The Scramble for the Oscars

Posted on 12 March 2010

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At one point on Sunday evening, Bay Street Theatre managing director Gary Hygom found himself surrounded in the booth by would-be Oscar viewers, desperately trying to help Hygom find a live feed able to broadcast the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

“Everyone had said, you can get it on ABC, you can get it on Hulu,” said Hygom. “But once the event started everything shut down.”

Hygom and the crowd of roughly 100 East End residents gathered at Bay Street for its annual Oscar night broadcast were not alone. An estimated 3.1 million Cablevision subscribers were without WABC/7 at the start of the Oscar telecast after the channel pulled its signal at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning in the midst of a contract dispute with Cablevision.

According to a statement broadcast to Cablevision subscribers days leading up to Sunday’s blackout, Walt Disney Co. was demanding $40 million more in annual fees, over the $200 million Cablevision already pays Disney. Disney released its own statement on the company’s website, arguing that Cablevision charges $18 a month to its customers for basic broadcast signals like ABC, but does not share any of that revenue with the broadcast networks.

After the signal was pulled Sunday morning, Cablevision sent subscribers e-mails detailing where the telecast could be watched via the Internet, and offered free movie rentals from the company’s on-demand movie system. However, several subscribers reported trying to access the free movies, only to find the system was overloaded and the films not available.

At Bay Street, where residents munched on popcorn and sipped wine while watching Hollywood parade down Oscar’s red carpet, several people expressed disdain with the cable provider – some saying the stalemate with ABC may be the last straw for them as Cablevision subscribers.

“It seems like this is all about money and yet we are paying our bills,” said Cynthia Battaglia, the owner of a Sag Harbor-based catering company.

Battaglia said she was at Bay Street specifically because she was without the Oscar telecast, but also bemoaned the possible loss of programs like Lost, and Oprah, as well as Good Morning America and World News Tonight – her two favorite news programs.

Battaglia said this is not the first time she has taken issue with Cablevision and how it handles contract disputes. In January, in the midst of a battle with the Scripps Network, which airs The Food Network and HGTV, those channels were also pulled for three weeks.

“Of course there are two sides to every story,” she said. “But I also think both parties should remember they are in the service industry. If I did this to my clients, I would be out of a job.”

As Battaglia settled in for the Oscar telecast following the red carpet, the screen went dark.

“The funniest thing was the parade of people coming to the booth to give me suggestions,” said Hygom. Finally, two men hailing from Las Vegas, who are able to view their cable television on their iPhone, worked with Hygom to connect the phone to the theatre’s system.

While a third of the theatre’s patrons had already left Bay Street, some finding Oscar solace at The American Hotel, which has Direct TV, Hygom was able to get the telecast up and running, although the image was badly digitized. Wiping his brow, and walking into Bay Street’s lobby, Hygom noticed they were broadcasting a clean telecast of the Academy Awards.

At 8:43 p.m., just before Christoph Waltz took the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance in “Inglorious Basterds,” a deal was inked and ABC was back on-air for Cablevision subscribers. Details about the deal have yet to be released and calls to Cablevision were not returned as of press time.

“Probably around 60 to 70 people stayed all the way through,” said Hygom. “The number of people who came really surprised all of us, especially with everything so up in the air. But we all had a great time. Everyone had fun and was accepting that we might not see it here. It was like we were all working as one big team.”

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One Response to “The Scramble for the Oscars”

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