Cable customers may get Super Bowl

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2002

[01/15/2002]Vicksburg football fans who are also cable TV subscribers may be able to stay in town to see this year’s Super Bowl.

A representative of WEHCO, parent company of Vicksburg Video, said the company is completing negotiations to add Fox network back to the cable system.

“I think there is light at the end of the tunnel as we speak,” said Larry Risner, director of marketing for WEHCO, Monday. Based in Little Rock, the company operates 14 cable systems in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Vicksburg Video, the firm’s only cable TV company in Mississippi, has not offered the main Fox channel since its Jackson affiliate, WDBD, changed to Warner Brothers in October. While Fox has other popular programs, including “The Simpsons,” its loss was felt most directly in sports since the network offered Saints games and NASCAR events. Cable TV companies in Jackson and elsewhere made other arrangements to continue offering Fox, but 2001 offered a trip back in time locally because baseball’s World Series was available here only on radio for the first time in about 50 years.

Risner stressed that there were still details to work out in a contract between WEHCO and Fox, and declined to give a specific date when the channel would be added to the Vicksburg cable system’s lineup. Super Bowl XXXVI is Feb. 3.

“We would like to get this done long before the Super Bowl. That is our hope,” Risner said, adding that the channel would appear on the cable system several days after a contract is signed.

Vicksburg Video General Manager Beau Balch said the Fox, if added, would be carried on the company’s tier, meaning basic subscribers would not receive it as they have in the past. But, he said, there would be no rate increase for subscribers. Subscribers to Vicksburg Video’s basic plus tier package, without premium channels, now pay about $38 per month for the service.

FoxNet is a satellite channel that carries the Fox network’s programs, including sports such as the NFL, NASCAR and Major League Baseball. Several other cable systems in Mississippi picked up the satellite channel after WDBD switched, but Vicksburg Video was not one of them.

Cable companies can only pick up “over the air” networks available in the areas they serve. In accordance with Federal Communications Commission regulations, “must-carry” laws are designed to help local television stations compete and require cable companies to carry any broadcast stations that can be picked up in their area without cable.

In October, Balch was hopeful that another Jackson station would either add Fox or switch its affiliation from one of the other networks to Fox. That hasn’t happened.

Once Fox became a non-over the air channel here, satellite dish companies could start offering it and vendors reported brisk sales.

Both Risner and Balch said phone calls from unhappy customers in Vicksburg have poured into their offices on a regular basis, but neither had noticed a decline in business for Vicksburg Video since October.

“I can’t tell that we’ve lost a lot,” Balch said. “So far, the digital (cable) and all of our other services have taken up for it.”

Risner declined to comment on specifics, citing confidentiality, but said “contract issues” and some of the “language in the contracts” have caused the delay. He added that both sides have recently given some ground, however, and a deal may be close.

“Both sides have found some common ground where we can find some common ground,” Risner said. “Both sides have bent a little bit.”