Disney pushes deadline back as ABC, TW Cable battle on

Debate over $350 mil in license fees could cause Mouse to pull station

NEW YORK — Time Warner cable subscribers in New York, Houston and parts of L.A. and Philadelphia who are fans of quizmeister Regis Philbin, Drew Carey, “The Practice” and “Dharma & Greg” can relax, at least for another month.

The Walt Disney Co., parent of ABC, has extended the March 31 deadline for removal of the network from these Time Warner cable systems to April 30.

Disney and TW are locked in a ferocious battle involving as much as $350 million in additional license fees over the next six years. Disney wants TW Cable to pay through both nostrils for continuing carriage of the local ABC-owned TV station. The TW payment would come from the pickup of two relatively new cable networks, Soap Net and Toon Disney, and the shifting of Disney Channel from a pay network to a basic channel.

TW claims that its license fees from the pickups would escalate by nine figures over the life of the contract. Disney says TW is not taking into account the advertising time TW will get in Soap Net and Toon Disney to sell to local advertisers.

The negotiations have dragged out for months, and Disney had started imposing deadlines, spiked with the explicit threat to pull the ABC O&O off the cable system indefinitely, to try to get TW to sign a deal.

For the fourth time this year, Disney has backed away from a deadline.

A TW Cable spokesman said negotiations will start up again this week. But based on past experience, the talks will stretch out to the 11th hour: Disney and TW are still far apart, and no one is forecasting an agreement by April 30.

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