Fox Family bumped in Orlando

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Time Warner Cable in Orlando, Fla., has moved the Fox Family Channel from its basic analog tier, where it was available to all the approximately 700,000 subscribers in Time Warner Cable’s Central Florida division, to its digital tier, where there are only an estimated 210,000 potential viewers.
The move puts Fox Family Channel’s extensive postseason Major League Baseball schedule out of reach of the Orlando area’s nondigital Time Warner Cable subscribers.
The move, which went into effect Oct. 1, makes way for WE: Women’s Entertainment, the Rainbow Media channel formerly known as Romance Classics. With more than 543,000 basic-cable subscribers as of the beginning of this year, the Orlando Time Warner system is the fourth-largest in the United States, according to National Cable & Telecommunications Association data.
The move, which cuts Fox Family’s carriage in the Orlando area by about two-thirds, comes on the verge of the completion of The Walt Disney Co.’s $5.3 billion cash-and-debt-assumption acquisition of the channel. That acquisition is expected to close late this month or in early November, at which time the Fox Family Channel will become the ABC Family Channel.
The acquisition has been somewhat delayed, one knowledgeable insider said, by the events of Sept. 11 and by “Europe-related legal issues.”
Of course, Orlando is the home of Disney World, and Disney and ABC officials familiar with the Time Warner Cable Orlando channel switch were said
to be “furious,” according to insiders, who also characterized the channel switch as a ploy in carriage negotiations.
With the ownership change imminent, and carriage contract negotiations also pending between Fox Family and several other affiliates, most parties to the Orlando channel switch declined to comment on the record or remained unavailable despite repeated attempts to contact them.
Nonetheless, a Time Warner Cable spokesman did confirm the channel switch, from analog Channel 37 to digital Channel 137, and did provide Electronic Media with Orlando-area subscriber numbers. The spokesman denied that the Orlando repositioning had anything to do with contract negotiations and said that Fox Family’s’ Orlando contract was not up for renewal. “It simply had to do with local channel-repositioning issues,” the spokesman said, adding that Time Warner’s carriage contract with WE requires it to be launched on the analog tier. “End of story.”
Specifically, the TWC spokesman had no comment when asked if Time Warner Cable had held discussions with either Disney or ABC about the Orlando Fox Family Channel repositioning. “I’m not going to talk about negotiations or discussions beyond that there was notification [to Fox Family of the repositioning],” the spokesman said.
There are “no plans” for additional repositioning of Fox Family in other markets, the spokesman also said.
Fox Family has “numerous cable contracts up for renewal,” one informed cable-network executive said, “but the feeling was that the [Fox Family] affiliates were all very favorable to the ownership changes. I’m definitely surprised. I hope this isn’t negativity toward the Disney way of doing things.”
Major League Baseball now becomes one big issue for Orlando-area sports fans.
While the regular season has just ended, Fox Family Channel, available in 82 million homes nationwide, could telecast as many as 11 postseason division series MLB games, while Fox Sports could broadcast as many as nine, according to Fox Sports. In addition, all games telecast on Fox Family Channel will simultaneously air on the Fox broadcast affiliate in the participating team’s home markets.
Orlando-area baseball fans who want to see any of the postseason games broadcast exclusively by Fox Family Channel will have to become Time Warner Cable digital subscribers, at least until Disney’s acquisition of Fox Family goes through.
One provision of the Disney acquisition of Fox Family gives Disney “assignability” over the baseball schedule, allowing it to move future games from Fox Family to any other channel that it owns with at least 70 million households in its universe, according to a knowledgeable source. That means that Disney can “assign” the family channel’s baseball schedule to ESPN or ESPN2.