Walt Disney Co. has new allies in the fight to keep ABC Family channel on DirecTV.
Fans of televangelist Pat Robertson’s talk show, “The 700 Club,” which appears several times each weekday on ABC Family, have flooded DirecTV President Roxanne Austin’s corporate office with phone calls to protest its plans to drop the channel.
That response came after satellite leader DirecTV told its nearly 12 million subscribers last week that it would soon drop ABC Family if it does not resolve a contract dispute with Disney, the channel’s owner.
DirecTV is refusing to pay a 35% increase in the license fee, citing the channel’s modest popularity.
Disney says the price is justified because the fee not only includes ABC Family, but also renews the rights to carry the company’s ABC broadcast network.
Tensions escalated last week when DirecTV gleefully pointed out that only five ABC Family viewers had called in protest.
That changed this week, after Robertson told followers to call Austin: “I want hundreds and thousands of telephone calls going in to this lady.... If you can’t get through, keep on calling, jam their telephones.”
DirecTV spokesman Bob Marsocci suggested Wednesday that Disney was behind the call-in campaign, and called the company “hypocritical.”
He said that Disney, which is contractually obligated to carry the show as part of the original purchase deal, downplays its religious programming unless it suits the company’s needs.
Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha on Wednesday objected to that characterization, saying that ABC Family is proud to carry “The 700 Club.” She said Disney did not prompt Robertson to become involved in the fray.
“It’s beyond my comprehension that they would threaten viewers and think they wouldn’t get a negative and visceral response,” Mucha said. “They are clearly out of touch with their viewers.”