After a day of political pressure from Washington to Albany that urged Disney and Cablevision to resolve their fee dispute, WABC/7 returned its signal last night just in time for the first Oscar award, at 8:43 p.m.
ABC said it had reached "an agreement in principle," ending an impasse that didn't only threaten to black out the Oscars for 3.1 million Cablevision subscribers but also wipe out millions in local commercial revenue for the top-ranked station. Channel 7's "Good Morning America" post-Oscars' telecast is traditionally the most viewed "GMA" of the year.
Rebecca Campbell, president of WABC, said in a statement both companies had an agreement "that recognizes the fair value of ABC/7, with deal points that we expect to finalize with Cablevision." Charles Schueler, spokesman for Cablevision, which owns Newsday, said: "It is a deal that is fair to our customers and in line with our other programming agreements."
ABC had pulled the signal at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, and seconds later Cablevision began posting a crawl blaming Disney and WABC. Both companies have bickered over "retransmission fees," in which Disney demanded $1 per Cablevision subscriber per month to retransmit its signal while Cablevision offered, according to ABC, nothing.
Cablevision earlier Sunday said it would abide by binding arbitration to settle on a fee - Time Warner reportedly paid News Corp. 50 cents per subscriber for Fox TV station signals in a standoff that ended Jan. 1.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee, had urged both sides to resolve the dispute or enter arbitration. Gov. David A. Paterson weighed in for both to "put consumers first."
The impasse sent many Long Islanders scurrying to get reception so they could watch the Oscars. Verizon was flooded with callers trying to get its FIOS service installed, while retailers did a brisk trade in antennas and digital converter boxes that would allow viewers to watch ABC for free.
At the Huntington Station Best Buy, several shelves that usually held the antennas and digital converter boxes sat empty. An employee said the store sold out of the devices within a half-hour. Workers there sent customers to a nearby Radio Shack on Route 110, but it sold out as well.
Others looked beyond their own living rooms. Some headed to watering holes such as the Rein Bar & Grill at the Garden City Hotel, which featured both Oscar-inspired cocktails and satellite television.
Over at the Hilton Long Island / Huntington in Melville, movie fans inquired about renting a room for the evening. Their first question: What kind of television service does the hotel have?
With Patricia Kitchen and Alfonso A. Castillo
Last-minute preparations for Oscar watching