WABC-TV Serves Up New Offer; Cablevision Would Agree To Arbitration In Retrans Battle


While WABC-TV remains dark for Cablevision video subscribers, the parties trotted out new gambits Sunday afternoon in their retransmission-consent dispute.

For its part, Cablevision Sunday afternoon said it would agree to some government calls for binding arbitration with ABC Disney in order to immediately return WABC to Cablevision customers.

WABC-TV pulled the station's signal, as it had threatened to do early last week, at 12:01 a.m. on March 7. The decision leaves Cablevision customers interested in the Oscars scrambling to find an alternative mean to watch ABC's telecast of the 82nd annual Academy Awards at 8:30 p.m.

Rebecca Campbell, president and general manager, WABC-TV said in a statement Sunday afternoon: "We have sent Cablevision a new proposal, and are awaiting their response. If Cablevision is serious about doing right by their customers and returning ABC7 and its programming to them, then they need to act now. The ball is in their court."

Earlier in the day, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the government might need to step in.

"It's neither my place nor my goal to pick sides in this dispute," he said in a statement, "my concern as Chairman of the Communications Subcommittee is that this morning three million households, including many who will not know where to get a digital receiver today or how to install it, will find that a service they pay for monthly is not delivering what was promised."

He said that if the two sides can't resolve the dispute, "I urge the parties to seek the assistance of the FCC to resolve it or enter into arbitration."

Cablevision responded by saying that Kerry (D-Mass.) and other elected officials had urged ABC Disney to restore the channel and pointed to arbitration as a means to resolve the dispute.

"We remain deeply disappointed that ABC Disney has put their own financial interests above their viewers and pulled the plug on ABC. Given the extraordinary public interest in this matter, Senator Kerry and other public officials have suggested that arbitration is appropriate in this highly unusual situation," said Charles Schueler, Cablevision executive vice president of communications, in a statement. "Thus, Cablevision will agree to binding arbitration and calls upon Disney CEO Bob Iger to immediately return ABC to New York area viewers, and join us in binding arbitration to resolve this matter fairly. We have communicated our position to the highest levels of the FCC and urged the agency to appropriately involve itself in this process."

Disney signaled it was not looking for outside referees.

"Instead of issuing statements about arbitration, it would be more constructive for Cablevision to deal with the offer that we have on the table," said Campbell. "The ball's in their court."‬‪

FCC Media Bureau chief William Lake said Sunday that the FCC was in contact with both sides and "monitoring the situation closely." He added that consumers "consumers should not suffer due to the inability of these two companies to successfully negotiate a deal. We urge both parties to quickly reach a resolution for the benefit of viewers."

A spokesperson for FCC chairman Julius Genachowksi had no comment on whether the commission would step in beyond referring to Lake's statement that the agency was urging the parties to reach a quick resolution for the sake of the viewers.