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Fox, Cox Move Past Retrans Dispute

8/26/2001 8:00 PM Eastern

In moving from contentious retransmission-consent wrangling to cooperative affiliate promotion partnering, Fox Cable Networks Group and Cox Communications Inc. seem to following a line uttered by the ape character Limbo in 20th Century-Fox's Planet of the Apes: "Can't we all just get along?"

It wasn't all that long ago that MSOs such as Cox and Time Warner Cable butted heads with Fox over retransmission of its television stations. But all parties seem to have let bygones be bygones, as FCNG seeks to help these MSOs pad their coffers and boost consumer awareness of new products through aggressive affiliate promotions.

"We [Fox and Cox] have had issues in the past," acknowledged newly promoted Fox Cable vice president of affiliate marketing, sports Sol Doten. "But we wanted to be able to show we are good cable partners and bring a lot to the table, to drive their [new] businesses, as well as ours — Fox Sports World, in this case."

Both Fox Cable and Cox's Fairfax, Va., system consider their June 16 soccer-themed promotion event at the Springfield Mall a success. It promoted the value of Fox Sports World's programming and generated new-customer sales and upgrades for analog and digital services.

The community event, designed to appeal to families, teens and pre-teens, also enhanced the operator's image.

FCNG continues to work on other promotions in other Cox markets as well, for instance, involving Fox Sports World Español in Phoenix, Doten said.

The idea of a marketing partnership in Phoenix was first suggested last fall, said FCNG manager of affiliate marketing, sports Casey Schick.

The DMA-wide marketing effort broke in mid-June and ran through mid-July. Its aim: to help drive Cox's Hispanic tier, which also includes Toon Disney en Español and VH Uno.

Fox Cable, Cox and Hispanic ad agency SCDRG Inc. developed two Spanish-language direct-mail pieces. One offered a limited basic subscription plus Tele Latina at $28.45 per month, the other offered extended basic plus the tier for $48.95. Results are still being tabulated, the companies said.

The Virginia mall event drew from 700 to 1,000 attendees, Doten said. In another measure of success, he said the operator offered product demonstrations and "sold through some of their products — especially digital orders and upgrades, Road Runner [cable-modem] service and some pay-per-view orders [for the June 23 Oscar De La Hoya fight]."

Cox Northern Virginia director of video products Martin Wills said last Thursday that its on-site personnel in its display area had tallied three PPV orders at the mall event, along with four Road Runner sales, six bundled orders that encompassed Road Runner and video, three analog cable orders and two premium cable upgrades.

There has also been "some residual activity since then," including one high-speed access signup and requests for printed materials, Wills added.

The focal point of the event was a free soccer clinic, but there also were autograph signings and photo opportunities with Major League Soccer and Women's United Soccer Association stars. Attendees got free autographed soccer balls, baseball caps and other premiums from Fox Sports World and participated in drawings for tickets to National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) events and local MLS and WUSA games.

Other t-shirt and poster giveaways came from a local radio station that participated in the promotion.

Asked the total value of the marketing support that went behind this promotion, Doten said only that it was "substantial." Schick said it came to about $400,000.

Cox advertised the event in The Washington Post, El Tiempo
and five other area newspapers. It ran cross-channel spots on all its networks, on the TV Guide Channel and its own local channel, The View.

Marquee and kiosk ads in the mall promoted the event. Cox also touted the promotion with on-hold phone messages, mall signage, and promos on the radio station's and its own Web sites.

About 18 months ago, the picture was far different in Northern Virginia. Fox was sparring with Cox in a dispute that saw Fox Broadcasting Co.'s owned-and-operated station in Washington, WTTG, pulled from the 400,000-subscriber system.

The two sides came to terms on a carriage deal in January of 2000. "The Fox 'ask' in the [Cox] deal was carriage of Fox Sports World," a spokesman noted.

Fox also has locked horns with Time Warner Cable in the recent past. But last spring, the two parties joined forces on the "Winston Weekend Sweepstakes," a promo tie-in calling attention to FX's inaugural NASCAR coverage.

In that instance, a major local ad-sales component amassed $200,000 for the MSO in 16 markets. The Cox promotion didn't involve local ad sales.