cablevision v wabcBREAKING NEWS! First it was the Food Network/HGTV. Now WABC-TV, Channel 7 in New York, beginning today is running messaging on-air to alert local Cablevision subscribers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and selected suburbs of Connecticut and New Jersey, that as of 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday, March 7, 2010, they may no longer have access to the station due to another ridiculous impasse in retrans negotiations. WABC-TV will also be running ads in local print, radio and online media on the situation. This mess is going to piss off a lot of Cablevision viewers. And do I need to remind anyone that the Oscars will be broadcast live on Sunday night?

Here’s the statement from Rebecca S. Campbell, President & General Manager, WABC-TV:

“With the help of our viewers, we’ve built ABC7 into the most watched station in the country, and have been trying for two years to get Cablevision to acknowledge the station’s value to their business. Despite our best efforts, it has now become clear that Cablevision has no intention of coming to a fair agreement. We can no longer sit back and allow Cablevision to use our shows for free while they continue to charge their customers for them. We’ve worked too hard and invested too many millions of dollars in programming and community outreach, to be taken advantage of any longer – especially since our viewers can watch their favorite ABC7 shows free, over-the-air, or by switching to one of Cablevision’s competitors.”

ABC7 is telling viewers they have other service options, including receiving WABC-TV free over-the-air. There’s already a website, http://www.saveABC7.com, and a toll-free number, 877-990-ABC7. Natch, WABC-TV was first to speak out in this PR war. An insider emailed me:

“Year-after-year, ABC7 is the most watched TV channel in the New York metro area – in fact, it is the most watched TV channel in all of America — but Cablevision’s position is that ABC7 is worth little to nothing to its business. For the past two years, we have tried to negotiate fair compensation for Cablevision’s use of WABC Channel 7 as part of the broadcast basic package of channels that Cablevision sells to consumers. We have intentionally extended month-to-month for the past two years in good faith in order to work out an agreement. Cablevision charges customers up to $18 each month for the Broadcast Basic tier (which is the broadcast stations, including WABC, as well as some public interest stations). That’s more than $500,000,000 each year — and yet they pay us NOTHING for our programming. The value we are placing on WABC is representative of the value WABC delivers to Cablevision’s business.

We have been consistent on this price point in all of our historical retrans proposals, long before any recent retrans disputes and public battles. Cablevision’s consistent response has been that WABC-TV, Channel 7, is worth little to nothing to Cablevision’s business, and has only proposed restrictive, unreasonable offers. Our stance on retransmission consent is to get paid appropriately for the value our stations deliver to distributors (particularly in big markets like New York). Having tried to negotiate for the past two years, we simply can no longer extend our ABC content with Cablevision beyond March 6th unless we receive appropriate cash compensation.

Cablevision pays programmers about a third of the retail price of expanded basic for the programming that is carried on that tier – and none of that goes to WABC. Industry data shows that cable operators have increased total retail prices by $5 for every $1 in programming costs. Cablevision itself owns channels like AMC, Sundance, IFC and MSG and pays fees to its own channels and charges other cable operators for the use of its channels. It is patently unfair and unsustainable for Cablevision to pay fees to less popular channels and to pay fees to its own channels while refusing to pay reasonable value to the most watched channel, one that goes above-and-beyond to serve its viewers and the communities in which they live.”