Fox has started spreading the word that its distribution deal with Altice USA is set to expire in the coming days, warning that a blackout could leave millions of Optimum and Suddenlink subscribers without access to key fall programming.
The carriage deal with Altice, the French telecom giant which bought Cablevision in 2016 for about $10 billion, is set to expire at the end of September, according to sources familiar with the terms. The pact covers the Fox broadcast network, FX, FS1, Nat Geo and other networks, so the dispute threatens big draws like NFL and college football and the upcoming Major League Baseball playoffs.
An ad campaign across Fox networks began today on Altice systems, with a voiceover declaring, “Enough is enough!”
The New York City suburbs would be hit hardest by an outage, given that the bulk of Optimum subscribers live in the Tri-State area. Altice has 4.9 million subscribers in 21 states under both the Optimum and Suddenlink brands. New York City has very minimal Optimum, with its cable footprint dominated by Charter’s Spectrum service (formerly Time Warner Cable). Most Suddenlink subscribers are in the Midwest.
Carriage disputes are becoming more common as every major distributor and programmer considers the nuclear option with stress on the traditional cable bundle continuing to build. Last winter, Altice clashed with the Lionsgate-owned premium network Starz, finally settling after an impasse lasting several weeks. Fox recently settled with Comcast over carriage of the Big Ten Network just before the contract expired.
Sources at Fox maintain that the company began the formal carriage renewal process in May, but Altice did not engage with that process until the expiration date was close at hand. The sides are said to remain far apart on terms.
Altice said in a statement that it is currently in talks with Fox. “We are 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,” the statement said. “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.”
In its statement, Fox said, “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. 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 post-season 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.”
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