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