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Pressure intensified Sunday on WABC and Cablevision to resolve their dispute as millions of New York City-area residents faced the prospect of being unable to watch the Academy Awards.
With the Oscars telecast mere hours away, WABC sent Cablevision a new offer to end the stalemate between the companies while the cable operator has endorsed a government call for arbitration.
The moves give the parties two ways to potentially end the standoff so New York City-area Cablevision customers can watch the Academy Awards.
“We have sent Cablevision a new proposal, and are awaiting their response,” said Rebecca Campbell, president and GM, WABC-TV. “If Cablevision is serious about doing right by their customers and returning ABC7 and its programming to them, then they need to act now. The ball is in their court.”
No other details about the offer were provided.
Meanwhile, Cablevision said it would agree to Sen. John Kerry and other government officials’ call for arbitration in exchange for WABC restoring service. Kerry has 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 remain deeply disappointed that ABC Disney has put their own financial interests above their viewers and pulled the plug on ABC,” said Cablevision in a statement. “Given the extraordinary public interest in this matter, Sen. Kerry and other public officials have suggested that arbitration is appropriate in this highly unusual situation. Thus, Cablevision will agree to binding arbitration and calls upon Disney CEO Bob Iger to immediately return ABC to New York area viewers, and join us in binding arbitration to resolve this matter fairly. We have communicated our position to the highest levels of the FCC and urged the agency to appropriately involve itself in this process.”
Neither party has yet publicly responded to either offer. During a December dispute between Time Warner and Fox, the cable operator likewise agreed to government arbitration and Fox rejected the proposal.
By Sunday afternoon, a Democrat and Republican leader called on ABC to restore its signal.
“I am disappointed ABC Disney pulled its signal, denying millions of New York area households the ability to see WABC-TV. It is time for both parties to put consumers first.
“If ABC Disney and Cablevision cannot reach an agreement allowing New Yorkers immediate access to WABC-TV, both parties should agree to a binding arbitration process to resolve this matter,” wrote New York Democratic congresswoman Nita Lowey. “It is imperative that consumers be held harmless during this process by having the signal restored immediately.”
Senate Republican leader Dean G. Skelos issued a similar statement.
“The decision by Disney ABC to pull their signal from Cablevision subscribers and deny them access to WABC-TV is unfortunate,” he wrote. “Those negotiations must continue and both parties should agree to binding arbitration if necessary. In the meantime, ABC Disney should restore its signal so that consumers are not held hostage during these negotiations.”
About 3.3. million Cablevision customers lost their ABC signal just after midnight on Saturday due to a retransmission contract dispute between the companies.
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.”
Perhaps the most intriguing dispatch Sunday came not from ABC, Cablevision, or a politician, but from “Lost” executive producer Damon Lindelof.
“Okay, Cablevision,” Lindelof wrote via Twitter. “You win. We’ll tell you what the island is. NOW GIVE THE PEOPLE THEIR ABC!!!!!”
UPDATE from Nellie Andreeva:
With the countdown to the Oscars in its final stretch, Cablevision held a hard line in its carriage dispute with ABC’s New York station WABC, offering subscribers alternatives to the awards broadcast, while WABC issued a scathing statement dismissing Cablevision’s request for arbitration.
Cablevision 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 is making information from the Oscar telecast available through live blogging and other means.
Meanwhile, WABC responded to Cablevision’s request to take the matter to arbitration .
“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.”
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