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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

because our mass media corporate overlords are insane

Came home this afternoon from a non-movie-related client meeting, flipped on the TV as background for the next few hours’ writing, and discovered an announcement from my cable company, Cablevision:

• ABC is threatening to pull the plug on WABC-7 unless Cablevision and its customers agree to pay millions of dollars in new fees. Cablevision has asked ABC to continue delivering WABC-7, but instead ABC is holding Cablevision customers hostage by threatening to pull its programming.
• In these difficult and challenging economic times, it is not fair for ABC to force Cablevision and its customers to pay what amounts to a new TV tax for the same programming that is available today for free over the air and on the Internet.
• Cablevision already pays ABC’s parent company more than $200 million per year to carry its channels; now ABC wants a 20 percent fee increase for exactly the same programming.
• It is wrong for ABC to demand $40 million in new fees to help pay the salaries and bonuses for top ABC executives.
• Cablevision has tried in good faith to reach a fair agreement with ABC. In fact, top Cablevision executives traveled to ABC offices in California earlier this month, and had lengthy face-to-face meetings this week in Bethpage and New York City. We have made numerous proposals, all of which have been rejected.

ABC’s side is here. Its argument appears to be “waah!”
We Cablevision customers went through this recently with HGTV and The Food Network, in which case those channels were actually pulled from the lineup for three weeks. I never noticed, actually, because I never watch those channels.

The only thing I watch on ABC is Lost — and even that is trying my patience — though I’d hate to miss the Oscars on Sunday. But I’d be pissed if ABC was yanked… pissed at both ABC and Cablevision, miserable fucking bastards, the lot of ’em. I’m pissed at ABC’s greediness, and I’m generally pissed at Cablevision for lacking lots of channels and services that Time Warner Cable offers (like BBC America and tons of free on-demand). I’m pissed at the cable environment overall, where the enforced local monopolies means that while Time Warner is on offer in other NYC boroughs, it isn’t here in the Bronx; and where I cannot choose the channels I want à la carte (honestly, I don’t need The Home Shopping Network, whatever horrible channel The 700 Club is on, or Fox News). And I’ll have a new reason to be pissed at Cablevision: I’ll have to start fighting for a partial refund on my monthly cable bill (“You’re not carrying one of the major three broadcast networks? Cough it up.”)

I know, I know: It’s just TV. It’s a stupid thing to be complaining about with people fighting over food and water in Chile and people in Haiti are still living in tents and health care reform is a sick joke. But it’s symptomatic of how huge corporations dominate in our culture, and I think it is worth taking note of.

On the other hand, it could be interesting to see what happens if it turned out enough people simply didn’t care if Cablevision stopped carrying ABC, if everyone decided we could watch Lost online (at least until Cablevision, which also provides my Internet access, blocks ABC.com). It’d be like two assholes beating the shit out of each other over a gal because each of them sincerely believes she’s gonna be impressed by this and throw herself at him. And instead she shakes her head and tells the idiots to enjoy each other’s company, because it’s all they have.

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.

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  • Orangutan

    I heard about this today, and I was dismayed. Not because I watch anything on ABC (I don’t), but because you just KNOW that the other channels are going to pull this crap sometime soon.

    And I’m totally with you on the cable-frustration. I would LOVE to be able to go down the list and pick which channels I want, instead of this ridiculous ‘oh, you want NatGeo? Well, you’re gonna have to take these 10 other channels you’ll never even put on and pay for them as well!’ junk. :(

  • JSW

    Makes me glad that I just treat my TV as a big monitor to hook my Playstation and DVD player up to.

  • Cori Ann

    It seems ABC pulls this a lot. I worked for Charter Communications from mid-2001 right up until the end of 2008, and right as I was leaving there was a big hubbub because ABC was threatening the same thing to us–it was a crazy time.

    I would agree with you that both parties are probably being jackasses if it has gotten so far as for it to be getting made public. These kinds of negotiations between the networks and cable companies go on all of the time, but it’s only when one or both sides is being really stubborn that either of them feels the need to bring the customer-base into it by advertising, “Oh hey, you might not get this network any more because they want more money and we don’t want to give it to them, just FYI.”

    I hope they get it all resolved soon and that you don’t lose the network! Wow, this just reminds me why I am so so glad not to be working in the Cable industry any more. Bunch of highly paid morons with their heads up their asses running the show there, sadly.

  • MaryAnn

    I forgot that ABC is home to FlashForward, too, which I love, but ABC has seemed intent on killing that show since it debuted. So that’s another reason to hate the network.

    you just KNOW that the other channels are going to pull this crap sometime soon.

    Actually, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that bigger networks would try this after the HGTV/Food Network incident.

  • aquila6

    I’ve learned to just ignore this back-and-forth between TV channels and cable companies. Every year for the past several years here, there has been a threat of some channel or group of channels going off the air because they can’t agree on the terms of a new contract with the cable company. The cable company and the media company point fingers at each other and accuse each other of being unreasonable and an enemy to consumers; the deadline arrives, but the channels stay on the air; an extension to the deadline is announced; and finally they announce a new deal has been agreed to and claim that they did it all for the benefit of their customers.

    The truth, of course, is that they both have much to fear from not making a deal — alienating us is not in their best interest, and they will do whatever they have to to maintain the status quo… because the alternative is that we stop giving them our business (and our money).

    So just ignore the rhetoric.

  • Doeko

    It’s worth remembering that, while you don’t have a choice of cable companies, you DO have a choice of whether or not to purchase cable. I ditched it a number of years ago and the only time I regret it is when I’m home sick from work and wish for 10 hours of completely undemanding passive distraction.

    Since the switch to digital broadcast TV, I get about 20 channels (on my $20 antenna from Target – I’d get more if I forked over $100 for a fancier one), including a bunch of different PBS options and some sometimes bizarre foreign stations. Hours of programming on calming Japanese gardens? Check. Chinese soap operas (sub-titled in another Chinese dialect)? Check. Plus Al Jazeera, and Russian 24-hour news! Oh, and ABC and the other broadcast newtorks – all for free! Who needs cable when you have all this, plus Netflix, Hulu, et. al.?

    I did think it was adorable that Cablevision accused ABC of trying to “tax” subscribers to pay network execs big bonuses. Hmmm – I wonder why it didn’t occur to the Cablevision execs to just pay the extra fees, reduce their own bonuses, and leave subscribers’ rates alone?

  • Victor Plenty

    Comedy Central dumped Hulu, too, I just found out today. Their agreements all expire on the 9th of March, and won’t be renewed. Better get caught up on your Daily Show and Colbert Report before then, if you’ve been using Hulu to watch those.

    After that the only online option for any Comedy Central show will be their own web sites, which are entertaining on a number of levels, but when it comes to serving video streams, they somehow manage to suck.

    So the mass media insanity is spreading all over. Almost like some kind of zombie virus…

    Oh crap. I gotta go stock up on canned food and bottled water. Talk to you all later. I hope.

  • Isobel

    I note that the ABC open letter on the “ABC’s side is here” link accuses Cablevision of charging customers $18 per month for the ABC7 channel, and not paying ABC anything? Surely that can’t actually be possible?

  • This is why we need a Consumer Protection Agency, because the ones who really DO get screwed in all this is US.

    Just another rate hike, folks. Just another $45 bucks a month we have to cough up to our utilities/health care/cable/toll roads overlords.

    Now that the Winter Olympics are over, this is a good time for everyone to quit television cold turkey. Just drop your cable services (keep your Internet connection if you got a package deal, just ask them to stop with the t.v. signal if they can). So what if you miss the next few episodes of Lost? Be patient and wait for the DVDs to come out. Maybe when the networks realize they’ve priced themselves into extinction they’ll cut back to affordable rates… nah, they’ll never learn. Starve em out then.

  • Accounting Ninja

    It’d be like two assholes beating the shit out of each other over a gal because each of them sincerely believes she’s gonna be impressed by this and throw herself at him. And instead she shakes her head and tells the idiots to enjoy each other’s company, because it’s all they have.

    I wish that ALWAYS happened in the movies! :)

  • Daniel

    Time Warner and Fox had the same battle last year. We’ll probably be seeing the same sort of thing a lot in the immediate future.

    Of course, the only ABC shows I’ve been watching regularly the past few years have been Pushing Daisies and Better Off Ted, and both of them seem to have been cancelled.

  • MaryAnn

    but the channels stay on the air;

    HGTV and The Food Network didn’t (as I noted in the OP). They were off the air for three weeks.

    Netflix is fine if you want to wait to watch shows months after they’re on the air. It’s not so much an option for me if I want to be able to cover even just a few shows as they air.

  • What you see is the product of fear. The Corporate Overlords are afraid of being left out in the cold because they are all scrambling over who is going to get the biggest slice of pie threatening to shrink. Not the pie of information, which is expanding, but the pie of profit, which is threatened by the Internet spreading information freely, in both senses of the word.

    They are not insane; they are panicked.

    And I worry about it, too, from the point of view of a novelist, who wonders how he will get paid after the Amazon-Max threat down over pricing. I worry a little on behalf of journalists, too, since if a Business owns ten papers, it might well decide they can use one movie/book reviewer for all ten and fire the other nine. I also wonder, if Networks can’t make a profit, who will make the TV shows that I do like (along side the ones I don’t)?

    Big Business has real reasons to worry, and fear sometimes brings out the less mature side of people.

  • Dokeo

    Netflix is fine if you want to wait to watch shows months after they’re on the air. It’s not so much an option for me if I want to be able to cover even just a few shows as they air.

    Luckily, you can just get an antenna and all the broadcast networks are yours for free! http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/dtvantennas.html

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Meanwhile, we in the production side are feeling well and truly screwed.

    The recession slashing ad budgets is bad enough, but Television is well and truly screwed as a content provider. The internet means that people can watch what they want, went they want it, and the advertising model has made people expect their TV content to be free. The few services out there that have a revenue stream (Like iTunes, NetFlix and Hulu) are still tied to the big corporations as producers.

    Right now, there’s no system in place that allows investors and production companies to bypass the corporate bullshit and produce their work directly for online distribution. By reducing the number of partners needed to produce a piece, there can be more creativity and less overhead to create good content, but only if we can get a system that makes sense.

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