Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can't See Must See TV

Can't See Must See TV Can’t See Must See TV
There Is an Easy Solution

The stalemate between Time-Warner cable and local NBC affiliate KXAN TV annoys many Austin and Central Texas viewers. As if the stock market and credit crunch were not enough, you may not be able to enjoy your favorite news, weather, or mind candy on KXAN TV or the other stations owned by LIN TV in the Austin area. If you would rather read the newspaper or get your news from the Internet, you would have no problem. However, if you, like most Americans, still get most of your news from television, and you happen to like KXAN TV/NBC, their stand-off is just one more reason for playing guitar, spending quality time with your family, or taking a cooling-off walk in the Hill Country autumn air. Even then, however, there is the problem of ragweed and red-berry juniper allergens.

The Background: The KXAN TV Time Warner Cable is more than a small spat. KXAN TV’s owner, LIN TV is battling Time-Warner in eleven markets where they coexist. This battle is not confined to Central Texas. With eleven markets, 15 TV stations, and 2.7-million Time Warner subscribers in the mix, this makes for a lot of negotiating. The stand-off with LIN TV has been brewing for decades. For years, Time Warner in Austin took KXAN’s signal off the air with an antenna, explaining why the KXAN picture appeared inferior. Finally, about a decade ago, Time Warner agreed to a direct feed. It was in KXAN’s best interest to be hard-wired.

Now, with most all media stocks in a downward spiral, LIN is looking for revenue wherever it can find it. So, LIN is demanding compensation for the “free” programming Time-Warner is using. TWC knows that any agreement with LIN could create a far-reaching precedent for future negotiations.

In San Antonio, Time Warner and ABC affiliate KSAT say they reached an “agreement in principle” keeping that station on cable. But in Austin, negotiators for neither side are blinking. This disagreement could last a while.

Both LIN and TWC are trying to make more money in an era when “new media” are slicing off chunks of revenue. The revenue pie is getting smaller, and the so-called “new media” facilitated by the Internet are taking a larger and larger piece of the revenue pie. It is ironic that TWC encouraged disgruntled viewers to go to the Internet to watch NBC programming, when it is the new media that are contributing heavily to the slow cash flow at both the cable and TV station.
Of course, TWC is an Internet service provider, and KXAN is often streaming video of its newscasts over those same high-speed cable wires.

The Alternatives: The problem for many, especially those not living in Central Austin, is that there may be few alternative television providers. Also, in the Hill Country, there may be limited Internet provider service. So, the choice is either Time-Warner Cable or satellite TV. KXAN is suggesting that viewers saw off Time Warner and hook up to Dish. Satellite TV may not satisfy everyone’s needs, however. What about Grande Cable, AT&T U-verse, or Verizon FiOS?

Verizon FiOS’ Central Texas penetration is limited. AT&T’s U-verse appears very useful and promising. AT&T is working furiously, trying to reach more and more in the Austin market. Their DVR records up to four shows at one time, and the show recorded on the one DVR can be watched on any TV in the house. Nice. “We've been expanding U-verse availability at a rapid pace, and now we're expanding the number of consumers who can learn about the benefits of AT&T U-verse and order the service,” said Glenn Lurie, president of national distribution for AT&T.Whether you have U-verse in your area is hard to say. The best advice is to check with AT&T U-verse on a case-by-case, address-by-address basis. AT&T must be making progress, judging from the expensive ads running now in the local newspaper. Further, it can be “bundled” with other services, possibly saving money. Possibly not, depending on choices and phone fees.

Grande Communications likewise is still in the process of building out its network, but if there is demand, they might come. “People making calls requesting service drives our expansion.” A customer service representative said.

If an Austin or Central Texas viewer is stuck with Time-Warner because of availability a “bundling” deal or by choice, there is still a good way of dealing with the absence of KXAN TV.

The Solution is of Necessity: At midnight February 17th, 2009 all analogue TV channels will go dark, and TV stations will be broadcasting only on digital frequencies. If a viewer has a cable, fiber optic, or satellite provider, there is no problem. But, if someone is still using an old-fashioned antenna, the sets will show “snow”. In anticipation of that, the Federal Communications Commission is making it relatively easy to see your favorite local stations and much more. Every household is eligible to get two $40 digital converter box coupons from the government. (https://www.dtv2009.gov/) They come in the form of credit cards. The boxes cost about $50. So, you will pay about $10 for each box. A cable customer may want the boxes as a back-up in case TW Cable goes out.

Now, however, viewers may use the boxes to receive KXAN/NBC broadcasts. They work best with amplified "rabbit ears" and connected through the AV ports. That way you can leave your cable hooked up. Directions come with the boxes. All you have to do is click the A/V or Video button on your remote, and there is KXAN!

Viewers can pick up much more than KXAN TV and its NBC programming using the converter box. The local stations have extra channels in the digital spectrum. KVUE 2 has weather 24/7. KEYE has “retro” TV shows. KXAN’s sister station KNVA is available too. KLRU is broadcasting KLRU 2. Another cool thing about the converter box is that there is no “ghosting” (Remember the foil on the antenna?) If you do not want to wait for the coupon, you can just go buy one.

With this option, you might not care how long it takes before someone blinks in the KXAN V Time Warner war.

© Jim McNabb

1 comment:

Flyjax said...

Here's a Buffalo perspective on the KXAN/Lin/TWC standoff:
Channel 4 suffers major financial and ratings losses in cable dispute
Station hemorrhaging cash,ratings as LIN TV and TimeWarner prolong stalemate.
By Alan Pergament NEWS TV CRITIC
Updated: 10/15/08 8:03 AM

The national heavyweight battle between LIN TV and Time Warner Cable has lasted much longer than most experts expected, especially since the best outcome either can hope for in this lose-lose fight appears to be a draw.

It is almost two weeks since LIN, the Rhode Island-based owner of WIVB-TV, Channel 4, and WNLO-TV, Channel 23, took the stations off Time Warner in a dispute over money that it feels it should receive from the cable company. And even if it were to end today, the dispute has been a major blow to CBS affiliate Channel 4, the longtime leader in local news and prime time.

According to sources, Channel 4 may have lost about $50,000 when the Bills’ loss to Arizona on Oct. 4 wasn’t carried on Time Warner. The sources estimate that — unless its advertisers are being very understanding — the station is losing between $100,000 and $150,000 in net revenue per week.

LIN’s proposal seeks about $1.2 million per year locally from Time Warner, though it hasn’t said whether that is for one local station or both.

The battle already has been a big boost for Channel 4’s local news competitors, Channel 2 and Channel 7. With Channel 4 now being watched by only about half the Western New York market, its newscasts are getting even lower ratings than third-place Channel 7 received before the dispute.

In the first full week of the standoff, Channel 4 averaged a 3.1 rating for the 6 p. m. newscast, meaning that 3.1 percent of the 637,000 TV households in the area were tuned in. That’s compared with the 9.2 percent of the households watching in the last full week Channel 4 was on cable.

Channel 4 registered a 4.6 rating at 11 p. m., compared with 11.9 the last full week on cable.

With increased sampling by former Channel 4 loyalists, Channel 7 and Channel 2 can be expected to keep those viewers who are impressed.

Meanwhile, with the time it may take for satellite providers or Verizon’s FiOs to handle customers who wish to switch from TWC, the loyalty of viewers to Channel 4 and primary anchors Jacquie Walker and Don Postles could soon be just a memory.

Local satellite installers say they have been extremely busy during the dispute. Karl Schmelz, of Intertech, said the company is doing more than 1,000 local DISH installations a week — its most demand in 24 years and an increase of 50 percent since WIVB came off Time Warner.

Larry Bakeman, co-owner of Satellite Solutions, reported he’s doing 75 DirecTV installations weekly, about eight times more than normal. He said the wait is about two weeks, instead of the normal two days.

Despite those satellite figures, Time Warner spokeswoman Robin L. Wolfgang denies that there has been a major impact on customer subscriptions.

“We have seen only an incremental uptick in the number of disconnects above our normal run rate,” she said in an e-mail Tuesday. “Since the majority of our customers have been supportive of the stand we have taken during our retransmission negotiations with LIN Broadcasting, we have to believe that the incremental increase could be attributed to the sagging economy, moves, seasonal changes and failure to pay, as is the usual coding for disconnects.”

As negotiations drag on, Channel 4 anchors and reporters are losing the good will the station has accumulated for a couple of decades. The audience doesn’t care that Channel 4’s anchors and executives have no input with LIN, which is fighting the same battle in Green Bay, Wis.; Austin, Texas; Indianapolis; and several other TWC markets.

However, Buffalo is the LIN station with the most Time Warner subscribers, meaning that Channel 4 might be taking the biggest hit.

Viewers are angry with both LIN and Time Warner, but Channel 4 is initially suffering more here because its pain is more immediate. LIN’s decision to pull the station couldn’t have had worse timing, with the nation’s economy going haywire and money for political ads going to competitors. And Channel 4 is now in danger of being off cable during the all-important November sweeps ratings period, which starts in about two weeks.

We probably should have realized that LIN was preparing for a long fight, as evidenced by the partnership it made with the DISH network in hopes of luring TWC subscribers to satellite.

And get ready: The owners of Channel 2 and Channel 7 could face similar problems within a few months or sooner, since its agreements with Time Warner also are about to expire.

If LIN makes a deal with Time Warner, then Channel 2’s and Channel 7’s owners probably will have it easier. But if LIN waits until another Buffalo affiliate has to make a deal and it decides to pull its channel, the pressure on TWC will increase — if only in this market.

Channel 2, the NBC affiliate, briefly took the highly unusual step of advising Channel 4 viewers without cable that they can get CBS’ popular prime entertainment programming on CBS.com.

That practice has stopped. It required more effort and knowhow than a lot of viewers cared to exert, anyway. In the long run, it could be out of sight, out of mind for many CBS shows.

It’s a testament to CBS’ prime-time power in Western New York that even without half the market some series have outrated NBC and ABC programming here.

When the dispute began, it was hard to envision that a deal wouldn’t be made in time for Channel 4 to be back on cable for the Bills game Sunday against San Diego. (To those who have asked, TWC can’t bring in the game from Toronto’s CFTO because of blackout rules.) No one can imagine what the fallout would be if the Bills make the playoffs and its game is on CBS (NBC gets two wild-card games).

But if the impasse lasts past the NFL season, many local cable viewers will have lost a primary incentive to get Channel 4 — Bills games. And LIN TV may discover that irreparable harm has been done to its strong Buffalo station.