Cablevision, Disney escalate retrans feud

Oscar telecast could be pulled from ABC affiliate in NY

In the very public battle that Disney is waging with Cablevision over retransmission fees, it appears both have settled in on the same strategy: class warfare.

The latest example is a statement Friday from Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of New York's WABC-TV, a Disney O&O that Cablevision could be forced to drop at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, leaving 3.3 million viewers without access to ABC's Oscar telecast.

"If Cablevision CEO James Dolan and the Dolan Family Dynasty have any regard at all for the millions of customers who pay hard-earned dollars for their service, they will order their troops to stop slinging mud and start cutting a deal," Campbell said.

Her statement follows one from Cablevision that also tugged at the financial heartstrings of the down-and-out consumer.

"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," the Cablevision spokesman said Monday.

Cablevision and WABC haven't had a contract in two years, relying instead on month-month contract extensions until ABC decided it was time for Cablevision to pay more money or do without WABC.

"It's an insult to Cablevision customers that, with literally hours to go before losing access to ABC7, Cablevision is personally attacking Disney executives," Campbell said Friday.

"Does Cablevision have such little regard for its subscribers' intelligence to think that they don't know a negotiation takes two parties? The inconvenient truth is that ABC7 has been prepared to reach a fair agreement for two years and Cablevision has refused to do its part."

WABC was responding not only to Cablevision's Monday statement, but another one that came Friday from vp communications Charles Schueler.

"There is one man who is going to decide whether New York gets to see the Oscars, and that's Disney president and CEO Bob Iger. Cablevision already pays Disney more than $200 million a year and now they are demanding $40 million more," Schueler said.

"We call on Bob Iger to stop holding his own viewers hostage, end his threats to pull the plug on ABC at midnight and instead work with us to reach a fair agreement. The switch is in Bob Iger's hands."

Cablevision's argument is that it already pays Disney more than $200 million a year and doesn't want to shell out $40 million more for WABC.

ABC counters that the $200 million are paid for various other Disney-owned channels and that Cablevision charges customers for basic package that includes the ABC as well as the other broadcast networks while getting the ABC programming for free.

Securing retransmission revenue from cable providers has become a top priority for the broadcast networks, which have been looking for a second revenue stream to offset dwindling ad dollars.

Fox was successful in a similar standoff with Time Warner Cable on New Year's Eve that led to a deal securing retransmission fees for the network.