What ABC And Cablevision Might Know If They'd Just Listen

Since it's almost three days later, maybe this qualifies as an irrelevant question to ask -- but are there any companies out there more clueless than Disney/ABC and Cablevision?

I ask this, of course, after the Oscars debacle, which left three million Cablevision subscribers staring at blank TV screens instead of the beginning of the second-most watched show on TV -- all because the companies were locked in a fight-to-the-death over whether Cablevision should be paying ABC a hefty retransmission fee. Cable subscribers were caught in the middle of this battle, as though they had no voice at all.

Damn! None of us Cablevision subscribers could walk up to Cablevision's headquarters and plug ABC back in -- and both companies knew that! Still, if ever there was a time when it doesn't pay to make consumers pawns, it's right now. We can broadcast online how we feel about it, just the way the two companies can use up their own precious ad time to air commercials trying to state their case.Here are a few examples of what people said as the crisis was unfolding:

• God Bless the rabbit ears. They saved the Oscars. F*ck cablevision and ABC

• After last nite's Oscars fiasco w/ Cablevision, I feel like I live in the CORPORATE States Of Amercia. And I don't like it one bit.

• ABC and Cablevision: use me as leverage at your peril. Consumer already looking for alternative distribution models and content sources

• I'm streaming the academyawards live on hatroulette - sorry abc and cablevision, you're both monumental losers

• Watching oscars and hoping cablevision doesn't give ABC their $40 million. I'm sick of the feuds and channels holding viewers hostage.

Are any of these comments surprising? No. But what may be surprising to both ABC and Cablevision -- since it's so obvious they are not listening to their customers -- is that no one is sympathetic toward either of them. ABC's abominable decision to use the Oscars as a bargaining tool aside, the two company's dismal, political-campaign-style advertising smelled funny to anyone who saw it, no matter how far either company went in trying to tell its side of the story. (This has certainly been true of other retrans feuds as well.)

Cablevision actually dared to repeatedly air a four-minute-long infomercial about the dispute, as if the threat of pulling the Oscars broadcast hadn't wasted enough of our mental space; ABC attempted to demonize Cablevision by claiming that it was pocketing $500 million of its subscribers' money every year, implying that that money should have been paid to ABC. By making commercials all about their problems -- without taking us into account -- no one won, not even the victor of the retrans battle.

The only truth unveiled by all this is that consumers, powerless to actually force the Oscars onto the air, ended up taking it out on both companies. It doesn't really matter to them who's at fault, and that's a lesson future combatants in the retransmission wars need to learn. No consumer is going to shed a tear for either company in these battles, though they will get very ticked off if they don't get the programming they paid for.

Speaking of future retransmission wars, which are more or less fated the way things are going, there's only one thing missing from the current state-of-the-art of public whining by cable operators, media companies and consumers: a social-media-led consumer protest that is organized enough to have real-world consequences. I saw a few people tweeting about how, next time, they'd go to, a site that helps people identify what antenna goes with their TV so they can get over-the-air signals.

But that's child's play. I'm thinking something bigger -- like tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, or even millions of customers canceling their subscriptions or deciding not to pay their cable bill, meanwhile educating each other on how to find other ways to get the same programming.

Of course, any organized consumer movement will play out over social media. Now, all the ABCs and Cablevisions of the world need do is listen.

7 comments about "What ABC And Cablevision Might Know If They'd Just Listen".
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  1. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, March 10, 2010 at 5:42 p.m.

    I predict the ABC/Cablevision kerfuffle will have the same net effect as the movement to change your profile green in recognition of the crackdown in Iran.

    That is, nothing.

    Challenging economic times favor paywall models. If you find an exciting series on Hulu, enjoy it while you can -- because Comedy Central's recent defection may have something to do with the lousy payouts: $0.15 revenue to the studio per view, compared to $0.40 or more on an external website.

    As a Hulu fan, I hope they figure it out. But the net is, you will probably get more choices in where to get your video, but expect a lot more brinksmanship and a lot more outages. WABC vs Cablevision wasn't meant to be a message to consumers: instead, it was a market signal to networks and video providers everywhere that if you can force a change in retransmission/consent in NYC, you can do it anywhere.

  2. Scott Meldrum, March 10, 2010 at 5:58 p.m.

    Catharine, I have been reading your articles for years now and I have never seen you use such gloriously foul language as frequently as you have in this post. Kudos!!!

    Sadly, Cablevision and ABC were well aware of the impact this would have on their viewers and subscribers. Listening is only good if one can reason and act on what they hear. I doubt that any social media movement, however, vocal, will do much to change the future outcome here. If they were interested in acting in the best interests of the viewers, they would have taken a different course at the start.

    I hope that the NFL and the Players Union are listening. It seems as though they, and football fans along with them, are headed for a similar fate at the end of the 2010 season.

    Thanks again for dropping the edited f-bomb. Brings a new, and very welcomed, shade to your work.

    Scott Meldrum

  3. Mark McLaughlin, March 10, 2010 at 5:59 p.m.

    If there were ever two industries more complementary to one another than media content creators and media content distributors, I can't think what they would be.

    And yet, here we have two industries with intense co-dependencies facing mutual challenges that behave like they are direct competitors who hate each other.

    It is our long cozy history, our soft legacy of easy money from subscribers and advertisers and our monopolies that we pretend are not monopolies that have allowed us to grow so fat, greedy and self-destructive.

    We will blame our destruction on the consumer, on the internet, or on the other guy but we will go to our demise refusing to ever conceive of the notion that we have only ourselves to blame.

  4. The digital Hobo from, March 10, 2010 at 6:22 p.m.

    Loved the Cablevision iO ads running on top of the pirated streams of the oscars on Justin.TV

    How funny is this?

  5. Kevin Friedman from, March 10, 2010 at 7:20 p.m.

    In a word... touché!

    I've been a innocent victim of a Programming War. Comcast acquired Versus and then purportedly jacked the carriage rates by 50% with a corresponding improvement in programming. DirecTV opted to no longer carry the channel and we couldn't watch the game. Arg!

    And this will definitely happen more and more often. Cablevision vs WABC is a harbinger.

    I started TV A La Carte to give frustrated subscribers like me a voice. The tool for us Davids to take on the Big Cable Goliath is social media. Learn more about the story and sign the petition at

  6. Barry Dennis from netweb/Omni, March 10, 2010 at 7:52 p.m.

    Here's the thing: Cable and Telco are both pipelines and Content providers. That's a conflict.
    They-Cable and Telco-and to some extent Satellite and Wireless own and/or control both the delivery infrastructure AND the Content.
    That's inherently bad for Consumers/Users. The FCC is considering it's "Broadband" initiative. They should include, and are being urged to do so by the FTC (I heard,) the forced separation of Content and the delivery Pipeline. The FCC forced televison to separate Content ownership back in the 70's so as not to create conflict and to offer choice. We're at the same crossroads again.
    The only way to break the monopolistic practices of Cable and Telco, and Wireless is to force them to become a Pipeline delivery infrastructure completely removed from any decision as to What Content, How Much Content goes out/is delivered, excepting their ability to "meter" their Pipeline space.
    Cable has earned over 250 Billion dollars in monopolistic profits in the last generation (That's Billions with a Big B" folks!) which is what T.V. might have done if their monopoly on Content were not broken.
    Not only that, because of Cable and now Telco's monopolies, the U.S. ranks 14-16th in world rankings of Internet speeds and Reach.
    Not a good situation.
    Forced separation of Content, no involvement in Content Ownership, management or decisions; we would be so surprised about the numbers and types of products and Services (read Content) that would be offered to the benefit of Consumer and Business Users.
    Cloud Commuting, Cloud Education, Cloud Health, and more, and more.
    I hope Google gets their Pipeline up and running nationwide next week so as to offer Content competiton.
    Haven't you wondered why all these Content fights are occurring? It's a fight for the heart and soul of the Internet.
    Monopolies are winning! Man the battlements, grab your pitchforlks and torches, march on the FCC and FTC!
    Let's "git 'er done."

  7. Jerilyn MacLaren-Hall, March 11, 2010 at 11:44 a.m.

    I couldn't agree more with what Catharine is saying. Funny part - i just finished writing my own blog post on the same topic... and true to form, i directed my frustration at both companies and their inability to listen and HEAR the customer. Even more interesting is that in the end, customers don't need either of them... Thanks to the internet, digital content no longer lives with any single producer or provider... it lives independly and is freely available to all.

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