Cablevision CEO James Dolan told an audience at an investor conference Tuesday that The Walt Disney Co. has resorted to bullying tactics regarding its negotiations with the MSO over retransmission consent for its ABC broadcast station in New York.
Speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom conference in San Francisco, Dolan said that negotiations with Disney only started in earnest in the past few weeks, not the two years that Disney has characterized.
Dolan noted that he and Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge traveled to Los Angeles last week to meet with the Disney team.
"The idea that they are going to pull their signal from customers, and they are already threatening to do that, I don't think that is good business," Dolan said. "I think it invites scrutiny on the governmental side and to be honest I don't understand it. We are negotiating, we're at the table for the last couple of days. It's purely a bullying move."
Rutledge said that Cablevision's stance has been from the start that its customers shouldn't have to pay for channels that others receive over the air for free. He added that Cablevision has reached retrans agreements with everyone who has asked for one in the past six months and that ABC is the only retrans deal the company has outstanding.
Rutledge said that broadcasters like ABC who are seeking retrans cash are taking a risk because they offer their product over the air and on the Internet for free and use public airwaves that might have better uses.
"I think they are doing a dangerous thing by threatening their viewers like this," he said.
Rutledge added that ABC and Disney are playing a brinksmanship game now, and "it won't be an Oscar-winning performance," referring to the Academy Awards broadcast that Cablevision subscribers could miss if a deal isn't reached soon.
This is the second high-profile carriage dispute for Cablevision this year. In January, Scripps Networks Interactive pulled its HGTV and Food Network cable channels from Cablevision for about three weeks. The channels were restored after the two reached a compromise. Asked if Cablevision has learned any lessons from that battle, Dolan said the main takeaway from that ordeal, and one Cablevision didn't have control over, was to not put your customers in the middle of a dispute.
"I suppose they [Disney] are going to learn that lesson too," Dolan added.
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