The clock is ticking down to midnight Saturday, when WABC-TV New York could disappear from Cablevision’s systems. That would leave millions of households on Long Island and in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Westchester County without the ability to view Sunday’s Oscar broadcast on ABC, unless they happen to have some rabbit ears around the house.
As usual, each side is blaming the other for being unreasonable in retransmission consent negotiations.
“It is shocking that in these difficult economic times, 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. 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,” declared Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s Executive Vice President, Communications and Community Relations.
For WABC President and General Manager Rebecca Campbell, it’s very simple – Cablevision can no longer take a free ride. “With the help of our viewers, we’ve built ABC7 into the most watched station in the country, and have been trying for two years to get Cablevision to acknowledge the station’s value to their business. Despite our best efforts, it has now become clear that Cablevision has no intention of coming to a fair agreement. We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free while they continue to charge their customers for them. We’ve worked too hard and invested too many millions of dollars in programming and community outreach, to be taken advantage of any longer – especially since our viewers can watch their favorite ABC7 shows free, over-the-air, or by switching to one of Cablevision’s competitors,” she said.
Indeed, WABC has set up a website that includes a Zip Code based search box that will allow viewers to find which satellite and/or telco providers are available to them as a replacement for Cablevision. The website, www.saveabc7.com, also highlights the station’s side of the retrains dispute and invites viewers to use a link to email Cablevision to demand that the ABC Network flagship remain on their local cable system.
A few hours later, Cablevision struck back with its own website, www.cablevision.com/abc, and a new Facebook page and toll-free phone line for subscribers to urge Disney/ABC not to pull WABC’s programming.
Cablevision also put out a new statement from Schueler lumping together the fees that the MSO already pays for ESPN, far and away the most expensive cable channel, and other Disney-owned cable channels, with the retrans demand for WABC: “We pay more than $200 million a year to ABC Disney for their programming and now they say they will pull the plug unless Cablevision pays $40 million more in new fees for the exact same channels. It is not fair to force Cablevision customers to pay a new TV tax for programming ABC Disney gives away free, both over-the-air and on the Internet. In tough economic times, it is shameful that ABC Disney would hold viewers hostage by threatening to pull the plug, and we urge them to work with us to reach a fair agreement.”
The current standoff is reminiscent of the battle between Cablevision and Scripps Networks Interactive that had Food Network and HGTV off of the Cablevision systems for most of January. That was finally resolved when the two sides came to terms on an increased fee payment by Cablevision. In this case, though, Cablevision is starting from the point of paying zero for WABC.
RBR-TVBR observation: The world has changed and the MSOs don’t like it. The reality is that they now have to pay for the most-watched programming on their cable systems. Given what happened with Scripps and Cablevision in January, it is likely that Cablevision will remove WABC come Sunday – but we wouldn’t expect that to last for long.