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Time Warner customers could lose Fox programming

Programming involving most local sports teams is at risk in fee dispute.

December 19, 2009|By Diane Pucin
  • Manny Ramirez's pinch-hit grand slam on his own bobblehead night was missed by many Time Warner subscribers.
Manny Ramirez's pinch-hit grand slam on his own bobblehead night… (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles…)

Starting at midnight Dec. 31, Time Warner cable customers could find themselves without Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Ducks, UCLA and USC television coverage, thanks to a fee dispute that escalated Friday.

Time Warner and News Corp., which owns the Fox stable of channels, have been unable to renegotiate the carriage agreement that runs out at the end of the year.

If the impasse is not resolved, local subscribers not only would be without much of the entertainment programming on Channel 11 -- including new seasons of "American Idol," "24" and "House" -- but also Prime Ticket and FS West, home to L.A. sports teams, including the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and Angels.

FX, Speed, Fuel, Fox Movies, Fox Reality, Fox Soccer and Fox EspaƱol also would be gone. Fox News and the Fox-owned National Geographic channel, however, are not part of the disputed package.

Besides local sports, subscribers also would miss four NFC pro football playoff games that are scheduled for Channel 11 as well as three BCS bowl games (all but the Rose Bowl and BCS championship game) and the Cotton Bowl.

According to three sources who cannot speak publicly because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations, Fox is asking Time Warner to pay it about $1 for every subscriber. By comparison, according to one source, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which negotiates with cable systems for networks such as CBS, NBC and ABC, gets between 25 to 50 cents per subscriber.

Time Warner is the second-largest cable distributor nationwide with 14 million customers. Patricia Fregoso-Cox, Time Warner's regional vice president in the West, said she couldn't disclose how many Southern California subscribers there are. However, a source familiar with the number but who is not authorized to divulge such information said the number in the Los Angeles area is about 1.4 million.

Fox, in a statement released Friday, said: "For the past nine months Fox has attempted to negotiate in good faith with Time Warner Cable. . . . While negotiations are ongoing, we have a responsibility to prepare our viewers for the very likely possibility that Time Warner Cable may choose to no longer carry Fox Broadcasting, Fox Cable and Fox regional sports programming."

Fox, meanwhile, has begun a marketing campaign to notify Time Warner subscribers about what they may lose.

Fregoso-Cox, however, said it's a matter of fairness.

"Fox's current demands are unreasonable and excessive," she said. "We're hoping that Fox won't punish Time Warner cable customers by taking programming away while we try and reach an agreement."

But Time Warner already doesn't carry the NFL Network, so its viewers missed the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts win their 14th game Thursday night and will miss today's game between the undefeated New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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