's game.

"The greed of Tribune Co. and its new hedge fund owners has caused the Mets blackout on WPIX," said Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella. "The bankrupt Tribune Company is demanding tens of millions of dollars in new fees for a few Mets games and reruns available elsewhere. They should work with us to reach an agreement."

Maiella added that Cablevision has not raised its cable rates for subscribers since late 2010.

Cablevision purchased Newsday from Chicago-based Tribune in 2008. Later, Tribune sought bankruptcy protection from creditors, but still owns about 3 percent of Newsday.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman said Friday that Cablevision should be faulted if the Mets are blacked out Saturday night.

"While in the middle of negotiations with Tribune and without warning, Cablevision unilaterally removed four Tribune stations in four markets from its cable systems," Weitman said, referring to the metropolitan area, Connecticut, New Jersey and Denver. "Cablevision took this action despite our offer of an unconditional extension of the current carriage agreement with no change in terms" through Aug. 24.

Friday, Cablevision also accused Tribune of "attempting to illegally tie the carriage of its Fox affiliate in Hartford to WPIX and other less popular Tribune-owned channels."

Tribune responded that its previous agreements with Cablevision, dating back 20 years, have covered all Tribune stations. "This approach is more efficient, benefits subscribers, is completely lawful and fully complies with [federal] good-faith negotiation rules," the Tribune spokesman said.

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