Broadcaster Blasts ABC/Disney's Online Attitude


On a first-quarter earnings call Tuesday, Hearst-Argyle Television President and CEO David Barrett responded to ABC’s Monday launch of a site that streams some of its best prime time shows, as well as Disney/ABC Networks chief Anne Sweeney’s recent characterization of stations’ desire for a piece of ABC’s online revenues.

"I am dismayed that ABC continues to take the position that the affiliates are stuck in the past," he told investors. "We are as aggressive as ABC and Disney in terms of recognizing the potential of digital media. We’ve had a Web site business in place that’s been growing for the past seven years." He added that some networks have had "significant failures" in a time "where we’ve been building a business."

At last week's National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, Sweeney acknowledged that TV stations were unhappy with ABC's moves to put its best primet ime shows online, via iTunes and, destroying their exclusive distribution of early runs of hit shows.

"Instead of staking out territory based on old business models, we need to stop saying ‘this is how we've always done it,'" Sweeney said. Instead, broadcasters should be asking how they would address television and video if both stations and networks were starting from scratch.

"I am put off by the condescending rhetoric that we get from some of the networks about how we got our heads in the sand about the business," Barrett told investors. He noted that Fox and NBC are working more closely with affiliates, particularly Fox, which is giving stations a share of online revenues.

"We are not seeking to preserve the old business model," Barrett said. "We're seeking to participate and build new business models with our program suppliers. And the Fox template for sharing in revenue generated through repurposing is sharing with its affiliates."