WABC Goes Dark on Cablevision, Washington Weighs In

WABC yanked its signal from Cablevision Sunday (March 7), leaving 3 million subscribers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn and the Bronx to seek out other viewing alternatives for viewing ABC programming, including tonight’s Academy Awards telecast.

There was plenty of warning.

Both parties had been negotiating for more than two years, culminating in a volley of claims and counterclaims across local media outlets to let viewers know that WABC could go dark on Sunday.

WABC has been seeking compensation from Cablevision to air its signal. While Cablevision pays ABC Disney $200 million for ESPN and other cable channels, Cablevision has not been able to settle with ABC’s New York flagship.

Cablevision charges subscribers up to $18 each month for the broadcast basic tier, but WABC was not getting a portion of that fee.

“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,” said Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager of WABC-TV.

Cablevision accused WABC of holding its viewers hostage. “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. We call on Bob Iger [Disney CEO] to immediately return ABC to Cablevision customers while we continue to work to reach a fair agreement,” said Charles Schueler, evp of communications for Cablevision.

The retransmission spat between Cablevision and WABC got ugly in the days leading up to the final hour when WABC’s signal was yanked. A number of Congressional leaders have also gotten involved on both sides of the dispute. But as the law stands right now, there is no basis on which regulators can intervene in this private contract negotiation.

“What bothers me is that these consumers are collateral damage in a fight between two companies. I strongly urge these two companies to sit down and find a way for the signal to be restored today and negotiate in good faith. If a true impasse is reached, then I urge the parties to seek the assistance of the FCC to resolve it or enter into arbitration,” Sen. John Kerr (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

Meanwhile, FiOS has cranked up its promotion machine, offering disgruntled Cablevision subscribers a $75 discount on TV service packages between now and March 14.
Related: WABC-Cablevision Clash Over Retrans