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Time Warner Cable Handing Out Free TV Antennas, as CBS Blackout Stretches On

Cable company also offers affected subscribers $20 credit toward rabbit ears sold at Best Buy stores

Time Warner Cable is donning rabbit ears.

With the CBS blackout in key markets heading into a fourth week, the cable company is giving away free TV antennas to customers so they can watch the Eye.

The cable operator said Friday that it has a “limited quantity of basic indoor antennas” which customers may pick up for free at TW Cable retail locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas-Ft. Worth, where CBS is currently blacked out. It’s also offering free antennas in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisc., where the MSO is engaged in a retrans dispute with Journal Broadcasting Group.

In addition, Time Warner Cable said it struck a partnership with Best Buy in those cities to provide customers a $20 credit toward the purchase of any in-stock broadcast antenna at select store locations.

SEE ALSO: CBS Consumer-Perception Score Goes Negative as Time Warner Cable Blackout Drags On

“We regret that CBS has put our customers in this position by continuing to withhold its channels,” Time Warner Cable said in an email message to customers Friday about the antenna offer. “We are trying to strike a balance between our desire to restore the channels as soon as possible and our responsibility to all of our customers to hold down the rising cost of TV.”

Time Warner Cable is limiting customers to one antenna each, while inventory lasts. Info on Time Warner Cable’s antenna program and Best Buy offer is available at twcconversations.com/antenna.

Other cable companies have given away antennas during past retrans outages. But the move is rich with irony, given that cable TV’s original reason for existence was to deliver television signals to households that couldn’t receive them.

Since Aug. 2, more than 3 million Time Warner Cable customers in New York, L.A. and Dallas have been without CBS, when contract talks broke down between the companies. MSO also pulled Showtime and three other CBS-owned cablers, while CBS immediately retaliated by blocking Time Warner Cable’s broadband customers from accessing full-length eps online and via mobile apps.

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

During the CBS blackout, the MSO also is offering the Starz Kids & Family premium channel on a temporary preview basis to subs and also is making the Tennis Channel available at no additional charge during the two weeks of the U.S. Open tennis tourney beginning Aug. 26. Time Warner Cable is offering a credit to Showtime subs retroactive to Aug. 2 but is not providing any rebate for the loss of CBS programming.

CBS is asking for a steep hike in retransmission fees, seeking upwards of $2 per subscriber per month from Time Warner Cable (versus 75 cents to $1 currently), according to analyst estimates.

The dispute also involves digital-streaming rights: Time Warner Cable wants to offer current and past-season CBS shows online — but the Eye claims the MSO is refusing to pay extra for those rights. CBS, like other programmers, sees healthy revenue upside through subscription VOD deals with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.com.

On Thursday, the Eye announced three-year pact with Verizon Communications to continue retransmission of CBS on FiOS TV. According to CBS topper Les Moonves, the deal the telco agreed to is virtually identical to the one CBS has offered Time Warner Cable.

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