Now ABC has drawn a line in the sand, announcing it will begin running on-air messages to alert local Cablevision subscribers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and selected suburbs of Connecticut and New Jersey that they may no longer have access to the station beginning March 7 — the same date as ABC’s Academy Awards telecast.
Disney has some good ammunition and recent history on its side. Fox and Time Warner Cable had a well publicized dispute, very similar to Disney and Cablevision, start off 2010. Fox threatened to pull its signal and leave Time Warner subscribers from watching College Football Bowl games, including the BCS.
The Oscars telecast is traditionally a ratings hit. This year the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to allow for more mainstream films to enter the running in a move to draw more casual fans. Nothing draws a big TV audience like controversy over crowning a champion for lack of participants, be it tournament or secret ballot.
As news broke on Time Warner’s agreement with Fox, Scripps Network pulled two popular channels, Food Network and HGTV from Cablevision. Cablevision eventually negotiated a new contract with Scripps, but Cablevision subscribers went nearly a month without those two channels.
So after 2 years without a contract, why the sudden noise? Clearly the landscape is changing, with many more options to distribute programming digitally. Why now? March is when ABC has its most leverage. ABC loaded up its March prime time schedule, conceding February to NBC and the Olympics. ABC pushed several show’s returns from hiatus until after the Oscars:
As of this writing, Cablevision has not yet followed Time Warner’s tactic of preparing its subscribers for WABC-7 going dark.
In prior retrans disputes, cable operators have pointed subscribers to over-the-air and Web sources for programming — in some cases even offering free antennas, as Mediacom Communications did in its 2006 standoff with Sinclair Broadcast Group
It’s doubtful that Cablevision would provide free antennas, but instructions on how subscribers can configure their displays, HDTV or otherwise, to receive free over-the-air (OTA) should be a must. Especially for the Oscars, since the Awards Show will not be streamed live, save for the Red Carpet.
If you are caught in the middle of the re-transmission dispute, can’t receive a clear OTA signal, and WABC-7 does go dark, your best bet may be to visit a friend with FIOS, Dish, DirecTV, or shell out $150 (or more) for the NY Oscar Night America 2010 viewing party.
In terms of the web, where should Cablevision be pointing subscribers of its Optimum packages to find their favorite ABC shows? Just going by LOST, a well documented favorite of After the Transition, there is no shortage of online sources, free or paid:
They probably wouldn’t mention ABC.com, but you never know. The delay is the same as on the other networks, but you do gain HD capability. Crazy as it sounds, would either iTunes or PSN benefit from some TV Everywhere type voucher system, offsetting the price for Cablevision subscribers, while WABC-7 is blacked out?
Perhaps Cablevision will go with a little gamesmanship and direct them to ABC.com and Hulu. NewTeeVee pointed out last month:
An ABC representative, speaking on background, confirmed that the affiliate branding is part of ABC’s deal with Hulu, and is also consistent with their digital strategy on ABC.com, where an affiliate brand also appears as a graphic on the official video player.
By sending subscribers to Hulu, Cablevision can make sure customers see a little reminder why they are forced to watch online.
You may have heard that March comes in like a lion and with their ads, both Cablevision and ABC are roaring. Only time will tell who comes out of this mess like a lamb? Happy viewing.