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Disney returns WABC-TV signal to Cablevision as Oscars begin

March 7, 2010 |  6:22 pm

Walt Disney Co. restored the signal of its New York television station WABC-TV to Cablevision Systems about 15 minutes after the Academy Awards started to air on the network.

The two sides said they have a tentative agreement for Cablevision to resume carrying WABC on its cable systems, which reach 3.1 million homes in the New York City area. Disney had pulled the signal early Sunday morning after being unable to reach an agreement with the cable operator.

At issue were fees that Disney would like Cablevision to pay to carry WABC-TV. Spats between programmers and distributors are becoming more commonplace, but it is highly unusual for a signal to be yanked, let alone hours before a ratings monster like the Oscars. Late last year, News Corp.'s Fox and Time Warner Cable dueled for several weeks but struck a deal before Fox pulled its signal.

“We’ve made significant progress and have reached an agreement in principle that recognizes the fair value of ABC7, with deal points that we expect to finalize with Cablevision," said Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of WABC. "Given this movement, we’re pleased to announce that ABC7 will return to Cablevision households while we work to complete our negotiations.”

Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, people familiar with the situation said Cablevision would pay 55 to 65 cents per subscriber for WABC. That's not the $1 per subscriber that Cablevision has said Disney initially wanted, but it's also not the 25 cents the cable operator is said to have offered. Typically, these agreements run for several years with the price rising over time.

"It is a deal that is fair to our customers and in line with our other programming agreements," said Charles Schueler, an executive vice president of Cablevision, who declined to talk specifics about the accord. 

Such clashes between content and distribution companies are growing more frequent as hard-pressed broadcasters seek to wring new revenue from their content. But Disney’s willingness to yank its ABC station from more than 3 million homes around suburban New York before the Oscars showed a new brazenness.

Several politicians weighed in on the spat and were critical of both Disney and Cablevision.

“New Jersey families should not be used as pawns in this battle between two large corporations,” said U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

-- Joe Flint

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