Even though the Disney CEO says he doesn’t want to weigh into the contract dispute, he left analysts with little doubt about his sympathies. Bob Iger told them in his quarterly earnings call that he feels “strongly about the need for broadcasters to be paid adequately” by pay TV providers. Sure, station owners transmit their signals over the air for free. But “distributors repackage them and sell them”, and with the “compelling” combination of national and local programming — including news — “the stations should be paid accordingly”. The high-profile CBS–Time Warner Cable fight has left millions of cable subscribers unable to watch programming from CBS and related networks including Showtime. “We never like to see battles like this,” Iger says, because it brings “attention to the business that isn’t necessarily helpful.” He doesn’t sense, though, that lawmakers or regulators are “close to jumping into the fray on this one”. Nor is Iger worried that Disney will be hurt if cable operators merge as a way to gain more leverage over programmers and their rising price demands. “This is the most robust era we’ve ever seen from a distribution perspective” with cable, satellite, phone companies and digital streamers led by Netflix. If cable companies combine, it “will have no impact on our business whatsoever…We have the kind of leverage necessary not only to obtain access but to obtain the pricing” he wants.
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