The great Cablevision-WFSB dust-up in Connecticut is now in its third week. Accurate information about it is increasingly difficult to come by. But the gist of it is this: Meredith Corporation-owned CBS affiliate WFSB in Hartford wants Cablevision customers in far-off Fairfield County, Conn. to pay to receive both CBS Corporation’s New York City affiliate WCBS as well as WFSB. Cablevision has said no, asserting it is unfair to charge customers extra to receive two channels that offer largely the same programming.
With its knickers firmly in a cinch, WFSB has responded by yanking its signal from multiple counties in Connecticut including New Haven and Litchfield counties, which surround Fairfield County, where the true problem is centered. Infuriatingly, WFSB has also seen fit to block WCBS from many towns in New Haven and Litchfield counties, in effect holding them hostage during negotiations and essentially forcing them to live a CBS-free life until it gets its own way. CBS isn’t even available in those counties on-demand. Cablevision customers in Fairfield County still receive WCBS because of a long-term agreement Cablevision has with WCBS.
It’s a shame that Cablevision doesn’t have similar long-term agreements with WCBS protecting its customers in New Haven and Litchfield counties, because as a long-time resident of New Haven County I’m here to tell them that nobody there gives a flying fig about WFSB or any other Hartford-based media. Like Fairfield County, we are in part a New York City bedroom community. Hartford is a world away. Anything going on up there is largely irrelevant to those of us who live along the coast. (I suspect many Litchfield residents up in the northwest corner of the state feel the same way.)
Anything and everything WFSB offers is even more irrelevant to residents of Fairfield County. The idea that WFSB would hold anyone hostage while demanding money from Cablevision customers in that area is laughable. Fairfield County is filled with people who have never even set foot in far-off Hartford. At best they have driven through it en route to destinations in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Cablevision customer service representatives have been programmed to tell outraged customers in New Haven County that much CBS programming is available on cbs.com and cbssports.com. They presume people are happy to watch the HD programming they are paying for in a compromised state. I say compromised because the Internet service Cablevision provides to its customers, at least in my neighborhood, has long been less than perfect. Connection breaks, buffering and general sluggishness are not infrequent.
(By the way, before you tell me to dump Cablevision for another television provider, let me note that I am unable to become a DirecTV customer because of issues involving my condominium complex and AT&T’s U-Verse service is not available in my neighborhood. I have looked into Aereo only to be told that I am not in a coverage area. That makes no sense because the border of Aereo’s southwestern Connecticut coverage area is less than two miles from my home. Anything people can receive over the air two miles away I can receive as well. Isn’t that what Aereo is all about?)
I have been in Los Angeles attending the twice-yearly Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena since January 7, and I will be here for at least another week, so the combined loss of WCBS and WFSB hasn’t really impacted me at all. But here’s something worth noting: It seems that the many family members and friends of mine back home who are living without CBS programming find that they don’t really think about it anymore. These are people who count “The Good Wife,” “NCIS,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Millers” and “Hawaii Five-O” among their favorite shows.
In other words, after a few upsetting days they don’t really miss CBS, except for certain sports programming, which they are seeking out at friends’ homes in nearby towns. (As for me, if I still can’t watch CBS when I return home I’m going to be pissed.)
I’m fairly certain that if and when CBS is restored to them or if they dump Cablevision and seek alternative programming providers, my family and friends will once again start watching the shows they used to enjoy. Perhaps they aren’t all that upset about the absence of CBS because they just assume they will see this programming at some future time in some other place, probably in syndicated repeats on a basic cable station. (Some of them are getting their “Big Bang” fix on TBS.) The urgency isn’t there.
I’m not so sure the situation speaks as much to the relative importance of CBS programming in their lives as to the fact that they are happy to look beyond broadcast television for entertainment. A couple of years ago New Haven County residents had to live without Fox for a while and that didn’t seem to upset anybody.
The underlying question here should make any broadcaster nervous: Other than sports and big event programming, is there anything you offer that people feel they cannot live without? It seems people are only willing to devote so much time, effort and income to securing access to your content. If that process becomes too much of a nuisance, they simply move on.
And here’s another question: With all the problems people are made to deal with and all the inconveniences they are made to suffer, I wonder how many of them feel as I do … that being a cable customer is the equivalent of having a part-time job on the side?