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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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