The International Writers Magazine: Reality Check + Readers Letters
Consumer vs. Cablevision Vs. News Corp
One Man's Journey Into the Conglomerate Abyss
For those not at the mercy of Cablevision's stranglehold on cable television provisions up here in the northeast, it is important to begin this week with what corporate shenanigans have been transpiring over the past fourteen days.
News Corp, which owns the Fox Network, has pulled its product from Cablevision because it maintains that not only has the cable provider asked to pay a bundled discount for content without paying for the full package, but Cablevision has charged its customers, of which I am one, for said content without forwarding a substantial portion of these charges into the News Corp. bank account. News Corp. also argues that these alleged charges are not attached to rival ABC, NBC or CBS network programming.
Cablevision responds by claiming it pays a competitive rate to News Corp. for the right to include its stations on the basic cable package and in so doing has already forked over what was negotiated; despite News Corp. whining that it costs considerably more than other networks to produce its "high quality" content.
Cablevision, which has gorged consumers for decades with hidden rate hikes backed by ambiguously half-assed rhetoric, says it does not want to pay News Corp. a dime more than agreed, so as to not have to raise the current rates, thus putting its customers, which again I am one, under siege by a salacious corporate monster, of which, let's face it, Cablevision can consider itself counted.
And although it is propaganda worthy of P.T. Barnum, Cablevision has likely nailed it on the head. I am sure News Corp. is a salacious corporate monster. Problem here is I do not pay a monthly stipend to News Corp. I, as every last Cablevision customer, make out a check payable to Cablevision.
You see where we're going here?
At around the seven-day mark of this stand-off, or about a day or so before we all realized around here the N.Y. Yankees wouldn't be defending its title in this year's World Series -- broadcasted by Fox -- I placed a call to Cablevision customer service. A lovely woman by the name of Roslyn answered.
"Roslyn," I began pleasantly. "How is Cablevision providing a requisite discount for the reduced services this month?"
"Sorry, sir," Roslyn innocently asked; "What services do you mean?"
"I am paying for all the broadcast stations," I explained "And I see you're two short this month, so I would just like to know how Cablevision plans to compensate its customers."
Roslyn, bless her heart, then proceeded to read awkwardly from a prepared script about the ongoing negotiations, a nod to FCC regulations, and a bit on the ideas of "bargaining in good faith". She continued politely, if not disingenuously, to offer a series of canned apologies, which concluded with a promise that when all this is sorted out customers will be duly apprised of the next step.
"Yes," I calmly retorted, "But no matter the outcome, I have been paying full price for an inferior or lesser service for a week's time, and so I expect, as any consumer of any sub-standard service or product would, to receive an equivalent reduction in billing."
Once again, as if I had merely recited the alphabet or sung the final stanza of "Hey Jude" rather than offer a rational argument, Roslyn politely read from her script.
Before she could finish, I inquired as nicely as I could if she would be happy perhaps working an extra four hours a week for the same pay as she now receives, or more to the point, if she would have an issue with her hour lunch breaks being reduced to half an hour with no fair reparations.
"Well sir," she sweetly answered. "That's illegal."
"Ahhhh," I exhaled. "And so wouldn't you agree as the representative of Cablevision currently on this phone line that what your company is doing to its customers is tantamount to the illegality offered in my pithy analogy?"
There was apparently no script for this part, for Roslyn responded with stone silence.
Fearing she had been bludgeoned into unconsciousness by reason, I posed to her one last binding query; "Roslyn, is it Cablevision's official stance that it will charge the same price for less service?"
To her credit, Roslyn exited the logic train here and asked if I'd be more comfortable speaking with management. I agreed it would be best, but alas when she returned she instead gave me the press relations number in Long Island at Cablevision headquarters.
I called that number a day or so later, perhaps the Tuesday of this week, and received assurances from an amiable Lisa that a misters Charlie Shueler Executive VP of Communications and Jim Maiella Vice President of Media Relations Cable & Communications would be contacting me before my noon, Friday deadline.
Nothing by Thursday prompted me to call again. After further assurances from Lisa, the core of which had now begun to resemble the trade value of air, she provided me with the direct number for Mr. Maiella's office. Since Lisa worked for Charles Shueler, you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce this line of pass-the-buck.
Friday morning around nine, I phoned Maiella's office and spoke to his secretary. I could tell by her disappointed tone, she knew right away my identity and purpose, and after putting me on hold, said Maiella was unavailable at the moment, but would call me at home before my deadline.
A half an hour later, I received an e-mail message from Maiella with a series of attached media to outline the company marching orders on the state of Fox, the World Series, general Cablevision propaganda, and probably a lollypop. It read: "James - anything specific I can help you with? Do you have our most recent information/announcements on the Fox matter? Please let me know how we can help."
Not to be too much of a pain, I wrote; "I only need an answer on two issues from a consumer stand point: As a Cablevision customer, as too are many of my readers, I was wondering what plan Cablevision has in place to compensate monetarily or otherwise for this downgrade in service, or to be less pejorative, a lesser service than the one offered prior to Fox pulling its station. Secondly, I would like to know if there is no resolution to this dispute, if there will be an adjustment in the rates. Since as a customer we do not pay News Corp., and care little how the bread is baked, only if it is tasty, then we need some qualification on what will transpire as a result of two weeks of reduced service. Simply, I ask, as my column proffers, 'Is it Cablevision's official stance that there will be no requisite adjustment to the current rates for reduced service?'
I then gave Mr. Maiella a chance to respond without speaking, and so he took it:
"Background information - please don't quote directly, but you can attribute the information to the company - we are obviously public with the MLB.com reimbursement offer but we have not made any announcement related to broader rebates. I would be happy to make sure that you receive any information in that regard when it is available, does that sound fair?"
I did not think it fair, nor do I think you would.
"I would like you to offer something on the record. I pretty much laid out my timeline on contacting Cablevision in the piece and it unfortunately or perhaps fortunately led to you. I think the fair thing for my readers is to have something on the record from someone at the company. If not you, is there anyone who would give me a direct quote, so I can conclude my story? I assure you this is not a hatchet job or an end-around. I simply would like a "Listen, we're through the looking glass here" or "We haven't dealt with" or something. Maybe it is a "stay tuned" situation, which I am sure you are accustomed to, but I need a quote of some kind.
I concluded by asking if he'd like to speak directly.
Nothing until nearly eleven, when I called and caught a none-too-pleased Mr. Maiella, who at first demonstratively asked if this was (using my terminology) a hatchet job -- perfectly describing the timeline story, but couching it in demeaning terms. I had to agree that although it was a "timeline piece" replete with mockery, but it was in my own unique and lovable idiom and without template and hardly an agenda beyond wanting to receive a simple answer.
The length and breadth of our nearly twenty minute discussion had to be off the record --take that how you wish -- in which Mr. Maiella, a pretty stand-up fellow in a pretty damnable situation, tried to make the case that programming costs drive up rates and that Cablevision's phone and internet rates have not increased in seven years. He also basically agreed with some humor that my "baked bread analogy" was apt when considering that if I went to buy a bagel and the baker was selling me half a bagel at the original price to avoid having to charge me twice as much for a full one due to a flour price increase I might be incredulous.
"It doesn't seem like you're getting into the substance of what they want and what we're trying to be more reasonable about," Maiella asked.
"Nope," I said. "Not at all."
At the end of this back-and-forth Maiella agreed to try and get back with more than the basic company line by noon, but if it winds up in a direct quote, then: "We have not made any announcement on rebates, but we'll be in touch with our customers in the future."
I send this to press at 12:29 pm on Friday with no other statement. Information I received some eight days and twelve or so phone calls ago From Roslyn.
And so, we can conclude that it is Cablevision's official policy at this time and place -- not a magical future date and time -- that it will continue to charge its customers the same rate for half a bagel.
© James Campion Oct 29th 2010
READERS RESPONSES Nov 12th 2010
On November 3, two weeks into the Cablevision/News Corp. feud, which blacked out the Fox Network among other channels for over three million paying customers across the east coast, this space ran an investigation into what should rightfully be expected by a drop in service, a Cablevision rebate. Included was a lengthy discussion with the corporation's Vice President of Media Relations Cable & Communications Jim Maiella in which he stated there would be an answer on the issue forthcoming. The day after it ran, the ensuing settlement returned full service, however, as these responses to the piece are sent to press a full two weeks hence, we are still waiting.
I don't know if you addressed the partial payment approach, i.e., pay Cablevision whatever % of the basic service we got this month. I am not a lawyer, but if they cash the check they have accepted what we pay them, and keep shorting them until eventually we quit the service. Let them then come after me for the eventual balance due. Then I will fight it.
Good effort all around, JC, and many thanks from an equally perturbed albeit non-Yankee fan Cablevision customer. May I suggest that we Cablevision customers respectfully decline to pay our full respective Cablevision bills? That we stand unified in subtracting a sum certain to compensate for decreased services? Any takers?
Elizabeth Vengen esq.
Initially I dismissed this article as Rupert's pap could disappear beneath the waves with no discernible impact on my life. But in the gym this morning I overheard two disappointed Yankees fan talk about how much clearer the local channels look on Verizon's competing service. The free market is working in my neck of the woods. I am guessing you have no such choice in your corner that is supposedly part of the Garden State. But if you have the Internet, you can look at ultraconservative news and view sports, just maybe not as it happens. Think of all the stuff you can accomplish when you're not watching Glenn Beck or the Yankees.
Let's not forget that are elected boobs in government, both state and federal, decided that cable companies should have a monopoly in the areas they cover - sorry, but Dish is not a viable alternative for those of us who live amongst the trees - and as a monopoly they can and have gotten away with whatever they want with impunity. Time Warner down here in NC has seen the writing on the wall and has started the nice-nice commercials in the hopes that when the viable alternative that's just around the corner shows up we'll all forget about how they took advantage of us when they were the only fish in the pond. All free market haters out there need to wise up and understand that when you take competition out of the equation bad craziness results. And before anyone jumps to the tired "not enough regulation" rant which usually follows any mention of the phrase "free markets" know this: there's a difference between regulation which simply enforces known rules and regulation that gives arbitrary powers to the government to force others to knuckle under to demands that have nothing to do with the ostensible purposes of the regulation.
It just so happens that Scripps and News Corps provide most of the best content available and News Corps especially has huge viewer ratings.
Cablevision -- which merely owns the cable that delivers the programming and has a monopoly with greater than 20% annual profit margins -- uses the airwaves to demonize content providers who charge more for their products. Cablevision calling News Corps greedy is the pot calling the kettle black. When it comes to greed and consumer rip-offs, they don't get much worse than Cablevision.
Moving from greed to bizarre -- Cablevision thinks companies like News Corps can be treated like management treats recalcitrant unions -- force them into arbitration.
Here's news for ya Cablevision: News Corps sells its products. If you don't want to pay the price, move along.
Not communicating the full rate vs the reduced programming proactively to customers is as criminal as paying increases on real estate taxes in NY when home values go up but not getting a reduction when they go down.
I'm not sure Cablevision wants the term "criminal" circulating around.
When more customers move to FIOS and Direct TV, those companies will have more $ to invest in developing premium services.
Cablevision is 100% wrong in billing customers for services not provided and must give credit for the period of time that they did not provide Fox 5 and refused to renew and pay News Corp. No other cable company seemed to have a problem with News Corp, only greedy Cablevision, which has no respect for customers. I wish we had an alternative to this monopoly greedily managed and controlled by the Dolan Family. Even their stock trades with a Dolan Discount.
People need to stop being so simple minded...Cablevision has 3 million subscribers in a world of over 350 million. If you were to break it down for 2 weeks it's about 3-5 dollars per person. If you're hard up for 3-5 bucks cut your service off cause you have bigger problems. Everyday that passes by I feel worst for what the future bears and its mentality. Read, exercise, do something productive with yourselves...Its not that serious!- Be a blessing in someone's life and if you can't Pray for them. Look at the bigger picture.
As usual, Reality Check has got it right. This is simple Business 101. Our power to negotiate is in what we agree to pay for a product/service. The company decides what it will provide in these areas. We figure whether it is a fair exchange and enter into a fiscal contract, a good faith that the service (in this case) will be provided without interruption or excuses. It is initially about dollars and cents, but in the need it is about principle and what right you have as a consumer to question the validly of the bills you receive commensurate to what you are getting in product/service.
If Cablevision had gotten this right in the first place, which it not and paid dearly in public relations and probably lost in customers, then it would have been ahead of this stating outrage by being held up by Fox News and siding with its customers by giving them a minor discount, which would have seemed much more by the mere gesture. Instead, we get its propaganda on our channels and in the press -- beautifully dissected and blown apart in this column -- and this call to arms against News Corp. Well, if you wanted us to be up in arms, you should have secured us as allies by doing the right thing and throwing your customers a bone instead of peddling a load of crap as answers.
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