CBS and affiliated channels have been blocked out for nearly two weeks for Time Warner Cable subscribers, and though a group of Southern California residents are stepping up to sue, talk of the conflict has been, for the most part, surprisingly quiet.
Three Southern California residents have filed a suit against Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that they bought TWC with the promise of CBS-owned channels, including Showtime, and are seeking reimbursement for their subscription fees. "The courtesy replacement programming," the suit says, per Alex Ben Block at The Hollywood Reporter, "is not a reasonable substitute for programing blacked out, as it does not include a fungible offering of programs relative to CBS and Showtime."
But while that group is complaining, the fight over fees has largely retreated from the news cycle. The blackout has been seen as a minor annoyance, not a major problem. Though the blackout has caused viewers to miss (and pirate) programs like Under the Dome, Dexter, and the PGA Championship, many savvy TWC subscribers have figured out ways to (legally) get around the problem. And of course that the blackout is taking place in the summer makes the problem feel less urgent. The onslaught of fall programming and the NFL regular season will likely change that. Greg Sandoval wrote at the Verge that analyst Rich Greenfield explained "that TWC will buckle if [CBS CEO Les] Moonves can hold out until the NFL regular season begins."
While it may be a headache for viewers, the blackout is ultimately not doing that much damage to CBS. Ryan Faughnder at the Los Angeles Times wrote Tuesday that for the first full week of the blackout, Nielsen reported that CBS was the highest rated and most watched network, beating NBC by over one million viewers. Though local CBS stations were hurt, CBS is managing to save face on a national level.
It's hard to know where negotiations stand at this point. Block at The Hollywood Reporter reported Friday that CBS and TWC kind of resumed negotiations. "They are not actually sitting in a room together, but apparently are trading messages and ideas in other ways," Block wrote. "Sources close to the talks suggest they aren't really making much progress but rather are doing this for political reasons." FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has said she would step in if necessary. Shortly after the blackout was instated, TWC CEO Glenn Britt suggested offering CBS stations on an a la carte basis; CBS essentially scoffed at the proposal.
So what does it all mean? Well, not a lot, according to The Wall Street Journal's Holman W. Jenkins Jr. "The real question is whether cable's channel-bundling middleman role will go away quickly or slowly," he wrote. As our Rebecca Greenfield reported last week, pay TV is shrinking, meaning that in the long run the TWC and CBS fight may be a battle over an obsolete concept.