WABC-TV Returns To Cablevision

After having service disconnected by a retransmission-consent dispute in which WABC-TV pulled its signal, Cablevision Sunday night began airing the station and its coverage of the Oscars at around 8:43 p.m. (ET).

The restoration of the signal enabled Cablevision subscribers in the New York DMA to watch Christoph Waltz win the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in Inglorious Basterds, as well as the rest of the 82nd annual Academy Awards show, capped byKathryn Bigelow becoming the first women to earn the statue for best director for helming The Hurt Locker, the winner for best picture.

According to a crawl that ran on WABC during the Oscar telecast, the parties "reached an agreement in principle that recognizes the fair value of ABC7, with deal points that we expect to with finalize with Cablevision." As the crawl appeared a second time, the camera cut away to Walt Disney Co.-ABC CEO Bob Iger.

WABC-TV pulled its signal from Cablevision at 12:01 a.m. on March 7. 

Noted WABC president and general manager Rebecca Campbell in a statement: "We've made significant progress, and have reached an agreement in principle that recognizes the fair value of ABC7, with deal points that we expect to finalize with Cablevision. Given this movement, we're pleased to announce that ABC7 will return to Cablevision households while we work to complete our negotiations."

"We are happy to report that WABC Channel 7 has returned to Cablevision's 3 million New York area homes," said Cablevision executive vice president of communications Charlie Schueler in a statement. "We are very grateful to our customers for their support and pleased to welcome ABC back."

Schueler added that "it is a deal that is fair to our customers and in line with our other programming agreements."

Throughout the past week, Cablevision, the predominant cable operator in metro New York with some 3.1 million video subscribers, claimed that WABC-TV had been seeking $40 million annually for its signal, amounting to a monthly license fee of about $1 per subscriber. The cable operator argued that it was already paying WABC-TV parent Disney $200 million annually for carriage of such cable networks as ESPN and Disney Channel, and that forking over fees for the over-the-air station would constitute a TV tax.

Disney never disclosed its asking price, but some sources pegged the monthly fee in the 50 cents to 60 cents per subscriber range. Whatever the amount, the parties apparently didn't bridge their differences until after the Oscar telecast began.

The agreement in principle came after Disney offered another proposal on Sunday afternoon and Cablevision pointed toward binding arbitration as a solution. It also followed a week of finger-pointing by both sides, swipes at executive leadership and politicians weighing in on the retransmission-consent process and its impact on consumers.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who had been the most high-profile of the legislators pushing the two sides for a deal, or the FCC to intervene absent one, gave the reconciliation his blessing.

"I'm pleased to see that common sense has been restored in these negotiations and that Disney and Cablevision have agreed not to make consumers the victims," said Kerry in a statement late Sunday. But he suggested a larger disconnect remained.

"Moving forward, we must assess the roots of these broadcast disputes and ensure that the rules of the road promote resolution rather than public conflict that strips consumers of the services the rely on," he said. "I will continue to fight to ensure the interests of consumers trump narrow interests."