Merry New Year! I write the first blog of the new year as Eddie Valentine and I, fresh crop report in hand, plan to destroy the Duke brothers by tricking them into cornering the frozen concentrated orange juice market. Meanwhile, Beaks is stuck in a cage with that senator to be from Minnesota and some long-too-lonely silverback.
As I ride the Amtrak New Year's eve party train today, I reflect on how fortunate we are to have averted a major crisis. I know things are turning around. Yes, things got pretty bad in 2008. Financial markets collapsed. Autombile manufacturers stepped one foot closer to oblivion. The governor of Illinois under a cloud of, ahem, scrutiny, ahem, named a replacement for Barack Obama. But we did avert one major crisis: Time Warner and Viacom kissed and made up.
Thanks to a midnight deal, TWC and Viacom came together to ensure that the public didn't lose 19 of our most important sources of information. It's hard to welcome in a new year when you stress about whether you will ever see another episode of "A shot of love with Tila Tequila" or "Manswers" or "Mind of Mencia". I mean, really, I was holding my breath. How would I survive without watching another episode of the "Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders: Making the Team" or "The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search"? The future was so hazy, even Yoda couldn't have divined the outcome.
Viacom was accused of highway robbery by demanding a 12% increase in fees. Time Warner, protecting the rights of its consumers, argued that they didn't want to have to pass on the costs to their customers.
For me, it's actually a rather philosophical debate. You have Viacom holding a lot of cards, exerting pressure on TW. For example, with 19 channels, that's a significant chunk of any cable operator's lineup. And to top that off, with satellite, Uverse, internet, and other modes of communication, Viacom had the wherewithal to press a tough deadline on TWC. But is any of that unfair? I don't think so. Certainly TW is concerned about increased costs, and cable is certainly cheaper overall. But does that mean TW should be threatening that it will pass the 12% increase onto consumers? Well, it certainly scares customers, doesn't it? Too bad there's nothing that can be done about that. Cable companies are granted monopolies, and spend a lot of money lobbying to get things their way. So in the end they have sole access to municipal infrastructure. They had until recently little or no competition. To an extent, I'd say quit your whining. Yeah, cable is still cheaper, and as a cable subscriber I'd love to keep it that way. But with that monetary savings comes little competition and lots of differences in services over which consumers have little or no control. Case in point: mystro. Mystro is the new cable box interface that was dumped on SE wisconsin digital boxes. To put it bluntly, even now, over a year after getting dumped on with it, Mystro sucks. Enuff said on that. Cable subscribers want more than cheap service. They want good service. And when quality declines, a provider loses its moral high ground.
Perhaps, to settle this dispute, both sides finally thought outside of the cable box. But it is you and I who will still get stuck with the bill.