UPDATE 1: In a bizarre coda to a story full of misinformation and bad math from both sides, the TWC blackout only lasted about 30 minutes, with the cable company explaining, “At the request of CBS, we have halted going dark on their channels.” Good to know that these titans of industry care enough to be this fickle with deadlines and consumers’ viewing options. For all we know, the blackout will be back on by morning, or TWC and CBS execs will be making friendship bracelets for each other and talking about how silly they both were.
After numerous deadline extensions, the very public finger-pointing match between Time Warner Cable and CBS has reached the blackout stage, with the cable carrier pulling the broadcast network from its lineup in several markets, including NYC and L.A., and pulling its premium Showtime network from subscribers nationwide.
The two parties are involved in an all-too-familiar dispute over carriage fees, in which a cable company whines that the broadcaster wants some ridiculous amount of money — in this case, TWC alleges that CBS wants to increase fees by 600% in markets where the network owns affiliate stations — to carry a certain network, while the network cries poverty and goes on and on about what a great deal it has been giving the cable provider for the last few years.
Here are the markets and stations affected by the blackout:
New York: WCBS
Los Angeles: KCBS and KCAL
Dallas: KTVT-CBS and KTXA
Boston: WBZ-CBS and WSBK
Pittsburgh: KDKA-CBS and WPCW-CW
Additionally, Showtime, Flix, TMC, and Smithsonian have been pulled from TWC lineups nationwide.
While some TWC subscribers are already pounding their chests and screaming “I’m going to change to [U-Verse, FiOS, DirecTV, or whatever company they can think of], the fact is that 99% of them won’t — not because they don’t truly want to, but because they often can’t.
Cable providers have regional monopolies in most of the country. Monopolies that were initially put in place to protect the provider’s huge capital investment of building out a network. But those monopolies still exist, solely to protect the market share of the company that bought the company that bought the company that bought the company that built that network of cables many years back.
Even satellite is becoming a less-attractive option, as neither Dish nor DirecTV has been able to provide an affordable, dependable broadband service. Additionally, cities like Philadelphia have recently put in place rules that severely restrict the placement of satellite dishes.
I’m not even going to post the statements made by TWC and CBS in the wake of tonight’s failure, as it’s all just macho posturing that means absolutely nothing. Right now, they are mortal enemies locked in combat, but they will ultimately be shaking hands and talking about what a mutually beneficial deal was signed.
This dispute will probably not last long. Heck, it might be resolved by the time you’re reading this in the morning. Even last summer’s dispute between AMC Networks and Dish Network, in which both parties swore it was over for good this time, lasted four months before they caved to their combined lust to pillage consumers’ wallets.
In the end, all this finger-pointing nonsense from TWC and CBS doesn’t matter, because the customer gets screwed, and not by having to go out and get an HD antenna or having to borrow someone’s password for the Showtime app. No, all TWC customers will get kicked in the butt with the steel-tipped boot of rate hikes.
I actually wish that the blackout lasted longer, because customers would eventually ditch TWC, and CBS would have to pay out a lot of money to advertisers whose commercials aren’t being seen by millions of viewers in the nation’s largest markets. Maybe consumers, legislators, and regulators would begin to see that this industry is perilously anti-competitive and that consumers are continuing to pay the price.