ABC says that it may pull its WABC-TV New York signal from Cablevision at 12:01 a.m. on March 7, unless the cable operator agrees to pay for the channel in a retransmission-consent dispute.
Broadcasters are increasingly pushing for cash in their retransmission-consent negotiations for their channels given the size of their audiences relative to cable networks that receive higher per-sub fees.
WABC-TV, which is slated to televise the Academy Awards on March 7, said that it has extended its contract month-to-month over the past two years as a show of good faith, while the parties tried to reach an agreement.
"Having tried to negotiate for the past two years, we simply can no longer extend our ABC content with Cablevision beyond March 6th unless we receive appropriate cash compensation," ABC said.
Sources familiar with the situation said that WABC-TV had intensified its negotiations over the past couple of months, and is likely seeking between 50 and 60 cents monthly subscriber fee.
"It is shocking that in these difficult economic times, 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," Charles Schueler, Cablevision executive vice president of communications and community relations, responded in a statement. "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."
Responding to the Cablevision claim of $40 million in new fees, an ABC spokeswoman said: "What they don't mention is that they are already charging their subscribers up to $18 [per] month for the Basic Broadcast bundle, of which not one penny goes to WABC-TV." She said that with Cablevision's 3.3 million subs in the New York DMA and a conservative multiple of $16 times 3 million, that's well over $500 million a year.
"We pay Disney more than $200 million a year today for all their channels, the $40 million they're demanding represents a 20 percent increase for the same exact programming customers receive today," said a Cablevision source. "Our customers get nothing more except for millions of dollars in new fees."
WABC-TV, which also said it will use print, radio and online to get its position across, has launched an on-air messaging campaign to let Cablevision subs know that they soon could be losing the channel.
"We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free while they continue to charge their customers for them," said station president and general manager Rebecca Campbell in a statement. "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."
As part of its print campaign, WABC-TV will present the following information an ad under the heading of "An Open Letter to Cablevision Customers from ABC7" that is signed by Campbell:
"Thank you for helping to make ABC7 New York's favorite television station. We work hard to earn your support every day by bringing you the best in local news, community affairs and top-quality entertainment programming.
Unfortunately, as of March 7th, ABC7 may no longer be carried on Cablevision systems.
For the past two years we have tried, without success, to reach an agreement with Cablevision to carry ABC7. Why? Because Cablevision's position is that ABC7 is worth little to nothing to its business and its proposed offers have been consistently unreasonable and unrealistic.
In fact, ABC7 delivers some of the most popular programming carried on Cablevision today, shows like Lost, Grey'sAnatomy, Jeopardy, Dancing with the Stars, Wheel of Fortune, Desperate Housewives, General Hospital, Regis and Kelly, Modern Family, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Eyewitness News.
We think these shows are valuable. And your bill shows that Cablevision must agree, since you already pay for ABC7 as part of your Broadcast Basic Tier - a service for which, as a Cablevision customer, you pay as much as $18 each month.
What your bill doesn't show is how much Cablevision pays us for these programs.
The answer: They Pay Nothing. That's right... Cablevision charges you for ABC7 and then keeps ALL the money.
We will continue to work with Cablevision to reach a fair agreement, but regardless of the outcome, ABC7 is available to you through a variety of other providers, including Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-verse and DirecTV, and, as always, FREE over-the-air.
Please visit www.SaveABC7.com to make your voice heard and for details on how to switch providers.
We appreciate your patience and hope that we can count on your support."