Cablevision viewers may miss Oscarcast

N.Y.'s WABC could be pulled Sunday over retrans impasse

Another retransmission standoff emerged Monday when ABC threatened to pull its signal from the systems of cable provider Cablevision.

The cabler could be forced to drop ABC's O&O station WABC New York at 12:01 a.m. ET on March 7, hours before the network's Oscar telecast. About 3.3 million viewers in New York's Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn and the Bronx and some suburbs of Connecticut and New Jersey would be affected.

Cablevision and WABC have been without a contract for the past two years, with the station granting the cable operator monthlong extensions.

With the Oscar telecast, its biggest event of the year, looming, the station and parent ABC are taking a firmer stance.

"We've built ABC7 into the most-watched station in the country and have been trying for two years to get Cablevision to acknowledge the station's value to their business," WABC president and GM Rebecca Campbell said. "Despite our best efforts, it has now become clear that Cablevision has no intention of coming to a fair agreement. We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free while they continue to charge their customers for them."

Cablevision responded to WABC's threat to pull its signal through executive vp communications and community relations Charles Schueler.

"It is shocking that in these difficult economic times, ABC-Disney is threatening to remove WABC unless Cablevision and its customers pay $40 million in new fees for programming that it offers today for free, both over-the-air and online," he said Monday. "It is not fair for ABC-Disney to hold Cablevision customers hostage by forcing them to pay what amounts to a new TV tax. We urge ABC-Disney not to pull the plug and instead work with us to reach a fair agreement."

The timing of WABC's move echoes the New Year's Eve standoff between Fox's O&O stations and Time Warner Cable, in which Fox threatened to pull the network's signal on the eve of its coverage of college football's top bowl games.

Pressure from lawmakers and subscribers helped Fox hammer out a deal that includes a substantial retransmission fee from TW Cable, said to be in the 60 cents-$1 range, close to Fox's original target of $1 per subscriber a month.

At the time, Disney issued a statement supporting Fox and touting its stations' right to sizable retransmission fees from cable operators.

It is not clear whether WABC is pursuing a similar $1-per-subscriber fee, but it is understood that Cablevision's counteroffer was in the ballpark of what the company pays for the right to carry Sundance Channel.

A tense retransmission-fee dispute between Cablevision and Scripps kept Scripps' Food Network and HGTV off Cablevision for 20 days in January until the sides reached an agreement.
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