Disney, Time Warner mount PR offensives following cable clash

NEW YORK: The war between media titans Disney and Time Warner, which reached a temporary cease-fire last week when the cable carrier reluctantly restored Disney-owned ABC to its systems,left execs from both companies scrambling to publicize their version of events.

NEW YORK: The war between media titans Disney and Time Warner, which reached a temporary cease-fire last week when the cable carrier reluctantly restored Disney-owned ABC to its systems,left execs from both companies scrambling to publicize their version of events.

NEW YORK: The war between media titans Disney and Time Warner,

which reached a temporary cease-fire last week when the cable carrier

reluctantly restored Disney-owned ABC to its systems,left execs from

both companies scrambling to publicize their version of events.



The dispute, which centered on fees and on Disney’s insistence that Time

Warner add Disney channels to its basic service tier, went nuclear last

Monday when ABC was blacked out by Time Warner in 11 cities, including

New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia. The move came at the

outset of the critical May ’sweeps’ period, during which Nielsen Media

Research collects demographic data from sample homes in each of the

country’s 210 TV markets.



Because this information is used to set advertising rates, Time Warner’s

decision to drop ABC - which has won the last two sweeps periods thanks

to the wild success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? - would have cost

the network millions of viewers and potentially millions of dollars.



With both ego and money at stake, Disney government relations EVP

Preston Padden appeared on Fox News Channel and two CNN shows, while

Time Warner Cable used senior execs Joseph Collins, Barry Rosenbloom and

Fred Dressler as lead spokesmen. Interestingly, neither company used its

corporate Web site to argue its position.



Disney also took the preemptive step of hiring PR firms in seven of the

affected markets, including Rubenstein Associates (NY), the Tierney

Group (Philadelphia) and Fogarty Klein (Houston). The company has

quietly been lobbying against the Time Warner/America Online merger for

months, fearing the creation of a media monopoly that could limit

Disney’s distribution options for its content.



The dispute, which received front-page treatment across the country,

also posed a challenge for the sizable news divisions of Time Warner and

Disney: balancing their coverage of the feud. Most onlookers, however,

say that each company did a good job of reporting objectively.



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