Cablevision ABC-free in retrans fight


Some three million plus households in the New York market were without the Academy Awards broadcast – and all other ABC programming – on Sunday as the deadline of midnight Saturday came without a new retransmission consent agreement between the MSO and WABC-TV. Each side blames the other for the impasse.

With Monday as day two, the question now is how long the standoff will continue. In January Cablevision went 21 days without HGTV and Food Network in a similar fee dispute with Scripps Networks.

On Sunday afternoon, WABC-TV Vice President and General Manager Rebecca Campbell issued this statement: “We have sent Cablevision a new proposal, and are awaiting their response. 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.”

Rather than respond to that WABC offer, Cablevision issued a call for binding arbitration, saying that was suggested Sunday by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

“We remain deeply disappointed that ABC Disney has put their own financial interests above their viewers and pulled the plug on ABC. Given the extraordinary public interest in this matter, Senator 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,” said Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s Executive Vice President of Communications.

With its customers unable to view the Academy Awards, Cablevision announced that on demand movies would be free on Sunday, including those up for the Oscars. It also hired former New York Post “Page Six” Deputy Editor Paula Froelich to blog live and cover the announcements of the Oscar winners on Twitter. Cablevision also provided advice on where to view video clips of the event online, although not the actual live broadcast.

RBR-TVBR observation:  Three key points: 1) This is not a “highly unusual situation,” as Cablevision claims. It has happened several times in the past couple of years – and that’s just a few times out of the otherwise successful retrans agreements negotiated with cable MSOs for hundreds of TV stations; 2) The negotiations would be completed more quickly without Sen. Kerry’s meddling; and 3) The FCC should stay out of this, as it has wisely done in every previous retrans dispute, all of which have been resolved.

OK gang, place your bets. How long will this last? Cablevision held out for 21 days against Scripps Networks. Somehow, we doubt that it go as long without ABC as it did sans HGTV and Food Network. We’re putting our chips on Wednesday.