If you’re a Time Warner Cable subscriber, you may know that the dispute between the cable giant and Journal Communications, owners of WTMJ-4 in Milwaukee, over re-transmission fees is now in its 13th day. Or maybe not.
|Courtesy of TodaysTMJ4.com
If you’ve been following this blog for the last three years, you know I’ve had an axe to grind with Time Warner Cable on more than one occasion. Bad customer service, price increases being slipped in your bill without explanation, bullying the local or regional TV companies for lower re-transmission rates without ever passing on the savings to its over-paying customers; it’s a long list.
But it the case of the battle between Time Warner and Journal Communications, WTMJ-4 has by far the most to lose. (Journal Communications also owns WGBA-26 in Green Bay and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, among others).
My mother used to tell me that when I did something that might be to my detriment solely to make a point, I was “cutting off my nose to spite my face.” That’s what Journal Communications is doing now.
And there are big things to lose in the near future for TMJ-4, like Friday’s first Green Bay Packer pre-season game. That game alone nets the station tons of advertising dollars that it stands to lose if the dispute isn’t settled by then.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel TV columnist Duane Dudek blogged today about the impact not broadcasting Friday’s game has on the station.
What struck me was one of the comments posted on the blog, by code name “WorkingMom”, that could sum up what might be a dire situation for the local NBC affiliate:
“After sampling some of TMJ4's "quality programs and news" the past few days using an antenna here is what we saw.
Reruns of bad shows, a barrage of Green Bay Packer stories, crime news, shootings, and more crime news. Terrible reports from some reporters that look, sound and write like they belong in college. Mike Jacobs' constant snide editorial comments after every story. The words shocking, unbelievable and disgusting used continually to describe what we're about to see. Nearly every TMJ4 news program we watched began with a Breaking News illustration screaming in our face. No facts or actual information, just something is happening.
We might keep the antenna so we can watch the first 10 minutes of a meaningless pre-season Packer football game. Beyond that, TMJ4 has nothing our family deems worth watching.”
Wow. And that folks is the real issue facing the station. The longer they are off the air to Time Warner subscribers, who account for roughly 50% of the TV households in Milwaukee, the more irrelevant they become. It’s kind of like the age-old question: “When a tree falls in a forest but there is no one around, is there a sound?” If TMJ-4 stays hidden from Time Warner viewers much longer, there won’t be.
TMJ-4 changed their news product a few years ago, focusing more on the sensational and ‘hard-hitting’ stories that caused Milwaukee’s best newscaster Mike Gousha to leave the station. And it’s affected their news ratings, falling well behind WISN-12, as more and more comments like WorkingMom’s above begin to surface. This combined with the lowest primetime ratings of the four major networks does not put TMJ-4 in a good bargaining position.
TMJ-4 does have a case to be sure. As Steve Wexler, Exec VP and GM of TMJ-4, opined in Sunday’s Journal Sentinel: “Time Warner’s tactics harm local TV viewers”. True enough. That’s not only been going on for years, it’s been going on all over the country (notably now in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago where Time Warner subscribers can’t watch their local CBS stations because of a similar dispute, representing far bigger stakes than Milwaukee).
Wexler is certainly right, Time Warner is a bully, always has been, always will be. But in their markets, Time Warner has a monopoly and continues to hold the cards, especially when a struggling station like TMJ-4 is involved.
So my advice to TMJ-4: Settle up folks. Stop cutting off your nose to spite your face.