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Oscar telecast imperiled by Cablevision, Disney battle

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will co-hosts of

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will co-hosts of the 82nd Academy Awards on Sunday, March 7, 2010. Photo Credit: ABC

Cablevision fired back at Disney Tuesday as the battle over payment for WABC / 7's signal moved closer to the possibility of an Oscars' telecast blackout for subscribers this Sunday.

The company, which owns Newsday, began rotating a series of 30- and 60-second ads Tuesday that accused Disney of asking for $40 million more in subscriber fees "because its ABC network is losing millions or they want our customers to prop up their struggling theme parks or fund the high salaries and bonuses paid to their executives."

The ad also was being used in an expanded version by the cable provider as a kind of default channel, automatically appearing whenever a subscriber's cable box is first turned on.

ABC began its on-air campaign Monday night at the outset of "The Bachelor," telling viewers that "Cablevision charges you every month to watch ABC/7, but they pay us nothing for it."

In the meantime, the Oscars remain at risk for subscribers this Sunday. ABC has threatened to pull the signal at 12:01 Sunday morning.

"We are very eager for Cablevision to recognize our value and when they are prepared to do that, there will be movement," said ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover.

ABC notified the cable operator early this year that it intended to pull WABC/7 by March unless there was movement on a long-standing request to seek payment for Ch. 7.

Disney reportedly asked for a $40 million increase, representing about $1 per subscriber, which Cablevision rejected. The company says it already pays $200 million per year for all of Disney's channels - from ESPN to ABC Family.

Appearing at an investor conference in San Francisco Tuesday, Cablevision president James Dolan said, "Our customers should not have to pay for something that other folks are getting for free."

Cablevision chief executive Tom Rutledge said the company has reached deals with others and that "ABC is the only [retransmission] deal we have outstanding."

Cable operators - including Cablevision - and broadcasters have increasingly forged agreements in which fees are paid for the retransmission of local affiliates' TV signal.

"It's been accepted by the financial community that programing costs will continue to go up and some kind of payment will be made to the broadcaster," said Robin Flynn, a senior analyst with SNLKagan, a Charlottesville, Va.-based company that specializes in financial information for the media and communications industry, among other industry sectors.

A recent retransmission dispute between News Corp. - owner of WNYW/5 - and Time Warner Cable was settled when Time Warner paid an estimated 50 cents per subscriber to retransmit Ch. 5, although she said that figure may go as high as 75 cents in later years of the deal.

"I think it will be resolved," she said, "but given the parties' [positions] it may not be resolved by this weekend."


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