In a surprising (and no doubt pricey) move, Cablevision announced it will reimburse its would-be World Series viewers the cost of watching the games online at MLB.com. Cablevision and News Corp. (the owner of broadcaster Fox) have been in rough retransmission agreement negotiations, and Fox removed its stations from Cablevision mid-October as Cablevision refused to pay what News Corp. is demanding for its stations. This plan might have pulled the fulcrum out of one of Fox’s biggest levers: no baseball for Cablevision subscribers.
Cablevision subscribers are prompted to pass verification of their MLB.com World Series coverage purchase to Cablevision in order to receive a $10 credit on their cable bills. Cablevision is also cleverly employing social media to add public pressure against News Corp.
An interesting angle to this development is the fact that this is a cable company pushing subs to view content online. If the MLB.com site (which touts “no blackouts”) can keep up with this new surge in demand, Cablevision might be creating new interest in online-only viewing. There are certainly some subscribers who will be wooed by the multi-angle, ad-free Internet broadcast of the games. As long as Cablevision is the ISP for these folks, they’re probably ok, but viewers are likely learning that they can receive other Fox programs online at Fox.com and Hulu (although Fox tried to cut off access for Cablevision-area subs there, too, for a short time).
Cablevision is certainly not the first or only big cable operator to tussle with broadcasters over retransmission fees. In the Midwest, Mediacom and Sinclair dismayed college football fans when retransmission negotiations broke down right before the bowl games. That same fight is expected to flare up again when the one-year extension to Mediacom and Sinclair’s retransmission agreement expires in early January 2011.