The static came as ABC and Cablevision were not able to come to an retransmission agreement by the midnight Saturday deadline imposed by Disney.
The Alphabet’s WABC-TV was in the middle of a season two off-net repeat of “Lost” — “Three Minutes,” which centers on Michael’s decision to betray his fellow castaways — when the cord was yanked.
WABC replaced the feed it sends to Cablevision with a sternly-worded on-screen message: “Cablevision betrayed you again. First HGTV and Food Network, now they lost ABC 7. Enough is Enough. Go to SaveABC7.com to switch service now.”
It didn’t take long for Cablevision to block out that message — but in the process, several Cablevision subscribers reported online that the MSO accidentally also blocked out WNBC and WCBS, among other channels, for up to 15 minutes.
In its on-screen note to viewers, Cablevision even goes as far as to suggest that audiences watch ABC fare via Hulu.
“ABC has pulled WABC-7,” Cablevision’s replacement message now reads in the channel 7 slot. “Cablevision pays ABC’s parent company over $200 million per year. The price you pay for TV matters. ABC is demanding $40 million more per year. We wanted to keep WABC-7 on the air. Pulling WABC off Cablevision was wrong. And we’re not the only ones to think so.
“We are working hard to get WABC back on the air. ABC has rejected our offers. We have agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox and Univision. We apologize for their actions. Call 1-877-NO-TV-TAX. Watch WABC-7 free over the air with a digital antenna. View ABC programming at Hulu.com or ABC.com. Thank You.”
In her statement — sent moments after the screen went dark — WABC prexy/GM Rebecca Campbell said the move followed “two years of negotiations, during which we worked diligently, up to the final moments, to reach an agreement.”
“Cablevision pocketed almost $8 billion last year, and now customers aren’t getting what they pay for…again,” she wrote. “It’s time for Jim Dolan and the Dolan Family Dynasty to finally step up, be fair, and do what’s right for our viewers.”
In response, Cablevision demanded that Disney return WABC to the provider while the negotiations continue.
“It is now painfully clear to millions of New York area households that Disney CEO Bob Iger will hold his own ABC viewers hostage in order to extract $40 million in new fees from Cablevision,” said Cablevision exec VP of communications Charles Schueler. “We call on Bob Iger to immediately return ABC to Cablevision customers while we continue to work to reach a fair agreement.”
Leading up to the signal scrub, WABC’s 11 p.m. newscast featured several advertisements touted Cablevision rival Verizon FiOS as an alternative to receive the station’s signal.
Most Cablevision subscribers likely won’t notice the missing channel until tomorrow — when ABC is set to air this year’s Oscarcast. That means the real deadline still looms.
WABC wasn’t the only station to disappear from Cablevision on Saturday night. Philadelphia’s WPVI-TV was pulled from 30,000 Cablevision homes in Mercer County, New Jersey. (Read more here.)
Disney is hoping Cablevision will blink by Sunday evening in order to prevent subscribers from complaining about the loss of Gotham’s ABC station on the day of such a major TV event — particularly after they wake up and find the channel gone on Sunday.
Cablevision, meanwhile, is counting on Disney getting nervous about losing significant viewership in the nation’s largest TV market for the live telecast, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. Cablevision has about 3.1 million subscribers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It serves roughly 40% of the 7.2 million households in the New York City TV market as defined by Nielsen.
Connecticut subscribers won’t necessarily be without the Oscars, however: Systems in that state also carry New Haven-based ABC affil WTNH.
(Pic via Amanda Ruisi’s Twitter feed.)