A leading U.S. senator Wednesday asked the Federal Communications Commission to intercede in the retransmission dispute between Cablevision and Disney.
"I ask you to urge the parties to stay at the negotiating table and continue transmitting ABC programming to Cablevision consumers," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, adding that "this game of chicken . . . must come to an end."
The senator's press secretary, Whitney Smith, said Kerry, the chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, hadn't approached the heads of either Cablevision or Disney, as he had done with the chief executives of Time Warner Cable and News Corp. during their recent retransmission dispute. Those companies struck a deal Jan. 1, or hours before a threatened blackout of the Sugar Bowl.
Disney has threatened to pull Ch. 7's signal off Cablevision early Sunday morning, hours before the Oscars, unless the cable provider agrees to a $40 million surcharge for use of the signal, representing about $1 per subscriber per month a year.
Cablevision, which owns Newsday, said in a statement that it "already pays ABC Disney more than $200 million a year" and Disney is seeking "a 20 percent increase, for exactly the same channels. ABC Disney should not put viewers in the middle and instead work with us to reach agreement."
Julie Hoover, a spokeswoman for Disney, said the company would have no comment on the Kerry letter. But she said Cablevision "cut WABC out of the deal they made with us two years ago, and they said at the time that WABC had little or no value. Since then, we've said, 'Let's discuss retransmission' and finally realized that unless we gave them a deadline, they would not pay any attention."
In his letter, Kerry wrote if the "broadcaster has submitted a claim of bad faith negotiation to the [FCC] and the FCC has determined that claim to be true . . . [then] at that point, then yes, the broadcaster should be free to pull their signal. But as long as there are good-faith negotiations, all parties should stay at the table."