SBD/Issue 56/Sports Media

Disney Seeks To Protect ESPN From Cablevision's FCC Efforts

The Walt Disney Co. yesterday "went on the offensive" to halt Cablevision's effort to push the FCC into restricting ESPN "from demanding access to the vast majority of cable subscribers," according to Ted Hearn of MULTICHANNEL NEWS. Cablevision's attorneys have been working with FCC Chair Kevin Martin and his staff to get the FCC to "start a rulemaking that would greatly restrict Disney's bargaining leverage not just for its cable networks but also for its 10 ABC TV stations." The rule would "give cable operators the option to keep ESPN in a package or sell it a la carte." But Disney "hit back in a sternly worded letter Wednesday to Martin and the other four FCC commissioners that accused Cablevision of two-faced behavior." Disney alleged that Cablevision's advocacy at the FCC was "totally [at] odds with Cablevision's statements as a defendant in an antitrust suit aimed at breaking up cable programming packages and mandating more a la carte options as a remedy." Disney in the letter also "complained that Martin's staff had prepared a list of 'findings' designed to justify new rules curbing the bargaining clout of program suppliers." Martin yesterday said that he "wanted the FCC to vote Dec. 18 to start the rulemaking," and that "among other things, he wants to bar ESPN from demanding carriage on expanded basic." Hearn noted Cablevision owns MSG Network and "withholds the HD version of MSG from Verizon, Cablevision's cable competitor in the greater New York City region." Martin said that he has "no plans to eliminate the legal exemption that allows Cablevision to restrict access to MSG's HD feed" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 12/3).

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