Where CBS blackout hits home
August 14, 2013
In the weeks since Time Warner Cable and CBS began feuding, Leadora Sutton has been having technical difficulties in her daily life.
“My main show is ’60 Minutes’ and I miss it terribly,” complains Sutton, 84, whose Westside senior apartment house—like much of Los Angeles—is served by Time Warner. “And I can’t get ‘Family Feud’, which I like to watch at 6 o’clock as I eat dinner. It’s a silly show, but I relax with it. And now it’s gone because we can’t get Channel 9.”
Sutton isn’t the only cable customer who wishes her regularly scheduled programming would resume already. As the ongoing contract dispute between the two media behemoths entered its third week and federal officials fired off letters urging the companies to settle their differences, some 3 million customers this week remained caught in the middle of the argument over their distribution deal.
Lots of folks are annoyed, but nowhere is the aggravation more pronounced than among seniors, who’ve long been the network’s most loyal fans. Their screen-happy kids and grandkids may not miss it so much, what with their binge-watching back episodes of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix, or getting their comedy fix via YouTube on their phones. But for this crowd, losing CBS—with the most mature audience of the four major networks and an average viewer age of almost 57—is like losing an old friend.
“TV is an amazing issue with seniors,” says Doug Cope, director of operations for the Menorah Housing Foundation, which oversees 18 low-income apartment buildings for seniors throughout Los Angeles County, including Sutton’s. “If people start missing their programs,” he says, “you hear from them.”
Since August 2, Time Warner has been blocking out CBS in a standoff over how much the cable giant will pay the network to carry CBS-owned stations in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. For subscribers here, that has meant not only the absence of popular shows such as “60 Minutes”, “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory,” but also the blackout of CBS-owned stations such as Showtime and KCAL Channel 9, which—crucially, in this winning season—airs the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It’s not a life-or-death thing for the people I’ve heard from,” jokes Robert Miret, manager of the Zev Yaroslavsky Apartments where Sutton lives near Westwood. But, he notes, he is part of another contingent that is increasingly resenting the blackout—sports fans. “So for me . . . “
Miret was among thousands this month who missed the Dodgers game against the St. Louis Cardinals because KCAL was dark on his home television. The blackout continued this week as the Dodgers played the New York Mets—again, only for non-Time Warner viewers. And, Miret notes, football season is about to begin.
For his tenants, however, the irritation has more to do with the interruption of daily habits. Though the complex also offers satellite dish and basic antenna hookups, many of the tenants have chosen the option they’re most used to, which is cable. And, he notes, many can’t switch because the basic antenna hookup is only for high-definition TV, and most of the tenants own older models.
So they’re stuck, he says, and even those who own computers don’t see television the way their grandchildren see it, as just one screen among many. For their generation, and even for many of their children, TV is also a marker of time and a companion. And retirees tend to watch a lot of it.
“Sometimes I’m not out of the house until three or four in the afternoon, now that I’m not working, and as I’m making lunch, I like to watch the shows,” says 67-year-old Sandy Tenenbaum. “I watch ‘The Talk’, which is very interesting. I watch ‘The Doctors’, which is a very informative and educational. I watch ‘Dr. Phil.’ At seven o’clock I watch that ‘Insider’ gossip show with the celebrities.”
Sutton, whose TV now displays Time Warner’s negotiating position when she turns to her favorite channel, says she is making do with other shows while her cable company and her favorite network do battle.
“They’ll fight it out and it’ll be settled in a few weeks,” she predicts. (Meanwhile, CBS has stayed on top of its rivals in the ratings, blackout notwithstanding.)
But without her shows to divert her, Sutton says, she made a call the other day to Time Warner, and came away with an interesting tidbit—confirmed this week by sales representatives at the company’s online support center.
“Did you know,” she asks, “that I can get discounts on my utility bills, my phone bills, even my movie tickets, but my cable company doesn’t give a break to senior citizens?”