Monday, September 20, 2010

Time Warner Cable finds new ways to irritate its customers

I've laid off Time Warner Cable for a couple of months, but somehow they manage to do something to tick people off enough that I feel a need to write.  ("Time Warner" is still one of the most popular search terms leading to this blog, just behind "92.5 Austin" and "is Scarlett Johansson a slut".  Yes, I'm serious.)

So, what's the latest with our friends over at Time Warner?  Well, Time Warner has lots of things going on at the moment, none of them great.

For starters, Time Warner is, once again, in the midst of a staring contest with a local station about retransmission fees.  This time, as you may have seen, given that it's the highest-rated channel in town, the station is KVUE.  (You can see what has happened up to this point over at Austin360.)  KVUE, of course, has a webpage up giving their side of the story, and Time Warner, of course, has updated their perpetual website,, with the latest info giving their side.  (I've spoken previously about the push-polling that Time Warner does to get people to tell them to "get tough" with these awful, awful channels wanting to be compensated for retransmission.)

The deadline for these negotiations is September 25, but I do not see Time Warner dropping KVUE.  They didn't drop KTBC last year, possibly (my conjecture) because they knew they would face a lot of angry customers wanting to see a Dallas Cowboys team in the midst of a playoff run (and playing a whole lot better than they are this year, but I digress), and similarly, I doubt they'll want to upset a lot of people who will want to watch UT playing Oklahoma in a couple of weeks.  Yes, they dropped KXAN two years ago, but KXAN wasn't showing any football games of local interest.  And yes, I do think football is the main consideration for a lot of local viewers.  As Time Warner has said before, most network shows can be streamed online at this point, but for people who want to watch their football games live and uninterrupted, they need these channels on their cable system.

After that, the other things going on at Time Warner seem rather boring, I suppose, but I'll cover them anyway.  First of all, I reported two months ago that Time Warner was moving all the access channels to digital-only (and was slightly corrected in my interpretation), so that people like me who haven't shelled out several hundred dollars for a digital set (it's below the line right now) will no longer be able to see them without a converter box.  Well, that is supposed to happen on October 1, but I hear that Time Warner will, for those customers who have only basic cable but can't live without their city council meetings (and I suppose there are some like that) can get one free converter box from Time Warner.  The catch:  you have to go to one of their locations and pick it up; if you have them come to install it, they'll charge you.  Luckily, the converter boxes are not difficult to install.  But I still don't want one.

And you may have noticed, if you are a Time Warner Cable customer, that in the past few evenings, especially last Friday and Saturday, that some channels had a nasty tendency to pixelate or go completely black.  Jim McNabb expressed his annoyance with the situation and Time Warner's seeming lack of concern about it.  But I noticed one strange thing about the problems I saw while I was watching KVUE Saturday night:  while there were problems multiple times during the pre-game show, there were no problems at all during the Texas-Texas Tech game.  The problems magically disappeared once the game started.  I'm sure that's a coincidence.

Update:  KVUE, as predicted here, will not be dropped.  More information may be found here.


Britt said...

Thanks for the write-up. I just heard about this today, so I didn't make the connection on Saturday while silently panicking about the KVUE reception issues before the UT game.

We just went through this with the Disney/ESPN channels, and frankly I believe there's plenty of evil corporate bull**** on both sides of these issues.

I pay Time Warner for a delivery mechanism for TV and Internet, and in general they do a pretty good job of keeping these services up. I do think I'm being charged too much, and strongly suspect that plenty of monopolistic regulatory power plays have kept these crooks as my only provider despite living in the heart of a major city.

As much as I'd like to applaud KVUE taking a chunk out of Time Warner, my only realistic expectation is that any gains they make will be reflected on my bills. Besides, what happened to the time-honored model of purchasing desirable content and selling advertising? Given that KVUE's broadcasting license will always allow me to view it absolutely free over the air, I don't see how they can possibly improve their main revenue stream by losing however many thousands of customers are trapped with Time Warner.

Basically it's a PR scheme and money grab on both sides. If there's any justice in the world, we'll see some improved competition for content delivery during the next decade. The unfortunate fact is that Time Warner's service is actually pretty good -- if satellite reception was any better or AT&T had any competence then this would be a whole different game.

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