NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers were in suspense on Sunday afternoon over whether they would get to watch the 2010 Oscars telecast as Cablevision Systems Corp and Walt Disney Co’s ABC had not yet agreed on a new contract.
Cablevision’s 3 million New York-area customers lost broadcast signals of local station WABC-TV in the early hours of Sunday because the cable operator and the TV network were unable to come to terms.
Sunday afternoon, the pair still did not appear to have a deal even though both released statements suggesting that they were making efforts to have ABC restored to Cablevision viewers in time for the annual Oscars award extravaganza.
The station put out a statement saying that the ball was now in Cablevision’s court because it had offered a new deal.
However, a Cablevision spokesman would not acknowledge or confirm any new proposal. The cable operator instead said it would accept binding arbitration with ABC in order to immediately return ABC to Cablevision customers.
A representative for WABC did not respond to requests for a comment on the Cablevision statement.
Cablevision said it was responding to calls from lawmakers, including U.S. Senator John Kerry, for the companies to resort to arbitration to resolve the dispute.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission also weighed in on the dispute, criticizing both companies in a statement issued Sunday. The communications regulator said it was in contact with both companies and monitoring the situation.
“Customers should not suffer due to the inability of these two companies to successfully negotiate a deal,” the FCC’s media bureau chief William Lake said.
Cablevision had said in a statement earlier in the day that Disney had been responsible for pulling the signal and called for Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger to return WABC to its customers while negotiations continued.
The cable company said Iger was “holding ABC’s viewers hostage in order to extract $40 million in new fees.”
For its part, WABC said in a statement Cablevision had “betrayed its subscribers by losing ABC 7.”
ABC and Cablevision have been fighting a very public battle in the last week, accusing each other of being unreasonable in a dispute over how much money the cable company should pay to carry ABC’s free-to-air broadcast signals.
Cablevision repeatedly claimed Disney was looking for an extra $40 million in fees on top of the $200 million it already receives.
Disney executives have privately disputed those numbers and publicly said negotiations had been ongoing for two years.
This cable programing contract spat is the latest to involve Cablevision, which also fell out with Scripps Network Interactive just ahead of New Year’s Eve and lost signals for the Food Network and HGTV for three weeks.
Cablevision is keen to avoid a similar loss of programing dragging on and has hinted at involving regulators to help out arbitrate the dispute.
Senator Kerry had earlier called for the two sides to negotiate in good faith to reach a deal without the need to pull the channel off air.
Reporting by Yinka Adegoke and Sinead Carew; Editing by Maureen Bavdek