Food Network President Brooke Johnson told reporters today that it was New York-area cable operator Cablevision’s “hard-line” stance that forced her cable channel and sister network HGTV to go black in 3 million homes. “All of our other operators recognized the huge upsurge in popularity we’ve experienced,” she said in a conference call. “We’re trying to correct a historic mistake and be compensated for the value we think we bring to Cablevision’s customers.” Viewership has increased 41 percent in prime time over the last two seasons alone, she said, and the license agreement between parent company Scripps Networks and Cablevision hasn’t been renegotiated for five years.

Cablevision said in a statement that “Cablevision offered Scripps the ability to continue delivering HGTV and Food Network to our customers while we negotiated a new agreement. This is common practice in the cable industry, and such an extension occurred in the recent dispute between Time Warner Cable and the Fox Network, and in Scripps’ own negotiations with Time Warner Cable. But instead, with virtually no warning, Scripps took the extraordinary step of flipping a switch and removing its channels from Cablevision — effectively holding their own viewers hostage in order to pursue a more than 200 percent fee increase from Cablevision and our customers.” Johnson said it was “in their self-interest” to suggest the networks stay on the air: “They would be happy if we didn’t have a contract for the next five years, because then they would be paying the same rate we have today.” She wouldn’t specify the increase in license fees the network was seeking, but characterized it as “pennies on top of pennies,” adding, “It’s our position that cable bills shouldn’t go up” as a result of Scripps’ demands.

Talk about Food Network-HGTV-Cablevision dispute on PopWatch: