Tuesday, April 09, 2013

If Fox and Univision go to cable, what happens to their stations?

Yesterday, both Fox's Chase Carey and Univision's Haim Saban said that they would move their networks from over-the-air broadcast to subscription cable distribution if Aereo is allowed to use their content without paying for retransmission rights. Both of these statements are empty threats, because the economic damage from going cable-only would be much greater than the loss of retransmission fees. Here's why:
  • Fox owns 27 television stations, 17 of which are Fox affiliates. The 10 non-Fox stations are MyNetworkTV affiliates. If Fox goes cable-only, what happens to the 17 stations? Will Fox make them MyNetworkTV affiliates? Not likely, since it already owns MyNetworkTV affiliates in a number of the same markets. Will it sell them off? Perhaps, but not at the price it would like, since they'd be independents. (See Young Broadcasting's fiasco with San Francisco's KRON.)
  • Univision owns 23 television stations, all of which carry the Univision network. They've got the same problems and issues as Fox--what will it program the stations with if they don't carry Univision, and who will it sell them to?
  • In both cases, can the networks afford to lose viewers who can't afford or don't want to pay for a cable, satellite or IPTV video subscription?
  • Finally, if either Fox or Univision goes cable-only, their affiliates will immediately go to the FCC and Congress to block the move. Just as with the networks themselves, the economic value of their stations would be dramatically reduced by losing their network affiliations.
There are several other reasons why a shift to cable is unlikely, especially for Fox. In any event, Carey's and Saban's threats are nothing more than that. If they can't stop Aereo in the courts, broadcasters will use their enormous clout to get legislation from Congress banning or greatly limiting Aereo. Lobbying, campaign contributions and Fox News' bully pulpit, not taking the broadcast networks to cable, will be the tools used to minimize or eliminate the threat from Aereo.

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