Cablevision’s WABC Oscar Fans Held Hostage: Day Three

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If I’m already fatigued by the extended PR volley between Disney and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) over retransmission fees, just imagine how Cablevision subs counting on WABC for the Academy Awards Sunday night or the latest twist in Lost feel. Since Disney went public with the dispute over retrans fees late Monday, they’ve been bombarded with conflicting messages of blame — and warnings that either Disney’s greed or Cablevision’s greed will be the cause if the ABC owned-and-operated station disappears from the channel lineup at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. (This is where Shakespeare might insert “a pox on both your houses.”)

Cablevision insists ABC is demanding $40 million a year for channels already covered by its $200-plus million annual payment to Disney (NYSE: DIS). ABC contends the actual amount is far less — and that the cable operator is offering an even smaller amount, roughly what it pays its own Rainbow Networks to carry the Sundance channel.

And now Congress is in the mix. U.S. Sen John Kerry sent FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski a letter Wednesday urging him not to let millions of cable subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (none of them his own state) go without the Oscars: “I ask you to urge the parties to stay at the negotiating table and continue transmitting ABC programming to Cablevision consumers. I simply do not believe consumers should lose access to a signal over their cable service as long as both parties are negotiating in good faith.” I asked Sen. Kerry’s office what constitutes good faith — and who decides it. No answer yet but he outlines what he thinks should be done before a broadcaster can remove a signal: “I don


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