Agreement nears on Disney-TW battle

After ramping up the rhetoric during the past two months, Disney and Time Warner Cable now say they’re making “significant progress” in the negotiations on a mammoth new carriage agreement.

Both sides have gone public this summer to warn viewers that Disney-owned cablers, including ESPN, and ABC stations may be yanked from Time Warner Cable systems as of Thursday if a new pact can’t be reached. The deal encompasses retransmission consent rights for four ABC O&Os in Time Warner markets, including New York and L.A., and the Mouse’s fleet of cablers.

But on Sunday, Disney and Time Warner Cable posted the same conciliatory statement on the dueling websites that both companies launched to press their case with viewers. It’s understood that top execs from the Mouse House and Time Warner Cable are huddling in face-to-face meetings this week in Gotham in an effort to hammer out a deal.

“Disney/ABC, ESPN and Time Warner Cable have made significant progress in our negotiations for continued distribution of ABC, Disney and ESPN networks and services,” read the statement posted on Disney’s IHaveChoices.com and Time Warner’s RollOverOrGetTough.com sites. “A deal would also include carriage on (cable operator) Bright House Networks. We are now focusing all our attention on a successful conclusion of these efforts prior to the September 2 deadline.”

With the start of the fall season just around the corner, both sides have an incentive to avoid alienating viewers with a programming blackout — depriving viewers of sports on ESPN or ABC faves such as “Dancing With the Stars” and its newly minted Emmy winner “Modern Family.”

Moreover, retrans and carriage scuffles are being heavily scrutinized by Washington pols and regulators in the wake of recent retrans showdowns between Fox and Time Warner Cable and Disney and Cablevision. In an FAQ about the dispute on Time Warner Cable’s website, the cabler asserted that it expects Disney-owned channels “to remain uninterrupted” as they negotiate the deal — a hint that even if the talks go beyond Thursday, the channels will stay up.

Hurdles in the complex Disney-Time Warner Cable negotiation are likely to include the retrans consent fee for the ABC O&Os and carriage of the Disney Junior cabler that the Mouse intends to launch in 2012 on what is now the SoapNet channel. If a programmer decides to radically transform the content of a cable channel, it typically triggers a new carriage contract negotiation with cable and satellite operators.

Reps for Disney and Time Warner Cable declined to comment beyond Sunday’s statements.

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