abc wabcBREAKING NEWS! 2ND UPDATE: More than 3 million Cablevision customers lost their ABC affiliate tonight and may lose the Academy Awards broadcast as well. It happened at 12:01 AM ET Sunday in this retrans impasse between Disney/ABC and Cablevision, which has tried to personally blame Disney CEO Bob Iger. “It seems their attacks on Bob have not worked,” a Disney insider just told me. “They miscalculated his resolve. Bullying and name-calling will not change the fact that cablevision_logoCablevision’s customers are switching to other providers en masse.” Indeed, Disney has been urging its WABC-TV viewers to switch to satellite. A source close to Cablevision refuted the claim that viewers were leaving the provider in droves and responded to me, “Disney may thinks it’s good business to attack its own viewers and black out the Oscars in NY. They may call it resolve. We call it stupidity.”

cablevision-v-wabc-300x141Frankly, I’m shocked that Disney/ABC would jeopardize its Oscar ratings given that WABC-TV, Channel 7, is the most watched local television station in the United States, serving more than 7.4 million television households in 29 counties covering New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. I’m equally shocked that Cablevision would want to anger that many of its subscribers. But these retrans battles usually involve major hardball, and this is no exception. Obviously, Iger et al believe they have the upper hand for the next 17 hours until the Academy Awards telecast begins.

abc_postI’m told that Cablevision shut down all the broadcast stations — NBC, CBS, Fox, WPIX — before ABC went dark. The last thing that the Cablevision viewers saw while watching WABC-TV was: “Cablevision betrayed you again. First HGTV and Food Network. Now ABC 7…” You may remember that after the new year Cablevision subscribers lost their Food Network and HGTV on the channel lineup after the Scripps Networks also fought with the No. 5 cable giant over retrans fees. That battle took weeks to settle. Cablevision taunted Iger by portraying him as yet another greedy Big Media baron. And he is. Yet here we are with another publicity nightmare for Chuck and Jim Dolan who are among the most made-fun-of moguls because of their scattershot dealmaking, their dysfunctional intra-family squabbling, and their arrogant dismissing of shareholders. There’s even been something called the Dolan Discount for a long time — a penalty put on the stock of their Cablevision because investors don’t trust the duo. The Wall Street Journal even called recently for Jimmy Dolan to exit as Cablevision CEO and just run his company’s Madison Square Garden subsidiary.

The whispering is that it’s time for Time Warner Cable or Comcast to take over Cablevision’s coveted franchises concentrated in NYC’s most affluent suburbs. But the source close to Cablevision defended the company to me: “Cablevision was the best performing cable operator in the country in terms of stock price, cash flow growth, and number of subscribers. It also has the deepest penetration of their digital services of any cable company.”

The only people who lose these wars are the consumers whose already astronomical cable bills go up no matter who wins.

Cablevision was first out with a statement tonight:

BETHPAGE, NY, March 7, 2010 – Cablevision Systems Corporation (NYSE: CVC) today issued the following statement after ABC Disney pulled WABC from Cablevision customers, calling on Disney CEO Bob Iger to return WABC immediately while the negotiations continue. Cablevision pays ABC Disney $200 million for programming, more than any other company, and ABC Disney is demanding $40 million more in new fees for the same channels.

Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s executive vice president of communications, said:

“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. We call on Bob Iger to immediately return ABC to Cablevision customers while we continue to work to reach a fair agreement.”

Cablevision customers should urge ABC Disney to put the WABC programming back on Cablevision by calling 1-877-NO-TV-TAX, visiting http://www.cablevision.com/abc or joining its Facebook group “Cablevision Viewers Say: No New Fees, ABC!”

Then came Disney/ABC’s statement:

12:01 a.m., ET, March 7, 2010

Statement from Rebecca Campbell, President and General Manager, WABC-TV, regarding Cablevision’s loss of ABC7:

“Cablevision has once again betrayed its subscribers by losing ABC7, the most popular station in the tri-state area. This follows two years of negotiations, during which we worked diligently, up to the final moments, to reach an agreement. Cablevision pocketed almost $8 billion last year, and now customers aren’t getting what they pay for…again. It’s time for Jim Dolan and the Dolan Family Dynasty to finally step up, be fair, and do what’s right for our viewers.”

Cablevision customers can call 1-877-990-ABC7 or visit http://www.saveABC7.com for information on how to switch service providers or receive ABC7’s signal free, over-the-air.