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Is it really a choice? Time Warner Cable asks its customers whether to get tough or roll over

Get tough or roll over?

Hmmm. That doesn't seem like much of a choice, but Time Warner Cable is nonetheless asking its customers to choose one or the other as part of a media blitz the distributor is waging against various programmers including News Corp. and the NFL Network.

At issue is what the cable operator, which has more than 10 million subscribers, pays for programming. Many of its deals are up at the end of the year, including its pact to carry News Corp.'s Fox TV stations and cable networks FX and National Geographic Channel. Time Warner Cable's contracts for other programmers, including Scripps Networks (Food Network, Home & Garden) and NBC Universal's Weather Channel are also expiring. Typically, programmers seek to increase the fees they get from distributors when it is time to sign a new agreement. They cite growing programming costs as the reason for an increase.

But operators often try to resist the increases because they know that when they pass those costs on to customers, it is them and not the programmer that usually faces the backlash.

We don't want to accuse Time Warner Cable of stacking the deck in its PR campaign, but its latest effort, a website at which customers can let the cable operator know if it should stand firm or fold in its fight with programmers seems just a little one-sided. For example, the cable company asks: "You’re our customers, so help us decide what to do. Let us know if you want us to Roll Over, or Get Tough."

We decided to see what happened if we wanted Time Warner Cable to roll over. We clicked that option and the first message that greeted us was, "Are you sure you don't want to get tough?" Later in the message Time Warner Cable says, "instead of rolling over, we think it’s time to speak out against TV networks that boost their bottom line by squeezing cable TV viewers like you."

On the "Get Tough" portion of the site, Time Warner Cable says, "together, we can make a difference in what America pays for TV."  Yes, it's very important to make this an issue about America rather than a debate about how much a cable network is worth.

Soon enough the programmers no doubt will answer with their own campaign accusing Time Warner Cable of wanting to take away everyone's favorite channels and how that's un-American too.

What sounds really American would be letting consumers choose the channels they want, but you won't hear that pitch from either side.

-- Joe Flint

Comments () | Archives (52)

One more signpost that the Cable/ satellite companies need to reinvent the model. Consumers don't want to pay for 1000 + channels when they watch 4. Pay the networks what the programs are worth but pay proportionally what consumers watch.

Comcast got it, that's why they purchased NBC. They thought it better to "own the cow."

Can you spell INTERNET. Their PR site "rolloverorgettough" is a joke and an ironic one at that. Time Warner just blasted me along with their other subscribers with an email with that link. The ironic part is because of the high traffic spike of the email blast, the site is timing out and very very slow. They can't even put up a webpage let alone execute an internet strategy that is visionary...

I have hundreds of channels available on my digital TV subscription, but I only really watch maybe 20. I have to have a larger bundle, just to get access to a few channels that I actually care about.

I hate this whole bundling of crap. I'd rather have an a-la-carte menu of channels to pick from anyway. I hate this whole bundling of crap.

That would allow the more popular content providers to have reason to really change some more, and not so much for the ones that nobody cares about anyway.

Of couse, cable/satellite providers might not like that and probably the content providers wouldn't like it much either. So, neither of them are talking about that.

The last line in Joe Flint's article makes the only sense to me, and I too have long wanted to select my own TVprograms, rather than having to live with some pre-set bunch of programs (tiers?) most of which I don't use, but none-the-less have to pay for in order to get the ones I want, if included. Whether TW `rolls over' or `gets tough' whatever either of those phrases mean, will still not give their customers real `choice'. Anyway, I think this whole fiasco is to get customers ready for an increase in rates, no matter what.

To most people this kind of false populism with just two choices is obvious for its egregious grandstanding. Time Warner, in its various forms, has slowly chipped away at cable TV regulation for precisely the same purpose the networks are now: profit. As most commenters here point out, very little of that benefits us (although, after years of neglect, my recent interactions with TWC customer service have been much improved, and less necessary).

A la carte looks like it will change the dynamics in the next few years, but I suspect that TWC and the networks will all benefit greatly from that, at least in the short term. As set-top boxes become more sophisticated and standardized, TWC may then be relegated to simply selling Internet connection, but I don't doubt that someone will be making a pile of $, and this kerfuffle will have years ago faded into the nostalgic past when we thought we'd benefit as consumers (though that time is already decades past).

Hey! Time Warner is a franchise in each market they operate in, right? If they can't or won't provide the channels (service) in a way that their "customers" want, we the "customer" should go to the granting agency, usually a city or county government agency and demand that Time Warner be stripped of their monopoly franchise status and open up the territory to real competition. I'd love to see Cox and or Comcast compete for Time Warner's territory in my city.
Time Warner is a dog with fleas at best!

I think this whole thing is absurd. As a single mother trying to make ends meet, cable had to go, it's too much money as it is NOW. The basic channels are full of infomercials as it is and the channels I wanted are on higher plans...So really the question is when most people are taking pay cuts, losing their jobs or tightening their belts is cable even necessary? Yea it's nice and mindless, but really can you do without the biggest loser or dancing with stars?

I got this e-mail from Time Warner and I, too, chose the "rollover" button just to see what they would say. In the comments field there, I told them to charge me a basic fee each month for a certain number of channels and then let me choose which channels I want to get. The channels that aren't popular can either become a premium service that customers pay extra for...or they can be dropped altogether. Now, that's the "free enterprise" system at work.

It would be great to be able to choose what channels are in our lineup, and get billed accordingly.

For instance, I would drop one of the 3 Cable news networks, H&G, all Fox programming (they have no sitcoms, it's all reality TV), NGC, and whole bunch of other stuff.

I would stick with CNN, Local NBC, ABC, CBS, CW, MY, Univision, Telemundo, Telefutura, Comedy Central, CNBC, CSPAN1 and 2,, and my local sports cable channel and that's all. There's no need for anything else.

You all sound like a bunch of addicts.
Is it that important?
Drop your providers, no matter who they are.
Tell Rupert and the rest of them to go get real jobs and quit peddlin' junk.

This is just Time Warner's excuse to get rid of Fox. They will make it appear that their customers *demanded* they give the greedy networks the boot. However, the emails they're soliciting response from, never mention what networks they are having problems with.

All the media has been OWNED by liberals for the past 20 years, and now that there is a conservative network, you guys can't stand it. So much for free speech. But conservatives will continue to find places to get the facts, instead of the liberal lies that you lefties have been dishing us for years. That's why your newspaper is tanking, and Fox's rating have been through the roof.

By the way, of course these comments are moderated. How else could you curve public opinion against Fox. I know you won't post this message. I just wanted to let you guys know that not all of us are being fooled by your and Time Warner's propaganda.

Have you ever noticed when you go by Time Warner or Go into a main branch of on What's out back or on the roof Dishes Yes satellite dish they get all there shows from the air They don't need to get tough they just have the monopoly It's B.S. they take the Weather Channel away LMAO They need to Roll there behinds over in the middle of the week the Weather channel demanded 300% raise OK What ever. $ 8.50 a box per TV in the house. If you want to get the channels back LOL OMG WAY to go NOT

Perhaps we should get tough with the cable companies in offering a la carte service so I don't have to over pay to get channels I will never watch (ESPN, QVC, all the religious channels, etc.). But since cable and satellite services both overcharge for all we do not watch, I'd say we don't have much choice but to roll over and pay Time Warner or DirecTV whatever "protection money" they ask us for.

There already is a viable option that is completely free. Now that digital broadcast TV is a reality, you can get all the TV you really need with nothing more than an antennae. Broadcast channels are paid for with advertising. the more of us choose that option, the stronger the programming will become, and cable/satellite will be forced to compete for our business. Signal reception is actually very good. For those things you can't get, there are Internet a la cart downloads and dvd/bluray rentals.

I'm glad someone else see's it like I do. The choices offered on TW website are one-sided. It angers me that TW is acting like the good guy and blaming their business partners. In this argument between greedy giants, we the consumer will once again loose.

Let me make it clear: TW, I'm done with you.

Since I do not watch sports or the food channel I would opt to pay for only the channels I watch, so the basic charge for cable is already my most expensive utility so Bring it on. I will just live without it. Netflix is the way to go for me. Watch their stock go thru the roof.

Do people realize that the cable or satellite providers have to pay the networks in order to broadcast their programming for their customers? If a la carte was available the cost per channel would most likely be much more than you're paying now and you wouldn't have the option to explore channels you had never seen before and find new things to be interested in. Get tough or Roll Over is just trying to let you know that the network is raising there rates and in turn its going to raise your rates. Everybody wants what they want but first do some research people.

When I go to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk I'm not forced to also buy eggs, butter, etc. that I don't want or need.
So why to I have to pay for a lot of CRAP I don't want, don't watch on Cable TV??? And I pay dearly for cable.
This ploy by Time Warner to "rollover" or "get tough" is ridiculous! We still don't get what we want ----- A la Carte pricing!!!
They want us to vote for more of the same - no control over our hard earned money.

How about one of Time Warner cable's competition come up with a A la Carte plan??
And I'm not a fan of satelitte dishes around here... I want to see my programs EVEN if it snows or rains...
We could sure use some competition in our Central NY, Baldwinsville area.

Many of these are very good posts.

Look at your cable (or even dish) bill. If you don't like what you see, I would strongly suggest that every one of you also send your thoughts directly to your local TimeWarner Cable office. Use snail mail, not e-mail, because e-mail is too easily 'lost'. Include your name and account number in order to indicate that you are a real customer who will drop them and move on. Tell them you don't want cable 'bundles', but the a-la-cart options they've been promising for years. If TW can reset your cable box from their office, why can't we only get the channels for which we want to pay?

Also insist that we see a reduction in rates to make up for the channels we will 'lose' if negotiations fall apart.

Notice the channels threatened are popular ones like Weather Channel, MTV, NFL Net & FOX News. Because what I see happening here is, after all is said and done, we will lose channels AND/OR see an increase in our rates.

Time Warner Cable is over-priced already. I'm not paying more.

Whatever happened to ala carte pricing? I'd rather pay for the channels we watch. I had to put in a digital antenna for all of the times when cable goes out. If the price goes any higher, I think I'll just use my antenna and cancel the cable.

Great conclusion..we need the choice. However, that might force some network CEO to look for a new job, we can't have that. We must have socialist tv..support for lame channels.

I'd have lots more sympathy for the cable company if they actually let us choose which networks we'd like to watch, instead of foisting stuff we don't actually want in order to get the channels of our choice!

Ala carte may seem like the solution, but prices will only skyrocket for the popular channels and the niche channels will be dropped. We would return to a media atmosphere where a few major networks determined all content. Remember that most of us watch one or two niche channels that we really enjoy. I like national geographic, history channel, discovery and others, in addition to my main news channels. Having many channels, even ones we don't regularly watch, allows exploration and a world of possibility for new shows, content and trends to evolve - like the popularity of Mad Men, Sopranos, Wired, Daly Show, South Park, etc - you never know where the next hot show is going to pop up. Look at all the great true crime shows on TRuTV and Investigation Discovery, and the great documentaries on NatGeo, TLC and Discovery Health. Ala carte would be a disaster for entertainment.

I think the most watched channels, the basic first 50 or so channels should be free for all, like the network channels were in the olden days. We can't get by with just 3 channels anymore, the basic cable channels have become neccessary and standard part of life for most people. The government should partially fund it, and commercials would fund the rest - they would pull more ad revenue because being free tv they would be reaching many more people.

Then anything above the basic 50 channels should be pay tv. There needs to be more competition. The problem is that cable is a natural monopoly like a utility. We need different and better methods to get the content to our tv's, maybe as satellite tv and other methods get better. Even the internet is not a solution, because the cable companies still own the physical means of delivery (the cable wires) themselves, and would simply raise bandwidth rates if cable content went online. We need a variety of means of delivery to have any meaningful competition. Technology will likely solve this.

I think it's time to start investigating Time Warner in an overall aspect. I just received a letter from TWC that stated my rates are going to be increased early next year. Is this in addition to what they will increase if they have to pay more for the Fox Network's list of channels? The service that TWC provides is on a consistent downward spiral while their rates continue to climb. Living in LA you really have no other choices for cable if you live in a building that doesn't allow for satellite dishes or you are not serviced by Verizon or AT&T's cable selection yet. TWC has formed a bit of a monopoly in most areas with the takeover of Comcast and Adelphia and someone needs to stop them.

After reading all these comments, I'm shocked that nobody has acknowledged what really lies at the heart of the outrageous prices we're paying for basic cable today: WE ARE BEING TRIPLE-BILLED.

Short history lesson time.

Ever since for-profit (commercial advertiser-sponsored) television began in the early-mid 20th century, television executives have schemed to find ways to make the public pay to watch it. There were even early attempts at putting coin-operating televisions in peoples' homes, believe it or not.

Fortunately, the American public laughed off and rejected all those early attempts, knowing that if advertiser-supported stations charged subscription fees, it would be a giant, insulting fraud. Why? Because when a television station airs commercials, you ALREADY pay to watch it by giving your valuable TIME to that station's advertisers. Since your TIME is your MONEY, watching all of those commercials IS your payment.

So how did the television industry finally get Americans to pay for television (via cable)? Simple. BASIC CABLE NETWORKS WERE ORIGINALLY COMMERCIAL-FREE.

Don't any of you remember the early days of cable (mid-late 1970s to very early 1980s) when there were no commercials on the basic cable networks? Back then, with no commercials, television WAS worth paying for. And where cable was available, people eagerly did just that.

But then, slowly, over time, frog-in-the-frying-pan style, the basic cable networks began slipping commercials into their broadcast schedules. A few at first, and then a whole lot later. Eventually, the jackass public simply FORGOT what they were SUPPOSED to be paying their cable bills for!

THAT'S how we arrived in this current mess of ours, with everybody griping about high bills and asking themselves why they're paying good money for TV that's indistinguishable from free, over-the-air signals. This is the answer. You started paying your cable bills because you were SUPPOSED to be paying for commercial-free TV, even with the basic networks. Networks BETTER than free, over-the-air TV. But you're no longer GETTING anything better than free, over-the-air TV. What you ARE getting, instead, is screwed. You've fallen for the classic bait and switch.

End of history lesson.

Now, the people arguing in favor of an all-a la carte pricing system are well-intentioned. But they're forgetting WHY we're supposed to be paying for cable -- under ANY pricing model -- in the first place.

Furthermore, those who argue against all-a la carte pricing are CORRECT when they say it would harm variety. Simply put, lots of niche networks that lack mass appeal WOULD fail under an all-a la carte system.

So what is the solution to all this? Well, it's simple. We need legislation that will forcibly undo the television industry's original bait and switch scam. Specifically, EACH basic cable network must be forced to make a decision:

(1) CONTINUE carrying commercials and STOP charging viewers (and cable/satellite operators) to receive (and carry) your signal (i.e., become the equivalent of an advertiser-sponsored over-the-air network, even if you technically remain available only via cable and satellite)

... OR ...

(2) CONTINUE charging viewers (and cable/satellite operators) to receive (and carry) your signal but STOP carrying commercial advertising entirely.

Essentially, people, the reason we're paying so much for basic cable today is because the number of basic cable networks has exploded AND because we're being TRIPLE-BILLED for EACH of them. First, we pay the cable and satellite companies for mere access to basic cable itself. Second, we get billed again via carriage fees charged by those networks to our cable and satellite providers, who pass them along to us. And third, we pay with OUR TIME by watching all of their commercials.

Networks that choose to operate a la carte at their own heightened prices (like HBO) are one thing, and I see no need to regulate them. But if new legislation were passed that forced non-a la carte commercial networks to choose EITHER commercial advertising OR direct subscription fees as their source of funding (but never both), our basic rates would plummet because our basic channel line-ups would fracture into two tiers:

Tier 1 ("Free Basic") - Here would go your free, over-the-air local networks as usual (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, CW, etc.). But also included, at no extra charge to viewers OR their cable/satellite providers, would go any formerly-basic networks like MTV, CNN, Comedy Central, TBS, etc. which chose the "100% advertiser-sponsored" option, feeling that they had the mass appeal necessary to make it on their own (just like CBS/NBC/ABC/FOX already do and have done for decades).

Tier 2 ("Subscription Basic") - Basic cable the way it used to be: commercial-free. Here would go all other networks that felt they could NOT financially succeed as advertiser-sponsored broadcasters. And within this group, new and unknown networks could take advantage of being sold in package form with their stronger companions, ensuring that fledgeling networks with new and innovative programming ideas weren't prevented from coming into existence in the first place.

If what I'm describing here were implemented, the fees that we pay for basic cable would be reduced dramatically -- who knows, perhaps to as little as $20/month. Why? Because we would be reducing the NUMBER of SUBSCRIPTION-BASED basic cable networks -- by virtue of all the mass-appeal networks (who themselves chose the "100% advertiser-sponsored" option) no longer counting against the monthly "subscription basic" charge we each pay in the first place.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone is listening. But I honestly think this is the best, most centric, and fair-for-all solution to the current dilemma.

Bottom line: the television industry began charging us subscription fees in exchange for providing us with commercial-free networks. But it has broken that pact with us. All formerly commercial-free basic networks now feature as much advertising as regular over-the-air TV stations, making them exactly the same as (i.e. no better than) regular over-the-air TV. Yet they all still charge us as if they were offering superior products. It is time to correct this fraud. Each current basic cable network should be forced to choose whether it wants to be a plain old commercial-laden free TV network (one that's simply carried by cable/satellite providers instead of by mountaintop transmitters), OR whether it wants to be a true commercial-free basic service within the basic tier of each cable/satellite provider.

By legislating that things be done this way, the insults consumers have suffered since the early 1980s (financially and on principle) will be eliminated, AND fledgeling networks (our variety) won't be sacrificed in the process.

Nothing else should be tolerated.

So, who's going to get the ball rolling on this legislation? :-)

Sigh. Another angle to all this, actually: here we sit whining about television when there are people starving on our streets and warmongers obliterating entire nations of people. Maybe we ought to fix those problems first, and then worry about this legislation...

Hmmmm... Freedom of Choice? Well, that would be downright Un-American, wouldn't it? I'm not normally prone to conspiracy theories, but when it comes to media marketing, everything is fair game - and, as they say in the promo world - "Anything can happen!" This seems like the perfect ploy to get everyone on the edge of their seats, glued to their sets, waiting until the 11th hour, when - just as the ball drops and blood pressure rise - the good big titans will let the fair Carmen Electra ring in a New Year - Nay, a New Decade even - of compromise and reconciliation, with high fees for us and high profits for them. I'll stay tuned to PBS, thank you.

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