Howard Stern and politicians like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) have jumped into the feud between Cablevision and ABC, which is threatening to pull its signal from the cable giant this weekend unless it starts paying fees for carrying WABC-TV in New York — the nation’s top TV market. On Wednesday, Stern used his Sirius radio show to complain about the now-public fight, taking aim at Cablevision’s newspaper ads that urge subscribers to voice their displeasure. “There is no f—ing way Cablevision will survive if they don’t have ABC TV on it,” said Stern, who acknowledged being a Cablevision subscriber. “Cablevision is a license to print money. I would rather own Cablevision than any other business on the planet. You don’t have to do jack s—. You don’t have to generate any programming. All you do is own the pipe to my house and you get paid.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Kerry reportedly sent a letter to the FCC saying that networks shouldn’t be allowed to yank their signals unless the cable company is “negotiating in bad faith.” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, wants the regulatory commission to revisit retransmission consent rules. Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas), however, fired off his own letter to the FCC, saying “actual discussion of the deal is best left between the respective companies and their viewers, free from government interference or cajoling. The alternative is to ask the government to weigh the relative value of carriage and of particular programming. This is a risky proposition.”
Some 3 million New York-area Cablevision customers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey could miss this weekend’s Oscar telecast if the cable company doesn’t reach a re-transmission agreement with ABC, which wants $40 million a year to carry WABC-TV — or $1 per subscriber. Charles Schueler, Cablevision’s executive vice president of communications, responded with the following statement: “We pay more than $200 million a year to ABC Disney for their programming and now they say they will pull the plug unless Cablevision pays $40 million more in new fees for the exact same channels. It is not fair to force Cablevision customers to pay a new TV tax for programming ABC Disney gives away free, both over-the-air and on the Internet. In tough economic times, it is shameful that ABC Disney would hold viewers hostage by threatening to pull the plug, and we urge them to work with us to reach a fair agreement.”
Affected subscribers who don’t want to miss the Oscars will have options, including receiving WABC-TV the old-fashioned way: free, over-the-air.