No matter who is at odds with whom when it comes to issues surrounding the broadcasting of certain television stations on cable TV systems, you can bet the consumer will always be the biggest loser.
And I’m not talking about the loss of that bulge on your waistline, but the one that used to be in your wallet where the cash keeps disappearing into the hands of ever-greedy corporations.
As a longtime cable TV subscriber (but one who has considered severing that tie on numerous occasions), I’ve endured multiple cases of viewers being threatened with the loss of various channels because of disputes over the costs of their broadcast rights.
This has occurred with sports networks such as ESPN and various local channels, which for our purposes are ones based in the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area.
There was one notable dispute over fee hikes between Time Warner Cable and Viacom Inc. in 2008, which almost led to a blackout of 19 Viacom cable channels, including TV Land, Comedy Central and MTV.
Usually, such conflicts are just a matter of one blood-sucking corporation trying to take a bite out of another.
The latest contract dispute has surfaced this week between Time Warner Cable and WXII-TV (Channel 12) in Winston-Salem. There has been a lot of finger-pointing back and forth, but the bottom line is that Channel 12 is no longer available to local Time Warner customers. Time Warner has replaced WXII on its dial with another NBC affiliate in Pennsylvania.
While cable customers can still receive NBC telecasts, this situation means they cannot get local news and other programming via Channel 12 — unless they tune in the old-fashioned way with an antenna.
A demand by WXII’s parent company for a 300-percent rate increase is said to be at the root of the conflict.
Hmmmm. Now the firm that is bucking this (Time Warner) is the same one that has increased my rates for its expanded basic package from around $31 in 2000 to more than $74 today — through a steady procession of rate hikes. By my calculations, that is about a 140-percent increase in charges — and counting.
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve remained a faithful subscriber of cable TV for many years — only to have that loyalty rewarded with never-ending price increases.
TV stations themselves are just as greedy, however, and would do about anything to increase their individual share of the ratings market and the rates they charge to advertisers. Channel 12 is no different.
I personally don’t care if it rejoins the Time Warner Cable lineup or not, since I don’t depend on the Channel 12 crew for local news, or much else for that matter.
What does concern me is being able to watch such shows as “The Office” on NBC as well as the upcoming Olympics coverage to be aired by that network. So it doesn’t matter to me if I access this programming through a station in Pennsylvania or one in Timbuktu.
Yet it is easy to understand how the loss of WXII might be leaving a void in the lives of some in the Surry County area.
It is my prediction that the present impasse between Hearst Broadcasting, Channel 12’s parent company, and Time Warner Cable will be settled, allowing WXII’s return to the latter’s system and all to be right with the world once again.
The parent company will decide that it can get along by charging less to the other blood-sucker than first desired, or the latter will simply agree to pay more.
Either way, I also can predict with certainty that whatever outcome is achieved somehow will result in us long-suffering cable subscribers paying more.
The disputes between cable companies and the broadcasters that supply them with programming are part of a bigger problem with television in general these days. No matter how many stations one has available, whether by cable, satellite or whatever, a quick trip around the dial will turn up mostly cheap, bottom-feeding reality shows sandwiched around endless streams of commercials.
It is hard to find any good guys among the respective corporations that are responsible for the nature of TV today. They all have a greedy hand in the pie and you can be assured they’ll take care of themselves at the end of the day.
But who is looking out for consumers and making sure we are receiving good, reliable services without being gouged?
Certainly not the Federal Communications Commission or other government regulatory authorities that could make a difference, but aren’t.
Tom Joyce is a reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 718-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.