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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cablevision and WABC’s dirty little secret.

They think nobody cares if they blame the other? Well, sorta, but, it is fun, this mudslinging. Suitable for framing, and fresh from your local paper! (And they said publishing is dead. Actually, we may have said it.) Not with this drama! The two ads were not run as a spread but actually had another section between it, which made the reveal of the second ad even funnier though.

So... unless you’re living under I-95 in the New York metro area, you know it’s time for yet another He said—She said between Cablevision and (insert channel of choice). Right before the Oscars, in one of the largest TV markets in the country, WABC Channel 7 is possibly going out come midnite tonight.

While both sides blame the other, does it really matter to a customer who pays for what they *think* they were getting in terms of channels? Basically, WABC says Cablevision is rebroadcasting their signal without compensating them. Cablevision says they already compensate parent company Disney more than enough for the rights to carry the channel. (Here’s the fine print of WABC’s ad and here’s Cablevision’s.)

You can also check out their handy websites they put up just for this crisis! Well, in the case of Cablevision, it’s more an update given the number of complaints over the threats to yank service they seem to make. (WABC’s here, Cablevision’s here.)

Read between the lines and what’s not being said though, and I side with WABC. Nowhere does it say how much if any of the $200 million Cablevision says they pay Disney goes to WABC now. What if it’s zero?

(Here’s the only part I concede to Cablevision on: Zero or not, why is it Cablevision’s problem how Disney spreads the wealth among their own channels? Still, I come back to the idea that it’s also unrealistic to profit off the content of local channels.)

That said, both sides seem to be ignoring the customer. At the risk of oversimplifying things, isn’t this just another “pricing hasn’t caught up with technology” argument?

Maybe. It’s the same thing all local news stations face in a digital age: How do you get paid for what essentially was free content going out over the airwaves until only recently? (Free that is, if you had rabbit ears. Anyone still have them besides Woody Harrelson in 2012?)

Local affiliates get swept up in a cable package sold to you and you’re required to switch to digital because of government regulations. (Similar to what Canada experienced with its local providers.) If you want your local station, you in essence have no choice but to buy a package deal from whatever provider is in your area.

The notion that you can simply switch though?

Impractical and an easy way out of the argument. Why? Because I don’t sign up with a service anticipating that I will have to switch in six months because they’re having contract disputes with the very channels they’re selling me on in the first place. Just what does “only on Cablevision” mean if it isn’t on Cablevision... anymore?

Beyond that, what provider could come out in time to switch over anyone wanting to see the TV event being held hostage? In less than a week from when you call? GLWT.*

Is government regulation an answer? Before you say no to Big Government—they already regulate the airwaves via the FCC and FTC, and they could be a help here. If they can mandate a switch to digital signal then they can mandate that any service provider such as Dish, Cablevision, etc., must always carry the channels that customers signed up for.**

Now, will WABC go black? I bet it actually does, for a few hours into Sunday morning at least. WABC saves face by doing what they *threatened* to do and Cablevision gets a call from someone at Disney to work out an offer for *compensation* down the road.

And we never hear about it—until next time.

*Good luck with that.

I had no idea when I signed up for service that Cablevision and Scripps had pending licensing issues, nor did anyone else who had to watch a screen with the message “It’s their fault,” instead of HGTV or The Food Network. Likewise, the last thing I expected was that WABC would now have problems. Who’s next?

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