Summary:

Fox and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) narrowly averted retrans Armageddon on New Years Eve. Will Disney (NYSE: DIS) and ABC manage the same feat d…

Robert Iger
photo: AP Images

Fox and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) narrowly averted retrans Armageddon on New Years Eve. Will Disney (NYSE: DIS) and ABC manage the same feat during the search for retransmission fees for the network and its affiliates? “We’re pretty resolute,” CEO Bob Iger told analysts during the Disney FYQ1 call, serving notice indirectly — but firmly — to distributors.

He added: “It clearly would not be our preference to see that our signal was taken down. And we’ll do whatever we possibly can through negotiations to avoid that. But we also believe that we have an obligation to derive value from the great investment that we make in these programs, whether they’re local in nature or whether they’re national in nature. We have every intention of doing just that.”

Retrans isn’t the only potential area for conflict or blank screens where programming should be. Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and Scripps just illustrated how a failure to reach licensing agreements can result in a Food Network malfunction. No major active negotiations now but Iger has the pitch ready when ESPN affiliate agreements come up, pointing to ratings payoffs from programming investments and raising a favorite claim that the network adds local ad value: “The distributors do quite well with ESPN, not just because of the overall value that we deliver, but the ads that they sell on a local basis are worth considerable amount to the individual distributors, and ESPN generates more advertising revenue than any other channel in the cable universe.”

ESPN360.com rebrands: Meanwhile, look for ESPN to continue to roll out why-we’re-worth-whatever-it-costs examples. For instance, it will rebrand broadband ESPN360 as ESPN3.com, starting with a marketing campaign in April and, according to the WSJ, live streaming of the Yankees-Red Sox opener. ESPN360.com goes to broadband subscribers through their ISPs. The reach doubled last year to 50 million households via new deals with Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA), Cox and Charter; (NSDQ: CHTR) it’s in roughly two-thirds of U.S. broadband homes.

The rebranding, which will come with some tech enhancements and possibly some cross-device functionality, emphasizes the “network” concept. ESPN360.com offers up to 20 events at a time, live and on demand, with more than 3,500 events a year.

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