NEW YORK â€“ Millions of cable subscribers faced the prospect of Oscar night without the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday after ABC’s parent company switched off its signal to Cablevision customers and the two companies blasted each other for failing to reach a deal in a dispute over fees.
In dueling statements dispatched early Sunday, the two companies traded blame for the stalemate ahead of one of the most-watched nights of television.
“Cablevision has once again betrayed its subscribers,” said Charissa Gilmore, a spokeswoman for the Walt Disney Co. and ABC Television Group, in a statement. “Cablevision pocketed almost $8 billion last year, and now customers aren’t getting what they pay for … again.”
Cablevision Systems Corp. said the stall in negotiations should be blamed on Disney CEO Bob Iger. “It is now painfully clear to millions of New York area households that Disney CEO Bob Iger will hold his own ABC viewers hostage in order to extract $40 million in new fees from Cablevision,” said Charles Schueler, a Cablevision executive vice president, in a statement.
The signal can still be pulled from the air for free with an antenna and a new TV or digital converter box.
Cablevision has argued that Disney is seeking an additional $40 million a year in new fees, even though the company pays more than $200 million a year to Disney.
Disney counters by arguing that Cablevision charges customers $18 per month for basic broadcast signals but does not pass on any payment for ABC to Disney.
The dispute is similar to a standoff at the end of last year between News Corp. and Time Warner Cable over how much Fox television station signals were worth. That tussle, which threatened the college football bowl season and new episodes of “The Simpsons,” was resolved without a signal interruption.
Cablevision also feuded with Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. in a January dispute that temporarily forced the Food Network and HGTV off the service. Neither side provided terms of an agreement that restored the channels after three weeks.
Disney and Cablevision have been airing dueling advertisements about the ongoing dispute for the past week. Also, lawmakers in Washington have chimed in, suggesting the Federal Communications Commission step in.
The company’s previous contract with Cablevision expired more than two years ago, but it was extended month by month as talks continued.
Under previous arrangements, Disney was paid for cable channels such as ESPN and Disney Channel, but gave its ABC broadcast signal away for free, a situation that most broadcasters are now trying to change.
“We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free while they continue to charge their customers for them,” WABC-TV president and general manager Rebecca Campbell said in a statement.
Schueler suggested that disgruntled viewers should blame Disney’s top executive if the station goes dark.
“There is one man who is going to decide whether New York gets to see the Oscars, and that’s Disney President and CEO Bob Iger,” he said in a statement late Friday. “We call on Bob Iger to stop holding his own viewers hostage, end his threats to pull the plug on ABC at midnight and instead work with us to reach a fair agreement.”
WABC-TV is the most-watched TV station in the country, said Disney, which is based in Burbank, Calif.