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Disney's Iger and Cablevision's Dolan may each have reason to chug Champagne

March 8, 2010 | 11:24 am

So should Disney President Bob Iger be popping the Champagne this morning, or is it Cablevision Chief Executive Jim Dolan who is celebrating over the new deal between the companies regarding carriage of WABC-TV New York?

IGER2 That depends on who's doing the spinning. At issue were fees that Disney wanted Cablevision to pay to carry WABC-TV on its cable systems that serve 3.1 million homes in the New York City region. Disney's initial ask, Cablevision said, was $1 dollar per-subscriber, per-month for the channel. Disney said that figure was false but did not elaborate on what in fact it was seeking. Disney pulled the WABC-TV signal from Cablevision early Sunday morning and restored shortly after its telecast of the Academy Awards began.

When the dust settles, Disney will be getting more money from Cablevision, but not as much as it wanted. Terms of the tentative deal were not disclosed and there were differences of opinion of the value of the contract. One person familiar with the pact said it came out to about 55 cents to 65 cents per subscriber; another said the figure was closer to 27 cents to 37 cents. Neither person was authorized to discuss the details of the agreement.

But the new agreement may be even more complex and could include other cable networks that Disney owns, including ESPN and ABC Family, according to an industry observer with lots of experience in these deals. It'll be up to the accountants of both companies to figure out the value being assigned to WABC-TV.

In terms of public relations, both companies took a lot of heat from consumers and politicians. While the cable company usually takes a beating in these battles, Cablevision was effective in spreading the word that it already pays Disney some $200 million annually for its content and was resisting a request for an additional $40 million a year. Disney tried to position this as a battle of David vs. Goliath, putting WABC-TV President Rebecca Campbell on the front lines of the fight, even though the folks overseeing the negotiations were Iger and Disney TV chiefs Anne Sweeney and George Bodenheimer.

DOLAN Neither side showed any real desire to budge until Sunday night. Iger apparently gave the green light to sign a deal while on the red carpet at the Oscars. Certainly ABC risked lower ratings for the Oscars if Cablevision wasn't carrying the awards ceremony. Generally speaking, while big events such as the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl are not sold with a ratings guarantee, if the numbers were dramatically off because of the Cablevision situation, Disney may have been pressured to provide some sort of make-good to advertisers.

It may look like Cablevision blinked, but this is the same company that kept the YES Network, a regional sports channel in New York that carries the majority of New York Yankee games, off its systems for a year until it could get a deal it could stomach. The idea of not carrying WABC-TV may not have seemed like a big deal to them after dealing with outraged Yankees fans for a year.

On the other hand, the longer talks dragged on, the more likely the government would have started making noise, and while neither side wants that, we're guessing the cable company wants it even less. And while Yankees fans may be a testy lot, they're nothing compared to the women who tune in to watch "Live with Regis and Kelly" every day. 

Bottom line: Disney is getting more money for its programming but Cablevision isn't paying what Disney wanted. Yes, this might be a case of the dreaded win-win.

-- Joe Flint

Top photo: Disney chief Bob Iger. Credit: Valerie Macon / AFP / Getty Images. Bottom photo: Cablevision chief Jim Dolan. Credit: Kathy Willens / Associated Press

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