Extra innings: No resolution expected soon in Hargray, Fox Sports dispute

gmartin@islandpacket.comJune 22, 2012 

A dispute between Hargray Communications and Fox Sports Net Carolinas that has frustrated Beaufort baseball fans is unlikely to be resolved soon, representatives for both media groups said Friday.

Hilton Head Island-based Hargray dropped FSN Carolinas from its channel lineup in January, citing an unreasonably high carrying charge requested by the Atlanta-based cable affiliate.

Since Hargray's acquisition of Charter Communications in April, former Charter customers in northern Beaufort County are losing FSN Carolinas while their cable packages are converted, a process Hargray hopes to complete by October.

The decision has upset Atlanta Braves fans -- the cable network is broadcasting 70 of the team's games this season -- but Andrew Rein, Hargray's vice president of communications, says their anger is misdirected.

"(FSN Carolinas) is being egregious and out of line," he said, adding he doubts the issue will be resolved soon.

"If they continue with their set of demands, I'm not optimistic," he said. "The ball's in their court."

The two sides are also at an impasse on whether FSN Carolinas would be available to all Hargray customers or only to those paying for its premier package of channels.

According to Rein, most Hargray customers already subscribe to the premier package, and FSN Carolinas' asking price is too high to warrant its inclusion in the standard cable package, which costs about $12 a month less.

FSN's asking price, which neither side would disclose, is slightly less than that commanded by ESPN, Hargray's most expensive channel to carry, Rein said.

In an advertisement this week in local newspapers, Hargray maintained the price was incommensurate with FSN Carolinas' status as the 82nd-most-watched channel it offered in 2011.

Chris Bellitti, vice president of communications for FOX Sports Networks, said in a statement that the channel's request to be included in the standard cable package is reasonable.

"Charter always offered FOX Sports Carolinas on its Expanded Basic level of service -- as does every other cable provider in South Carolina -- and we are asking that Hargray not restrict (its) availability by relegating it to a higher-tiered package."

Bellitti also disputed the validity of Hargray's ranking of FSN Carolinas' popularity.

"If you want to know where FS Carolinas truly ranks," he wrote, "ask the average sports fan in the Lowcountry if they're going to miss seeing the Braves in a second-half playoff race that's going to go down to the wire."

Bellitti indicated a deal could ultimately be reached, but it would be contingent on Hargray's cooperation.

"We remain open to discussions," he wrote, "and if Hargray comes back to the table to negotiate, we are confident that we can work it out and get a deal done."

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