LIN TV threatens to pull Fox and CBS stations from Cox

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LIN TV (NYSE: TVL), the local broadcaster that pulled its signals from Mediacom Communications for six weeks last fall, is warning Cox Communications subscribers in Florida and Rhode Island that they may lose the signals for stations affiliated with Fox, CBS and The CW on March 1.

Unless Cox agrees to pay an increase in retransmission-consent fees, it will lose Rhode Island Fox affiliate WNAC-TV and CBS affiliate WPRI-TV, according to notices LIN posted on the station websites. LIN is also threatening to pull Pensacola Fox affiliate WALA-TV and The CW affiliate WFNA-TV from Cox after its contract expires on Feb. 29.

"If we do not reach an agreement, by law, COX cannot carry our television stations on its cable system," LIN wrote on WALA's site, using the same language that it used to communicate with Mediacom subscribers before it pulled its stations in Florida, Michigan, Indiana and Virginia from the MSO last year.

The FCC's relaxed media ownership rules, which allow LIN and other broadcasters to operate duopolies in Providence and other markets, could help it force Cox to pay a stiff increase in retransmission-consent fees. If LIN plays hardball with Cox, cable subscribers in Rhode Island could go several weeks or months without Fox and CBS programming. That could prompt some Cox subscribers to jump to Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) FiOS TV or satellite TV, while some Cox customers may attempt to rely on over-the-air antennas if LIN pulls its signals from Cox.

Facing ratings erosion and decreased ad revenue, LIN has been focused on squeezing increased retransmission-consent fees from cable and satellite providers. LIN saw its operating income drop by more than $6 million to $20.6 million during the third quarter. Its digital revenues, which include retransmission-consent fees, jumped 38 percent in Q3 to $22.1 million.

For more:
- see message to Cox subscribers from WALA

Commentary: LIN TV banks on retransmission consent fees to survive

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