I expected the inevitable email on July 13. I was disappointed. It came on July 14.
|Courtesy of sodahead.com
Undoubtedly, those of you in Milwaukee have heard that our local ABC affiliate here, WISN 12, has been removed from Time Warner Cable households in Milwaukee as of midnight July 12, because of a dispute over retransmission fees the owners of the station charge the cable giant, in this case Hearst corporation. In addition to WISN, Hearst owns 13 stations in 11 markets. All 13 are off the TWC airwaves right now.
As a Time Warner Cable subscriber, I’m privileged to receive the now relatively frequent emails about how poor Time Warner has been “bullied” by the companies who provide them with the scintillating programming for which we pay those exorbitant amounts.
I’ve talked a number of times, including my first ever article on this site two years ago, about how Time Warner is the real bully. And I’m getting sick of it.
In this case, Time Warner is blaming Hearst (saying that Hearst is raising their retransmission fees by an exorbitant amount). Hearst is blaming Time Warner (saying that Time Warner won’t pay the going rate for stations with ratings like channel 12).
Who’s right? Well, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck…
Hearst has never had an issue with retransmission fees and they are simply trying to catch up with the fees other providers charge. They have lot on their side in Milwaukee. WISN is the No. 1 rated station in the market overall, which means it has the most viewers. TWC still pays less for channel 12 than it does for ESPN, which doesn’t even have half the ratings channel 12 does.
On the other hand, Time Warner has been in seemingly incessant battles with their program providers for the last two and a half years.
- November 2009 vs. FOX and FOX Sports. TWC threatened to black them out, settled at the last minute.
- August 2010 vs. Disney Corporation. Disney owns ABC and ESPN. This would have been a big deal. Again, settled just before Disney would have pulled their programming.
- December 2010. This one ticked me off so much I wrote about it. Time Warner vs. Sinclair Broadcasting, owners of channels 18 and 24 here but much bigger stations in other markets, like FOX 47 in Madison. You guessed it, settled right before the deadline.
- And now July 2012, versus Hearst. Still not settled.
Poor Time Warner. $542 million in profits in 2011, a whopping 44 percent increase over 2010. Monopolies in virtually every market they’re in, with AT&T or a satellite service the only other options. Which means if you have a bundle, or miles and miles of cable winding its way through your home, you have no options.
The most recent email started off, like all the other communication I’ve received about Time Warner’s battles, blaming Hearst:
“On July 12, 2012 Hearst Television (the owner of Milwaukee station WISN) chose to black out their signals from Time Warner Cable customers rather than continue negotiations, and despite their CEO saying just two weeks earlier that broadcaster blackouts are unfair to consumers.”
It went on to say that the programming providers are to blame, calling them “greedy broadcasters”. Greedy? For wanting a just fee for the No. 1 station in Milwaukee? Really?
TWC’s email also said “we don't think it's fair for TV stations to hold programming hostage for our customers, and we are working hard to keep the programming on our lineup while also trying to hold down the cost of TV.“
Hold down the cost of TV? Seriously? Not so fast, Sherlock.
Last month, our cable bill went up 8.5 percent. From one monthly bill to the next. With no warning. No explanation. Second year in a row this happened. So I contacted the sales supervisor who I’ve been dealing with for a while, and he told me that we had been on a special rate for the past 12 months, noting that “rather than the sale pricing just completely exploding/expiring, our marketing/pricing team slowly steps the price up.”
Without telling the customer. Nice.
So you might ask, is TWC going to adjust our bills to reflect the loss of the most-watched station on TV in Milwaukee? Not a chance. TWC’s response to that question:
“Remember that customers do not pay for channels on an individual basis — they pay for a package of channels plus the technology and service required to deliver those channels. So we do not typically offer a credit for channels that have been blacked out.”
What the heck does that mean? What the heck do I pay for?
How should we handle this? How about we have the culprits publish the retransmission fees so we can judge for ourselves? Isn’t this a breach of contract? Don't we have an ‘agreement’ with Time Warner that says we get to watch channel 12?
To be clear, this affects only 42.5 percent of the market who are Time Warner subscribers. The station is available if you have another cable system, which few in the Milwaukee area do, one of the satellites, or want to go “over the airwaves,” for which you’ll need a digital TV and a set of rabbit ears. Hopefully you kept your old ones in your basement.
There are a lot of terms one could use to describe the bully known as Time Warner. Austin Texas actually has a web site named timewarneraustinsucks.com, and this is because of lousy service rather than blackouts. Maybe we need one here.
After all my complaining, you’d think I’d do something about it. But it’s just too much effort to change the TV/Internet/phone bundle. So I’ll continue to suffer.
The good thing is that it will keep giving me something to write about.
Follow me on Twitter: @jpalmer7890