WABC-Cablevision Battle Goes Nuclear: Signal Pulled

Fail to reach agreement on retransmission fee

Last Updated: March 7, 2010 @ 6:00 PM

Cablevision has lost WABC on its more than 3 million suburban New York homes, just hours before Sunday’s Oscar broadcast.

(Read also: Last-minute Oscars viewing options for Cablevision customers)

The development came after WABC and the cable operator failed to reach agreement on a new retransmission fee agreement. WABC parent Disney has been seeking what it believes is appropriate compensation for the ABC feed; Cablevision has claimed it’s being held up unfairly by the entertainment giant.

WABC chief Rebecca Campbell issued the latest in a series of tough statements on the matter early Sunday, just minutes after her station’s signal went dark on Cablevision systems.

"Cablevision has once again betrayed its subscribers by losing ABC7, the most popular station in the tri-state area," she said. "This follows two years of negotiations, during which we worked diligently, up to the final moments, to reach an agreement. Cablevision pocketed almost $8 billion last year, and now customers aren’t getting what they pay for…again. It’s time for Jim Dolan and the Dolan Family Dynasty to finally step up, be fair, and do what’s right for our viewers.”

Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s executive vice president of communications, had his own harsh language.

“It is now painfully clear to millions of New York area households that Disney CEO Bob Iger will hold his own ABC viewers hostage in order to extract $40 million in new fees from Cablevision," he said. "We call on Bob Iger to immediately return ABC to Cablevision customers while we continue to work to reach a fair agreement.”

Cablevision is now airing a lengthy video message on WABC’s slot, saying, "We apologize for (ABC’s) actions" and accusing the company’s greed for the standoff. It also tells viewers they can watch ABC shows on ABC.com or Hulu — though, of course, events such as the Oscars don’t air live on the Internet.

"In these difficult and challenging economic times, it is not fair for ABC to force Cablevision and its customers to pay tens of millions of dollars in new fees, what amounts to a new TV tax, for the same programming that is available today for free over the air and on the Internet," the station is telling subscribers.

It also argues that Cablevision has "agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox and Univision."

WABC was airing a repeat of "Lost" when the station’s signal went dark. According to numerous media reports, Cablevision actually pulled the feeds for all broadcast networks for a brief period of time early Sunday morning.

The squabble between Cablevision and ABC comes a little more than two months after Fox and Time Warner fought their own nasty battle over retransmission. The two sides kept negotiating through the New Year’s holiday until a deal was reached, and as a result, viewers never lost the Fox feed.

Check Dylan Stableford’s Media Alley later Sunday for more updates.