CBS vs Time Warner Cable vs You


Here’s progress: Big media companies now think Americans are as gullible as politicians do.  It’s not just candidates who assume we’re nincompoops.  The cable operators and networks take us for pigeons, too.

Exhibit A is the current “>Another CBS ad, — showing clips of CBS Sports programming, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Under the Dome” playing on a TV set wrapped in chains — warns that “Time Warner Cable is holding your favorite shows hostage.”

Next thing you know, TWC will be taking away your guns.

You wouldn’t realize from these campaign-style ads that what’s really at stake is money.  Your money.  Both CBS and TWC want more of it.  They’re probably going to get it.  The only issue – which this battle is about – is how they’ll divvy up what they pick from our pockets.

The “>50 percent or more of the retransmission fees they get from cable operators.  Networks also have been gobbling up independent stations.  The more money that CBS’s six owned-and-operated stations in New York, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Los Angeles get from TWC in exchange for carrying their programming, the more money goes to CBS’s corporate bottom line.

That’s what’s at stake in this intra-titan dispute.  In those three markets, under a deal that’s expiring, CBS stations have been getting between 75 cents and $1 a subscriber per month.  In the new deal, according to “>nearly tripling between 2001 and 2011 – because the cable companies have been passing along to consumers the cost of the vigorish that the broadcast networks are extracting from them, especially for sports.  The result is that advertiser-supported networks like CBS have become de facto cable companies, concealing the subscription we pay to them within the subscription we pay for cable.   

And now they want us to be their stooges!  They want us to pressure TWC to give more money to CBS so that TWC can charge us more for the CBS programs we already get for “free.”

Forgotten in all this is the original rationale for permitting local stations to charge cable companies for carriage: ensuring budgets adequate for producing quality local news and public affairs programming.  But unless you consider scaring us witless with crime stories and medicating us silly with celebrity stories to be just the right ticket for good citizenship, if you actually watch local TV news you know how civically useless its content has turned out to be.

I run an awards program – the “>study that my colleague Matt Hale and I did of all stations in the Los Angeles media market found that in a typical half hour of local news, coverage of local government – including budgets, layoffs, education, law enforcement, prisons, lawsuits, new ordinances, voting procedures, government personnel changes, government actions on health care, transportation, immigration and so on – amounted to a grand total of 22 seconds out of 30 minutes.

I’m not surprised that the message of CBS’s anti-TWC campaign isn’t: They’re going to take away the news you need to be a good citizen!  But I am struck that CBS has the chutzpah to try to recruit us to raise our own cable bills.  On the other hand, if the Karl Roves of the world can get people to vote against their own self-interest, I guess networks have a shot at conning us, too.


Marty Kaplan won the LA Press Club’s 2013 Award for “>Norman Lear chair in entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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