Updated 5:50 PM ET May 1, 2000
NEW YORK -- The stretch run of ABC's 26 years of Triple Crown
coverage could be off-limits for millions of viewers.
A dispute between the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc. over
transmission rights left seven Disney-owned ABC stations off local
cable systems as of Monday.
If the sides don't settle their differences by Saturday, 3.5 million
cable viewers in seven markets, including New York City and Los
Angeles, won't be able to see the Kentucky Derby unless they rig
their TVs to get an ABC station the old-fashioned way -- through an
"It's something we have no control over," said Karl Schmitt, senior
VP of Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the track and the Derby
itself. "We're hopeful it all will be resolved before Saturday at
4:30, when the show goes on the air."
ABC's long association with thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown ends
after this year's series, when its current contract expires. Last
October, NBC outbid ABC and signed a five-year deal, worth a reported
$51.5 million, to televise the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont
ABC, led by commentator Jim McKay, has televised the Derby since 1975
and covered all three races since 1987.
The Preakness is May 20, the Belmont June 10.
Those affected by the Disney-Time Warner impasse could also miss out
on NHL playoff games slated for ABC on coming weekends. The network,
in the first season of a five-year, $600 million deal it and ESPN
have with the league, is slated to air a second-round game -- from
either the Colorado-Detroit or Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series --
The NHL, like Churchill Downs, has been in constant contact with ABC
to stay abreast of developments.
"We're obviously watching the situation closely. We understand from
ABC it's a very fluid situation. A week is a long time," said
Bernadette Mansur, NHL group VP for communications.
The network's upcoming sports schedule also includes the final two
rounds of the PGA Tour's Compaq Classic on Saturday and Sunday, the
International Figure Skating Challenge on May 13, and Indy 500 time
trials May 20-21.
The move comes during a sweeps period, when ratings are used to set
local advertising rates. Sweeps began Thursday and end May 24.
"It could have a damaging effect on ABC Sports," said Neal Pilson,
former president of CBS Sports and head of his own consulting firm.
Advertisers could ask ABC to compensate them for lost viewers.
About 1.5 million cable customers in New York were without ABC
programming Monday. Other areas affected include Los Angeles;
Houston; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Toledo, Ohio; Fresno, Calif.; and
Time Warner and ABC have tried for months to reach a new national
Disney-ABC offered five deadline extensions after the original deal
expired Dec. 31, 1999. The most recent deadline gave Disney-ABC the
authority to withhold its programming from Time Warner cable systems
if no deal was reached by 12:01 a.m. Monday.
But Disney said Monday it gave Time Warner permission to carry the
seven stations through May 24.
ABC and other over-the-air networks have had the right to demand
compensation from cable providers in exchange for their programming
since Congress passed 1992's Cable TV Act.
ABC wants Time Warner to put some of its products on basic cable
instead of pay channels. ABC also has asked Time Warner to pay rates
for programming tantamount to those it pays its own networks, such as