Politicians enter ABC-Cablevision fight

John Kerry, Joe Barton sent letters to FCC chairman

Politicians are wading into the fight between ABC and Cablevision as the network's declared deadline for reaching an agreement edges closer.

New York affiliate WABC-TV has given the cable operator until Sunday to make a retransmission deal, lest the network pull its signal on the day of the Oscars telecast on ABC.

In response to the standoff, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, sent dueling letters to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

Kerry called the dispute a "game of chicken being played again and again" and argued that broadcasters should not be allowed to pull their signals unless a cable company is negotiating in bad faith.

"We believe Sen. Kerry is correct and ABC Disney should not pull the plug and should work with us in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair for Cablevision customers," the cable operator said in a statement. "ABC Disney should not put viewers in the middle."

WABC effectively claims that Cablevision has indeed been negotiating in bad faith, noting "all of their offers have been designed to be rejected."

"The fact is that over and over again, Cablevision picks fights with programmers, and it is Cablevision subscribers who suffer the loss," WABC president and GM Rebecca Campbell said.

In ABC's corner, Barton wrote a letter to the FCC saying retransmission negotiations should be considered private business discussions, and that given the proliferation of ways consumers can obtain broadcast signals, "justification for government intervention has all but evaporated."

"Both sides to these negotiations hold valuable assets, and both sides appropriately have a legal right to withhold those assets if they do not believe the proposed deal provides the proper value proposition," Barton wrote. "The viewers, meanwhile, have other providers and plenty of content to choose from."

Cablevision has about 3 million subscribers and claims ABC is asking for $40 million in new fees -- a 20% increase. ABC disputes that figure. Since ABC set a deadline, the narrative has followed the now-familiar pattern in retransmission fights of each side issuing rival statements, sparring ads and statements of support from politicians. Typically, the matter is resolved at the eleventh hour.