Deadline Looms over Cable TV Fee Dispute

The Fox broadcast network has rejected an offer from Time Warner Cable to submit to binding arbitration in a dispute over fees.

Chase Carey, chief operating officer of Fox owner News Corp., says the issue needs to be settled at the bargaining table and not through a third party.

Carey told staff in a memo earlier in the day that a signal interruption was likely when the current deal over fees expires at midnight Thursday.

The company did not directly address an offer by Time Warner Cable to continue to carry its signal while talks continue.

Fox is arguing that it needs to be paid more for broadcast signals that are retransmitted to subscribers of Time Warner Cable and Bright House. Time Warner Cable says the demanded fees are excessive.

If a deal isn't reached, programs that could disappear from Time Warner Cable Inc.'s lineup include "The Simpsons" and several football games, including the Sugar Bowl on Friday, the Cotton Bowl on Saturday and the NFL's final regular season contests on Sunday. Bright House Networks' cable TV systems also face a Thursday deadline with Fox's owner, News Corp.

In Florida, two television viewers filed a lawsuit Wednesday against News Corp., seeking an injunction to ensure that the Fox broadcast of the Florida-Cincinnati Sugar Bowl contest would remain on Bright House' cable system. Circuit Judge Maura Smith in Orlando did not immediately rule, saying she would first let a federal judge decide if federal court was the proper venue for the case.

The dispute concerns the signals of 14 Fox-owned stations covering such markets as Los Angeles, New York, Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas and Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg and Orlando, Fla. Stations carrying Fox programming but owned by other companies are not affected.

Besides the Fox broadcast network, six cable channels - FX, Speed, Fuel, Fox Reality, Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espanol - and certain regional sports networks were also up for negotiations. Unaffected are Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network and National Geographic Channel, which is partially owned by News Corp.