Disney, as it had threatened, yanked WABC-TV's signal from Cablevision at 12:01 a.m. on March 7 in a retransmission-consent dispute.
Failing a reconciliation today, Cablevision customers will have to find a different means to watch ABC's Oscars telecast at 8:30 p.m.
The parties had been exchanging barbs in the press and via print and TV ads over their disconnect. Cablevision, the predominant cable operator in metro New York with some 3.1 million video subscribers, claims that WABC-TV has been seeking $40 million annually for its signal, amounting to a monthly license fee of about $1 per subscriber. The cable operator said it already pays WABC-TV parent The Walt Disney Co. $200 million annually for carriage of such cable networks as ESPN and Disney Channel, and that forking over fees for the over-the-air station would constitute a TV tax.
Disney has not disclosed its asking price, but some sources peg it in the 50 cents to 60 cents range. Whatever the amount, the parties could not bridge their differences and the station is now off Cablevision's air.
Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager, WABC-TV, issued the following statement late Sunday morning: "Cablevision's legendary greed and disregard for the needs of their customers continues. Now the only way for their subscribers to get ABC7 is to ditch Cablevision and switch to a provider that cares about them. Cablevision customers who want ABC7 should make that switch now."
WABC-TV and Cablevision officials didn't respond by presstime Sunday morning to requests for comment about the status of the negotiations.
For those customers who weren't watching in the midnight hour as the signal was pulled and WABC-TV went dark, Cablevision, at around 12:30 a.m., began running text and voiceover messaging on the channel 7 position in its lineup.
This morning, the cable company emailed this message to its video customers informing them of the news under the banner of "A Message From Cablevision"
"We regret to inform you that ABC's parent company has decided to pull WABC-7 off Cablevision, even though we pay them more than $200 million dollars a year for their group of networks. They are demanding a $40 million dollar increase for the same channels we carry today. In light of these economic times we do not feel it's appropriate for ABC to hold our viewers hostage in pursuit of undeserved millions.
Many of you just want WABC-7 back on your television. That's why we are working hard to get WABC-7 back on the air. You can help make a difference by visiting cablevision.com/abc and sending their executives an email expressing how you feel.
While we work to return WABC-7 to the lineup, you can watch WABC-7 free over the air by obtaining a digital TV antenna from your local consumer electronics store. Or, you can watch almost all of ABC's prime time programming free on the Internet at hulu.com or abc.com. "
Thank you for your patience, while we continue to negotiate a deal that is fair for everyone."
Disney officials say that WABC-TV is the most-watched local television station in the U.S., serving more than 7.4 million television households in 29 counties in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.