In the wake of the Newscorp’s recent dustup with Time Warner Cable, ABC Disney has threatened a blackout for Cablevision subscribers after midnight this Saturday, unless Cablevision pays ABC Disney a fair share of the $18 monthly fee it charges subscribers for basic broadcast signals. The blackout could leave 3.1 million Cablevision subscribers Oscar-less on Sunday night, and so another mass media game of chicken is set to play out. Cablevision just posted a fourth quarter profit, with revenues up 5%, which could explain why ABC suddenly wants a piece of the action.
The obvious question may be when do NBC and CBS join ABC and FOX in the fee racket game? With network ad revenues shrinking, subscription channels thriving, and cable providers profiteering on fees, these isolated skirmishes seem likely to broaden to a national fee war. The less obvious question is what will happen to PBS if it sits this fight out. Change has come to the broadcast market, and networks are taking an ‘adapt or die’ approach. If PBS can’t bring itself to join the network axis powers to capture a modest share of the cable fee spoils, or even institute a distinct cable subscription fee all its own, it may already be dead.