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ACA: Disney Deal 'A Drop in the Bucket'

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) is offering small cable operators the green light to carry the ABC Inc. signal for free in markets where Disney owns and operates the stations, but that's not good enough, according to the American Cable Association (ACA) .

The ACA, a pressure group that represents 1,100 small and mid-sized cable operators, said Disney's move was a "first step in the right direction" but does little to change regulations the ACA considers faulty.

"Without further action on the part of Congress and the FCC to ensure true reform of the broken retransmission consent marketplace, Disney’s announcement is only a public relations ploy that amounts to far too little relief for far too few operators," said ACA president and CEO Matthew Polka, in a statement.

Disney's offer, made today and good from 2009 to 2011, applies only to ABC. Other Disney-operated networks, including ESPN, Disney Channel, and ABC Family, aren't subject to the free carriage arrangement. (See Disney Offers Free ABC in O&Os.)

The offer applies to 91 small cable operators in the 10 markets with ABC-owned stations: WABC-TV (New York); KABC-TV (Los Angeles); WLS-TV (Chicago); WPVI-TV (Philadelphia); KGO-TV (San Francisco); KTRK-TV (Houston); WTVD-TV (Raleigh-Durham, N.C.); KFSN-TV (Fresno, Calif.); WJRT-TV (Flint, Mich.); and WTVG-TV (Toledo, Ohio).

That covers 80 percent of the operators in those markets, Disney estimates -- but those operators total less than 1 percent of U.S. cable subscribers, the ACA counters.

"Disney has not indicated any intention to have its local affiliates provide relief to independent operators in their markets. This is a drop in the bucket for operators and for subscribers," Polka said in his statement. Disney could not immediately comment about whether it plans to offer a similar carriage deal for ABC in non-owned-and-operated markets.

Earlier today, the ACA filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking a "modest quiet period" between broadcasters and cable operators prior to the February 2009 digital TV transition. In essence, the quiet period would prevent broadcasters from pulling their signals from an operator's system and using that as negotiation tactic, the ACA argued. (See ACA Calls for 'Quiet Period'.)

Noting that most three-year retransmission deals are set to expire by Dec. 31, 2008, the ACA is proposing to maintain the status quo until May 31, 2009.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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