Updated: WABC, Cablevision Clash Over Retrans

WABC-TV, ABC Television’s New York flagship, is threatening to pull its signal from Cablevision’s system serving Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The station, which has been in protracted retransmission negotiations with Cablevision, could go dark on the system as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 7, the day the network airs The Academy Awards.

To warn subscribers, the station has begun running on-air messages that point consumers to a Web site and a toll-free number, 877-990-ABC7. WABC also plans to run ads leading up to the deadline in local print, radio and online.

For the past two years, WABC agreed to extend its existing Cablevision retransmission contract month-to-month as the two parties tried to work out an agreement.

Like many broadcasters, ABC is seeking more compensation from Cablevision to air its signal. Cablevision charges up to $18 each month for the broadcast basic tier, which includes WABC, adding up to about $500 million a year. Yet WABC, the top-rated station and the local news leader in the market, is not getting a portion of that fee, a major point of contention with ABC execs.

“Despite our best efforts, it has now become clear that Cablevision has no intention of coming to a fair agreement,” said Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of WABC-TV. “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.”

Cablevision retaliated with its own consumer outreach, urging subscribers to join its Facebook group, “Cablevision Viewers Say: No New Fees, ABC!” and call 1-877-NO-TV-TAX.

In a revised statement issued Tuesday (March 2), Cablevision said it already pays $200 million to ABC Disney for programming such as ESPN. Paying WABC additional compensation would add $40 million in new fees, Cablevision said. “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,” said Charles Schueler, evp of communications for Cablevision.

“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,” said Charles Schueler, evp, communications and community relations for Cablevision. “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.”
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