Co-Op Contract Reprieves ABC Family


ABC Family, which was dropped by a tiny North Carolina cable system early this year, will be reinstated, as it has successfully argued that the operator remains bound by a master-carriage deal negotiated by the National Cable Television Cooperative.

Bellhaven Cable TV, a system with about 800 subscribers in Bellhaven, N.C., removed ABC Family from its programming lineup in late January, sources said last week.

Serving the Outer Banks community, Bellhaven Cable is a member of the NCTC, which was thrust into the dispute. The cooperative represents small- and medium-sized cable operators that collectively reach about 14.5 million subscribers.

The NCTC secures contracts for programming and hardware, negotiating on behalf of its small members as a group to obtain volume discounts in the way large MSOs do.

The cooperative has a long-term affiliation deal with ABC Family, and officials at the network had reportedly maintained that as an NCTC member, Bellhaven Cable was bound by that agreement, and therefore contractually couldn't drop The Walt Disney Co.-owned network.

In this situation, the NCTC reportedly agreed with ABC Family's position — namely that co-op members who "elect into" one of its master carriage deals must abide by that contract until it expires.

The issue had surfaced before. One NCTC member had contemplated dropping ESPN Classic, even though the co-op has a long-term carriage deal for the retro sports service, according to a source.

A settlement was eventually worked out between Bellhaven, the NCTC and ABC Family. As a result, the tiny cable system will put ABC Family back on, although the exact timing of its reinstatement wasn't disclosed.

Officials at Bellhaven couldn't be reached for comment, but NCTC senior vice president of programming Frank Hughes confirmed that ABC Family will be reinstated on that North Carolina system in the not-too-distant future.

"It is resolved," Hughes said. "We've worked it all out. They're going to put it back on."

Officials at ABC Family said the terms of the dispute's resolution were confidential, but the programmer did issue a brief statement.

"There was an issue regarding Bellhaven carriage of ABC Family," said ABC Cable Networks Group a[te sales and marketing Ben Pyne. "Working with the NCTC and Bellhaven, we have resolved our issue in a way that benefits all parties."

By dropping ABC Family, Bellhaven was reportedly looking to penalize Disney for increasing ESPN's rates. It also concerned about the network's change in ownership last year.

Earlier this year, citing similar reasons, EchoStar Communications Corp. dropped ESPN Classic from its Dish Network programming roster and threatened to drop ABC Family. Disney quickly went to court and sued the direct-broadcast satellite provider, and the conflict was resolved, with both services remaining on EchoStar's lineup.