CBS-TW Cable Brawl: Politicians, Pundits Advance Their Own Agendas


The blackout has provided a ready marketing platform

The Great Blackout of 2013 has been good for pundits and politicians and just about anyone else in need of a bully pulpit.

The retransmission consent wrangle between CBS and Time Warner Cable has sparked a tidal wave of pontificating since CBS stations and Showtime went dark on TW Cable systems in New York, Los Angeles and a handful of other markets. The disruption in the nation’s top TV markets made it a national story.

Both companies have been on a war footing, of course, with a steady stream of statements, press releases, advertisements and PSAs making their case. CBS has the benefit of having not only its TV air but powerful radio stations in Gotham and L.A. to thunder against what it sees as an injustice done by TW Cable.

The sides’ respective lobbying orgs have been predictably busy, with dueling email blasts coming regularly from the National Assn. of Broadcasters and the American Television Alliance, as well as a clutch of interested companies, including major cable operators, satcasters DirecTV and Dish, and telcos. The American Cable Assn., which reps smaller operators, has had a running count of blackout days under the headline, “CBS Blacks Out America” on its regular daily news roundup email to media types.

SEE ALSO: Should the U.S. Government Ban TV Blackouts?

But beyond those with actual dogs in the fight, the impasse has been an easy-access marketing platform for lawyers (one class-action suit has been filed against TW Cable) and opportunistic pols.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn took it upon herself to try to scold reps for both companies into ending the standoff at a council hearing Aug. 8. As the Gotham tabloids were quick to point out, the effort had little chance of getting either side to budge, but it yielded plenty of free media attention for Quinn in the middle of her mayoral campaign.

California’s senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer sent a finger-wagging letter Aug. 12 to TW Cable CEO Glenn Britt and CBS Corp. boss Leslie Moonves on behalf of the “millions of your customers caught in the middle of your dispute.” A salon criticizing Big Media — especially cable operators — is about as safe as it gets in taking a political stand.

Advocacy groups and media watchdog orgs have used the impasse to push for everything from a la carte legislation to cleaning up the level of sex and violence on the airwaves. Or both, in the case of the Parents Television Council.

SEE ALSO: Why the FCC Is Not Taking Action to End the CBS Blackout on Time Warner Cable

CBS’ aggressive move to block TW Cable broadband subscribers from access to CBS programming through legitimate online platforms sparked an outcry among net neutrality advocates. So much so that some may have been secretly glad for the opportunity to point out, with a dramatic flourish, what they see as the need for Congress to establish clear rules of the broadband road.

“Television subscribers are sick of being held hostage in disputes and, through no fault of their own, not getting the programming for which they pay way, way waaaaay too much,” Public Knowledge senior VP Harold Feld wrote in an Aug. 6 blog post.

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  1. Mike Land says:

    Here’s the solution, screw them both. First of all, drop all paid tv services and go to a catered service such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. You will have some coins left over at the end of the day. Spend all that extra monies on Redbox, There, you have your own box office or real Home Box Office if you will. Then, you surely have access to OTA transmissions so go out and order an ATSC dongle for your computer. Or just buy a portable ATSC receiver like I have.

  2. George says:

    Let’s see; CBS has been given FREE airwaves to use in the public’s interest. To fund this they air paid commercial advertisements few wish to see. Additionally they feel they should ALSO be “paid for their content” by a company making access to their commercials more possible to the American public (otherwise they must – gasp – use an antenna!). I urge people to either stop watching CBS or use an antenna and stop double or triple paying free-over-the-air broadcasters who are double and triple dipping

  3. Paul says:

    Two Billion Dollar companies fighting about several million dollars. It’s really silly. Time Warner says that it wants to keep the price low and provide good programming to its customers, but the bottom line is that Time Warner couldn’t care less about the programming on any of the channels that they carry. They care about ONE THING: Making money for the company and their shareholders. Well, guess what, Time Warner? This blackout has lost money for you and your shareholders, and in the process you are going to lose customers. Silly dispute. It’s time for a la carte programming for EVERY cable provider. If you think I’m going to pay even 10 cents to see a local newscast for half an hour — it’s not going to happen. If I don’t pay per channel, then Time Warner doesn’t make any money. It will force the programming to get better and it will also stop arrogant companies like Time Warner from controlling what customers see or don’t see on their cable systems.

    CBS isn’t blameless either. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more money for re-transmission fees since the cost of producing TV programs on the network is up, but to fight back by also blocking internet downloads to customers doesn’t make sense. CBS isn’t punishing Time Warner, CBS is punishing its viewers.

    These disputes are just silly. Billion dollar companies putting customers in the middle. Not making enough money? Not greedy enough? Ok— make your customers pawns in your big business disputes. Mature. Good business. Good PR. Idiots. Both sides.

    It’s time to have both sides locked in a room until they hammer out a deal. I’m a Time Warner customer, and will be dropping them very soon if they don’t end this. I won’t miss their customer service which is a joke, won’t miss their internet ‘high level’ customer service which doesn’t help you in anything, and especially won’t miss when I need a technician to come to my home to fix something only to be told that they have to call another technician who specializes in something which means that I have to take another afternoon off of work.

    A cable company giving out antennas — does ANYone think that’s good PR? Or just a desperate move to try and show customers that you ‘care’?

    Time Warner cares about ONE THING. Making money, and 1.4 BILLION dollars profit a year just isn’t enough for them, I guess.

    One more time. Idiots.

  4. Rana says:

    I’m gonna end up boycotting both of them. I cannot agree more with you Kim.

  5. Kim Reed says:

    Enough is enough. I’m bailing out of TW. They had their chance. Not sure who the real bad guy is here but we consumers have no position of control and are caught directly in the middle. Time to move on. There’s some pretty bad decision making going on and at the root of it, as usual, is greed. I just want to watch a few shows that have been blacked out. Like I said, enough is enough. And Peter Finch’s infamous quote from “Network” couldn’t be more relevant.

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