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Oscar being held hostage in New York cable TV dispute

March 1, 2010 |  7:45 pm

Using ABC's upcoming telecast of the Oscars as leverage, Walt Disney Co. is warning Cablevision subscribers in metropolitan New York and portions of Connecticut and New Jersey that their local ABC television station may go dark just after midnight on Sunday in a dispute over cable fees.

The Burbank entertainment giant and Cablevision have been locked in an impasse for two years over Disney's demand for fees to carry its ABC station, WABC-TV Channel 7, and its popular lineup, which includes "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "Dancing With the Stars," "The View," and "General Hospital." Disney said on Monday it has renewed its carriage agreement with the cable operator on a month by month basis, as it sought to make its case.

At issue, said Disney, is the fact that Cablevision charges subscribers $18 a month for basic service that includes WABC but shares none of the revenue with the Disney-owned station.

"Despite our best efforts, it has now become clear that Cablevision has no intention of coming to a fair agreement," WABC General Manager Rebecca S. Campbell said in a statement. "We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free, while they continue to charge their customers for them."

Disney chose the night of the Academy Awards telecast to raise the stakes in the dispute.

In ads appearing in print, on radio and online, Campbell writes an open letter to Cablevision subscribers, noting they can watch WABC free over the air, or through rival services such as Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse or satellite provider DirecTV.

Charles Schueler, executive vice president of communications for Cablevision Systems Corp., called the move by Disney "shocking."

“ABC Disney is threatening to remove WABC unless Cablevision and its customers pay $40 million in new fees for programming that it offers today for free, both over-the-air and online," Schueler said in a statement. "It is not fair for ABC Disney to hold Cablevision customers hostage by forcing them to pay what amounts to a new TV tax. We urge ABC Disney not to pull the plug and instead work with us to reach a fair agreement.”

Such disagreements between content providers and distributors are not uncommon and are usually resolved before programming is interrupted.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

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