The $17.7 billion acquisition of Cablevision by France-based telecom giant Altice marked the end of an era for the New York media world in 2016. The longtime cable operator was rebranded, though its Optimum system kept its name, while and Cablevision’s omnipresent Dolan family refocused its attention on Madison Square Garden and other pursuits.
But the Dolans are not ready to go gentle into that good night, apparently. In a lawsuit filed today in Delaware Chancery Court, the family says Altice violated the merger agreement and also committed fraud, principally for allegedly starving the hyper-local News 12 Networks of resources. Altice also has laid off dozens of workers, the suit says, and plans to get rid of established 60-year-old anchor Colleen McVey because executives allegedly sought a “fresh look” for its on-air talent.
Along with McVey, the plaintiffs are Charles Dolan, founder and former CEO of Cablevision; Helen Dolan; James Dolan, former CEO of Cablevision; and Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 at the time of the sale and now an advisor. Patrick Dolan also owns Long Island’s leading daily newspaper Newsday.
The complaint says Altice under the terms of the Cablevision deal agreed to operate News 12 through the end of 2020, maintaining a head count of 462 and incurring cumulative losses of up to $60 million. (The Dolans say the losses have not hit that level.) The main goal, the suit says, was maintaining the “legacy and quality” of the seven News 12 networks, which reach about 3 million Optimum viewers in the New York City suburbs.
“Unfortunately for the employees of News 12, Altice has disregarded its solemn promise to operate News 12” as agreed, Patrick Dolan charged. According to the complaint, the network laid off 70 employees in 2017 and has expressed in writing its intent to lay more workers off starting this week, including McVey. “The purpose of today’s lawsuit is to enforce Altice’s contractual commitment to stand by the employees of News 12,” Dolan said, adding, “The Dolan family intends to hold Altice accountable for commitments Altice made at the time of the sale and to protect the quality programming News 12 provides the community.”
Charles Dolan founded the original News 12 in 1986, giving it several years’ head start on Charter’s NY1, a comparable hyper-local service familiar to New Yorkers regardless of whether or not they have cable TV.
In a statement, Altice USA called the lawsuit “completely without merit” and said it would “vigorously” defend itself.
“Altice USA remains committed to offering meaningful news coverage, enhancing our news product for our local communities, and growing our audience,” the statement said. “Under Altice USA’s leadership, News 12 remains the most viewed TV network in Optimum households. This achievement reflects the uniqueness of News 12’s hyperlocal content and the high value viewers place on news that is tailored to their neighborhoods. Local news has never been more important, and we’re proud that News 12 continues to be a trusted source of news and information in the communities we serve.”