Stalemate over fees leaves FiOS viewers without Fox 25
Just in time for Thanksgiving football, about 400,000 Massachusetts households that subscribe to Verizon FiOS for TV service lost their signal to Fox 25 on Thursday morning because of a fee dispute between Verizon and the new owner of the Boston-area Fox affiliate.
The blackout meant that viewers could not see the Cowboys-Eagles game on Fox 25 (the Eagles won, 33 to 10), ruining a Thanksgiving tradition for some, and prompting others to vent their outrage on Facebook or search for options to watch the game.
“We have people here and some of them really want to watch the game, including me,’’ said Peter Gould, 53, from his Framingham home. “We’ve been waiting all day for it.”
It was unclear Thursday evening when the signal would be restored. Disputes over what are known as carriage fees — charged by the owners of television stations like Fox 25 to cable companies like Verizon — are occurring with increasing frequency nationwide, and they can last for days or weeks. Both sides had worked late Wednesday before missing a deadline early Thursday morning.
As is typical for this type of showdown, both sides blamed the other for not reaching an agreement.
Verizon said the problem can be traced to the change in ownership at Fox 25, also known as WFXT-TV, last month, when Cox Media Group took control of the Dedham-based station from Twenty-First Century Fox. At that point, Cox sought a new contract with what Verizon said is an unreasonable increase in carriage fees. Verizon said it doesn’t want to give in to Cox’s demands because that would translate into higher bills for its customers.
Verizon said the price Cox is seeking is substantially higher than what it pays to carry other local stations with national network affiliations, such as WCVB-TV, WHDH-TV, and WBZ-TV.
“It’s unfortunate that Cox has decided to deny our FiOS customers its Fox programming because we won’t cave in to those unreasonable demands,” Alberto Canal, vice president for corporate communications at Verizon, wrote in a blog posting on the company’s website Thursday.
Cox officials said they are seeking a fair price for the content offered to viewers via the local Fox affiliate, content that includes many NFL games such as the Cowboys-Eagles game.
“Cox Media Group remains committed to finding a solution to this dispute because we care about all our viewers, regardless of their video provider,” Tom Raponi, general manager at Fox 25, said in an e-mail Thursday.
“We have made ourselves available to Verizon whenever they would like to have further discussions . . . so talks could reconvene at any time.”
Neither side would disclose the rate that Cox is seeking. However, in a statement on the Fox 25 website, Cox said it is asking for less than one-third of the roughly $6 per month that Verizon reportedly pays per subscriber for ESPN.
The American Television Alliance, an industry group that includes Verizon as a member, issued a statement condemning Cox’s stance. During the past few years, the group said, Cox has blacked out viewers in at least 12 markets over fee disputes. But the issue is by no means limited to Cox: The group said the blackout in Boston is the 75th by TV broadcasters this year.
“The biggest turkey today is Cox, who is taking away the NFL and other programming from Americans who just want to watch TV with their families,” American Television Alliance spokesman Brian Frederick said in a statement Thursday. “By putting profits ahead of consumers on a national holiday, broadcasters are showing their true colors.”
Chris Tashjian, a 36-year-old Verizon subscriber in Marlborough, said he wasn’t planning to watch the Eagles-Cowboys game, but he was still annoyed by what he described as “two companies being greedy.’’
“Realistically I’m not going to drop FiOS for this because Comcast customer service is horrible, and I live in a town where basically the only cable provider choices are Verizon and Comcast,’’ Tashjian said in an interview Thursday.
A Verizon spokesman said nearly all of the company’s Massachusetts TV customers lost access to Fox programming, with the exception of those in four communities in Bristol County who can get WNAC-TV, a Fox affiliate based in Providence.
Fox 25’s programming was available on other cable providers in the area, and over the air.
Wellesley resident Cimarron Buser, who launched a Facebook page for people who lost service, urged them to complain to the Federal Communications Commission. He and others suggested ways to work around the blackout. One idea: Hook up a high-definition TV antenna and tune into the station’s broadcast for free.
“I’m not sure who is to blame for this, but clearly two large media companies . . . are fighting it out,” Buser said in an e-mail. “The consumer is the pawn in the game.”