Disney’s WABC still off in Cablevision homes as feud continues

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Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, which pulled the signal of its New York City television station WABC-TV from Cablevision Systems Corp. homes in that region early Sunday morning, said it sent a new proposal to the cable company in hopes of reaching a carriage agreement.

Cablevision countered that it would be willing to enter binding arbitration with Disney over the matter and that the signal should be restored immediately.


If some sort of accord, temporary or permanent, is not reached soon, Cablevision subscribers in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Long Island and other parts of the tri-state area could be without the Oscars tonight.

Both sides are risking the ire of consumers and the government. ABC likely will take some sort of ratings hit from its decision, which could hurt its advertising as well. Cablevision could lose customers to rival distributors.

At issue are fees that Disney would like Cablevision to pay to carry WABC-TV. Cablevision, which has 3.1-million subscribers in the New York region, has said Disney wants $1 per subscriber per month to carry WABC-TV. Disney has disputed that figure but hasn’t elaborated on what fee it is seeking. Cablevision has argued that it already pays Disney $200 million annually for its cable networks including ESPN and Disney Channel and does not want to pay for WABC-TV. Disney counters that deals for its cable networks have nothing to do with the situation regarding WABC-TV.

‘We have sent Cablevision a new proposal and are awaiting their response,’ said Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of WABC-TV. ‘If Cablevision is serious about doing right by their customers and returning ABC7 and its programming to them, then they need to act now. The ball is in their court.’

Cablevision fired back with its offer of binding arbitration and added that it remains ‘deeply disappointed that ABC Disney has put their own financial interests above their viewers and pulled the plug on ABC.’

The cable company also wants the Federal Communications Commission to get involved, according to Executive Vice President Charles Schueler. Cablevision has ‘communicated our position to the highest levels of the FCC and urged the agency to appropriately involve itself in this process,” he said.
Typically, the FCC tends to stay out of these corporate disputes. William Lake, the FCC’s Media Bureau chief, said the agency has been in contract with both companies and is monitoring the situation. ‘Consumers should not suffer due to the inability of these two companies to successfully negotiate a deal,’ Lake said. ‘We urge both parties to quickly reach a resolution for the benefit of viewers.’

In the meantime, Radio Shack and other consumer electronics stores are having a busy Sunday selling antennas to frustrated Cablevision customers who want to watch the Oscars tonight.

-- Joe Flint