WABC, Cablevision still in stalemate

Dispute affects Oscars telecast in NYC area

The Oscars triumphed over the powerful weekend storm in Southern California to secure picture-perfect red-carpet weather but couldn't win over a pesky carriage dispute in New York.

At 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning, some 3.3 million Cablevision subscribers in the New York area lost their ABC signal after the cable operator and WABC-TV, ABC's owned-and-operated station in the nation's top TV market, didn't make any progress in their tense negotiations over retransmission consent.

On Sunday morning, WABC said it had sent Cablevision a new proposal but hadn't heard back.

Throughout the day, pressure on ABC from New York state politicians to restore the signal before the annual telecast of the Academy Awards and to agree to binding arbitration mounted.

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communication, Technology and the Internet, 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.

Cablevision quickly agreed to arbitration, through ABC, much like Fox in its recent carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable, dismissed that possibility.

"Instead of issuing statements about arbitration, it would be more constructive for Cablevision to deal with the offer that we have on the table," the station's general manager Rebecca Campbell said. "It's time for Jim Dolan and the Dolan Family Dynasty to step up, be fair, and do what's right for their customers. The ball's in their court."

Also on Sunday, Cablevision unveiled plans to offset the dropping of ABC from its channel lineup.

The cable operator offered its subscribers free access to all of its video-on-demand movies, including hot Oscar contenders "The Hurt Locker," "Up," "District 9," "Inglorious Basterds" and "The Cove."

Additionally, the company made information from the Oscar telecast available through live blogging and other means.

However, Comcast subscribers complained that the on-demand function was not working.

It was not the fist technical glitch that surrounded the ABC blackout, which came in the middle of "Lost." WABC carries "Lost" reruns from 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturday night.

The last thing Cablevision subscribers tuned to WABC (ABC7) saw was the following message from the station: "Cablevision betrayed you again. First HGTV and Food Network, now they lost ABC7," it read, referencing Cablevision's recent dispute with Scripps that kept the two cable networks off the cable operator for 20 days. "Enough is enough. Go to ABC7.com to switch now."

Twitter was also abuzz about a major snafu on Cablevision's part. Instead of pulling only ABC, the cable operator accidentally took down all broadcast networks on its systems.

But perhaps the most intriguing Twitter dispatch Sunday came not from ABC, Cablevision or a politician, but from "Lost" executive producer Damon Lindelof.

"Okay, Cablevision," Lindelof wrote. "You win. We'll tell you what the island is. NOW GIVE THE PEOPLE THEIR ABC!!!!!"
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