ABC vs. Cablevision Getting Ugly

Fight over retransmission fees enters day three

Last Updated: March 4, 2010 @ 6:04 AM

The fight between ABC and Cablevision is getting uglier by the hour.

Even John Kerry is weighing in.

A day after Cablevision greeted its 3.1 million New York area customers with a nasty televised announcement slamming Disney and its local network for holding them hostage over a threatened $40 million rate increase, ABC fired back, claiming Cablevision is misleading its customers.

Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager at WABC-TV, released this statement on Wednesday:

“It’s time for Cablevision to stop spinning this issue and get serious about doing right by their customers. The fact is that, over and over again, Cablevision picks fights with programmers, and it is Cablevision subscribers who suffer the loss.

"The inconvenient truth about Cablevision is that it pockets hundreds of millions of dollars in subscriber fees each year by carrying ABC7. Dropping our station would be the latest insult. Their customers should know they have choices: They can switch service now and take their business to a provider that values them and isn’t threatening them with the loss of programming every few months, or get us free-over-the-air.”

In an accompanying statement, ABC claims that Cablevision’s offers “have been designed to be rejected.”

“For two years WABC has been working in good faith to try and reach an agreement that acknowledges the station’s value financially and as a key resource to the community,” the statement reads. “This is value Cablevision already charges their customers up to $18 each month for access to. It is value they further recognize in their own channels such as Sundance, for which they charge other cable and satellite operators to carry.

"It is patently unfair and unsustainable for Cablevision to pay fees to less popular channels and to pay fees to its own channels, while refusing to pay reasonable value to the most watched and most community-involved channel in New York.”

Capitol Hill is also weighing in on the dispute between the two media companies.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., urged Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski to step in to prevent the loss of WABC-TV programming to Cablevision Systems subscribers.

Kerry, who heads the Senate Commerce Committee’s telecom panel,  expressed concern that the battle over retransmission fees could prevent New York area subscribers from seeing the Oscars.

““I recognize that these are private negotiations, but its resolution is something that matters to the consumers who take hard earned money out of their wallets each month to pay their cable bills and have a right to expect not to be collateral damage in wars between executives. ,” Kerry said in his letter to Genachowski.“I ask you to urge the parties to stay at the negotiating table and continue transmitting ABC programming to Cablevision consumers.”

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who is the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee also wrote Genachowski about the dispute, but he expressed a different view from Kerry, urging the FCC to stay out of trying to resolve the issues.

“Actual discussion of the deal is best left between the respective companies and their viewers, free from government interference,” he wrote. “The alternative is to ask the government to weigh the relative value of carriage and of particular programming.”

Barton said viewers “have other providers and plenty of content to choose from if the parties make a bad decision.”

Expect the sparring to continue until the 11th hour — and for those of you with Oscar parties in the works, make sure you have a backup plan.

More to read:

Cablevision Digs In for Fight With ABC-Bashing Video
No Oscars?!! ABC Threatens to Go Dark in New York in Spat With Cablevision on Sunday