NEW YORK -- A nasty corporate dispute has accomplished what none of ABC's rivals could do: force millions of viewers to watch someone other than Regis Philbin.
An estimated 3.5 million Time Warner cable customers were in their second day without ABC programming today after missing the first celebrity edition of ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'' in prime-time Monday night.
Instead of Philbin, Time Warner customers found a message saying, ''Disney has taken ABC away from you'' on the channel that normally carries WABC-TV in New York.
The Walt Disney Co., ABC's corporate parent, is fighting over how much money Time Warner must compensate Disney for the right to carry some of its cable channels. The blackout comes during a key ratings period.
The affected customers are in seven markets served by ABC-owned television stations. About 1.5 million were in the New York City area, 665,000 in Houston and 440,000 in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Smaller numbers of customers in the Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Toledo, Ohio; and Fresno, Calif., markets also lost service.
''This could last for six months,'' said Jon Mandel, an analyst for Grey Advertising in New York, ''because both of them are right and both of them are wrong.
''These are huge media companies -- this isn't about New York or this year. This is about the future of this business. They both need each other and neither of them want to be the one admitting it.''
Both companies are trading unusually bitter rhetoric, and Time Warner has offered to reimburse customers for the cost of switching to an antenna for ABC shows. Disney is considering giving a rebate to customers who get a satellite dish
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