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Washington weighs in on Disney - Cablevision fight

March 3, 2010 |  4:10 pm

Right on schedule, the politicians are starting to weigh in on the feud between Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and Cablevision Systems.

At issue are fees ABC wants Cablevision to pay to carry WABC-TV, its New York City station. Cablevision has about 3.1 million subscribers in that region. Cablevision says Disney wants $40 million a year to carry the station, which translates to $1.00 per subscriber. Disney has denied that figure but has not elaborated what it is seeking. Disney is threatening to pull its signal from Cablevision this Sunday, which is when the Oscars are airing on the network. 

BARTON Disney and Cablevision aren't the only ones squabbling over this issue. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski saying that the regulatory agency should revisit the so-called retransmission consent rules that allow broadcasters to seek fees from cable operators in return for carrying their signals. Kerry told Genachowski that he does not think broadcasters should be allowed to pull their signal from a cable operator "unless the cable company is negotiating in bad faith." The FCC, he added, would be the ones to determine whether that is the case. Kerry is chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

Taking issue with Kerry's suggestion is Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In a letter to Genachowski, Barton said there is no need for government intervention in this spat. Consumers, Barton said, have plenty of distribution choices and don't need the FCC to get involved in private business disputes.

"This plethora of alternatives and the parties' mutual interest in reaching a deal are perhaps why the vast majority of content negotiations ultimately result in a carriage deal no matter how many times one of the parties or the other threatens to let the screen go black," Barton observed.

Meanwhile, ABC enlisted its TV personalities, including Barbara Walters, Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, to carry its water in the fight against Cablevision. All three talked about the feud on their shows Wednesday. When Fox was battling Time Warner Cable, it did not use its television personalities to talk about the spat on the air.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Congressman Joe Barton. Credit: Harry Hamburg/Associated Press.

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