The headline in my inbox last Wednesday blared in bold: “Once again, a broadcaster bully is threatening Time Warner Cable customers with a blackout – holding your shows hostage to boost their bottom line.” You won’t be surprised to know that got my dander up big time.
To quickly refresh how this works: a broadcaster (network) owns the programming, the cable company pays a them a fee for the right to rebroadcast it, then the cable company charges us to receive that same programming. Free enterprise. Fine.
As a Time Warner Cable subscriber, I’m privileged to receive these indiscriminate e-mails whether I want them or not. And if any of you remember my first blog in this series, I surely don’t want them. In the body of the e-mail, Time Warner states: “At Time Warner Cable, we think it's wrong to put viewers in the middle of business negotiations.” So, why do they? While they think it's “wrong” to get me involved, they send the e-mail and encourage me to go to their “rolloverorgettough” website. So I guess they really want me in the middle. But what can I do about it? I can’t actually vote to “roll over” (TWC caves to the broadcaster bully) or “get tough” (TWC stands up to this bully and lets the blackout happen). So again, why involve me at all? Ah, yes, now I remember. To ensure I keep paying TWC those exorbitant fees.
Let’s examine the new “bully.” This time it’s Sinclair Broadcasting. You’ve probably never heard of Sinclair unless you’re in the business. Sinclair is a television company that is pretty much second tier in Milwaukee, owning Channels 18 and 24. In case you aren’t frequent 18 and 24 viewers, and based on the ratings there aren’t many, 18 is “The CW” and 24 is “My TV”. Okay, so even if we lost these stations, it wouldn’t be a big deal here. But it’s the principle.
Yes, Sinclair has higher-rated stations in other markets, 11 to be precise, including a number of Fox stations like FOX47 in Madison.
So you would think that Time Warner customers in those markets would be in danger of losing high-profile shows like "American Idol," "Glee" and maybe even the Super Bowl. Not so fast, Sherlock. It turns out that Fox has a side agreement with TWC that f the Sinclair stations go dark, TWC can keep offering Fox programming on its systems in the affected markets.
So Fox is protected if the blackout (i.e. “get tough”) goes through. Sinclair has far less leverage that we originally thought. And TWC has a ton. Let me get this straight: Sinclair is the “bully”? Please.
It galls me to no end that in the e-mail, to keep you from switching cable providers, TWC would have you believe that this squabble also applies to DIRECTV, DISH and AT&T. It does not. Sinclair has been able to “bully” these providers into an agreement. If my math is right, that leaves Time Warner as the sole culprit.
The amazing thing to me is that there are marketing people at Time Warner who think it’s a good idea to whine to their subscribers. All it does is tick me off. And I’m still not sure what we can really do about it anyway. As I said, I don’t have the opportunity to vote and pick a side. I can “join the discussion” though. Whoop-de-do. That’ll help.
I so wish we had an option to bail on poor, beaten down Time Warner. But we don’t. The house is wired from here to Sunday and the entire world has our “RR” e-mail addresses. So we’re stuck. We’ll see how this plays out, whether it’s the bully or the beast winning the battle. You’ll be able to tell by whether or not you can watch reruns of "That 70’s Show" on Jan. 2.