Politicians picking sides in WABC-Cablevision showdown


With the midnight Saturday deadline approaching for WABC-TV New York to disappear from Cablevision’s systems unless a new retransmission consent agreement is agreed to, a couple of lawmakers – neither representing any area served by Cablevision – have jumped into the fray. One supports Cablevision’s position, the other WABC’s.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, doesn’t think broadcasters should be able to pull their signals from cable systems “unless the cable company is negotiating in bad faith.” In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (D), Kerry suggested that the Commission needs to revisit the retransmission consent rules.

Cablevision quickly jumped to applaud the endorsement from Kerry in its PR battle with WABC. “We believe Senator Kerry is correct and ABC Disney should not pull the plug and should work with us in good faith to reach an agreement that is fair for Cablevision customers. Cablevision already pays ABC Disney more than $200 million a year for their programming, and now they want $40 million in new fees, a 20 percent increase, for exactly the same channels. ABC Disney should not put viewers in the middle and instead work with us to reach agreement,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), a member of the House Energy and Commerce took the opposite view in a letter he sent to Chairman Genachowski. He said the FCC should keep its nose out of private business negotiations and noted that consumers have plenty of other options if they don’t like what their local cable system is delivering.

“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 told the FCC Chairman.

Just as Cablevision welcomed the boost from Kerry, WABC President/GM Rebecca Campbell thanked Barton for the support.

 “In his letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Representative Joe Barton, Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made clear the vital importance of market-based negotiations in preserving viewers’ interests in a competitive and diverse media marketplace. Unfortunately, Cablevision’s refusal to reach a fair and reasonable agreement and its recent efforts to undermine the negotiation process run counter to that principle. We thank Ranking Member Barton for standing up for our viewers,” Campbell said in her latest statement.

RBR-TVBR observation: Senator Kerry is simply wrong. The retransmission consent system is working quite well, thank you. Most MSOs have adjusted to the new reality that they no longer get for free the most popular programming that they sell to subscribers. A very small number, including Cablevision, have to face a hard deadline before they will come to grips with that reality.

The latest statement from Cablevision makes it clear that the MSO is still divorced from reality. The claim that it is being asked to pay 20% more “for exactly the same channels” is factually incorrect. The ABC Network and WABC’s local programming are not included in Cablevision’s contract to carry ESPN, ABC Family and other Disney cable channels.