CBS Turns To Net Stars In Ongoing Battle With TWC

If the generic voiceover saying Time Warner Cable (TWC) is acting villainous hasn’t persuaded people to drop the cable operator, maybe some Hollywood big shots will. CBS has turned to network stars in radio ads in its battle with TWC that has left the network off the air in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas.

The ads started Monday with a parade of stars signed on, including LL Cool J (“NCIS: Los Angeles”), Pauley Perrette (“NCIS”), Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”), Joe Mantegna (“Criminal Minds”), Michael Weatherly (“NCIS”), Phil Simms (“NFL Today”) and Jim Nantz (NFL play-by-play announcer).

Mantegna's 30-second spot says: "We’re getting ready for a great new season. But I’m worried because fans who have Time Warner Cable will not get to see 'Criminal Minds' or any of their favorite CBS programs, including the NFL. If you’re a Time Warner Cable customer, you do have choices. There are other providers in your area and you can switch. Do it today.”

While TWC has inventory on its systems to run spots trying to convince viewers CBS is making outrageous demands, CBS has space on its TV and radio stations in the three markets to make similar assertions. It has flooded radio airwaves with anti-TWC spots, particular — both noting the loss of CBS and Showtime.

In the dispute, which apparently has the sides fighting over some combination of fees and digital rights, Showtime is unavailable to all TWC customers across the country. That might affect more than the estimated 3 million homes dealing with the blackouts in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. Other markets are affected, but in far fewer homes.

CBS radio ads have been running since the weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 blackout, usually with a man’s voice sternly jabbing TWC. The language is not particularly unusual in the propaganda wars in carriage disputes, although turning to network personalities as high-profile as LL Cool J and Nantz to make one side’s case seems a bit unusual.

A CBS microsite notes “You Have Choices” and lists other options for TWC customers in the three major markets such as AT&T Uverse and DirecTV. Dish Network is not listed, perhaps because CBS is in litigation with the satellite operator over its Hopper DVR service that has functionality that automatically removes commercials.      

If TWC is looking to restrict CBS from making content available to Netflix and other subscription video-on-demand providers, it wouldn’t be the first time that TWC has taken a stand looking to curtail a programmer from making its content available online in various fashions.

In 2008, when cable networks were loading their Web sites with free full episodes and cable operators didn’t seem to be complaining vociferously about how that could affect their business models, The New York Times quoted TWC CEO Glenn Britt saying: “Guess what? We do mind.”   

In 2010, TWC became the first operator to require that ESPN3.com -- a cord-cutter’s delight -- be made only available to those paying for ESPN on TV.

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