Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

CBS Has a Weapon It Won’t Use in Its Time Warner Cable Fight


Pres Panayotov /

You can only hear the same story a few times before it gets boring, so no need to go into the details of the new CBS-Time Warner Cable fight.

You just need to know that it will play out like every other programmer vs. pay-TV distributor story: The programmer wants more money for their stuff than the distributor wants to pay. Eventually they will settle somewhere in the middle.

Then they raise rates, and pass the costs down to you, the pay-TV subscriber.*

The one part that changes a bit, depending on the combatants, is what both sides tell their customers to do in the event the programs temporarily disappear from the pay-TV system as a result of the fight.

In the past, for instance, we’ve seen Time Warner Cable tell its pay-TV customers it can get lots of pay TV from free Internet sites like Hulu, and even provide an instructional cord-cutting video.

And we’ve seen News Corp (temporarily) wall off its Web video from Cablevision customers when it was fighting with the pay-TV company.

This time around, CBS is telling its viewers that if it goes dark in Time Warner Cable markets like New York and Los Angeles, they should go get a subscription with another pay-TV company (in my swath of Brooklyn, for instance, they’re suggesting I switch over to DirecTV or Verizon’s Fios service).

But here we should note one option CBS isn’t promoting: Using an old-fashioned antenna to get the network’s shows, over the air, without paying anyone for them.

That’s perfectly legal, of course,** and lots of people still watch their TV that way. But presumably CBS doesn’t want to play up the notion that you can watch their shows for free — because it is trying to get pay-TV distributors to pay them a bunch of money in “retransmission fees” for those same shows.

So if you’re not going to watch “Big Bang Theory” on Time Warner Cable this summer, CBS would much rather you watch it via another pay-TV company. And it’s just possible that if it comes down to watching it for free versus not watching it at all, the company would rather you just tuned out.

Now! Here’s an upside to these pay-TV fights: They give me a chance to show, yet again, Time Warner Cable’s “how to get TV without a pay TV subscription” video. It’s not an entertaining video on its own, but I always get a kick out of the concept: A cord company showing you how to use your scissors.

* And poor Joe Flint is required to cover every bit of it, so please give him a couple clicks. (Though I suspect he actually sort of likes it.)

** Remember, CBS and other networks are suing Aereo over that startup’s novel take on the same premise; BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, a big Aereo fan, suggests that the startup may end up allying with Time Warner Cable if there is a blackout.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald