Executives from CBS and Time Warner Cable were grilled Thursday by an angry New York City Council about their distribution dispute that has left consumers there and around the country without access to the network's programming.
"We're not here to judge who's good and who's bad, we're here for our constituents," said Mark Weprin, chairman of the council's Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee. "We've got to stop pointing fingers, we don't think either one of you is right."
Weprin's remarks were echoed by several other members of the council.
"You two guys are sitting here fighting with each other about your profit margins," said Brooklyn Councilman Lewis Fidler.
The grilling in New York came as Time Warner Cable customers in Los Angeles and Dallas also contend with the blackout of CBS programming.
More than 1 million Time Warner Cable subscribers in the Los Angeles area have lost access to KCBS-TV Channel 2 and such hit series as “Under the Dome,” as well as local news and sports, including Dodger games, on KCAL-TV Channel 9. So far, though, the Los Angeles City Council has not scheduled any hearings on the fight.
In New York, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a mayoral candidate, scolded both sides, saying, “It is time that CBS and Time Warner Cable both recognize that they have responsibilities to the public — the public trust — and New Yorkers deserve better than to be caught in the middle of their corporate dispute.”
Quinn went on to say that CBS's offer to keep its signal on Time Warner Cable while negotiations resumed was likely little more than a poison pill of sorts.
"There was not a guarantee that if Time Warner kept CBS on the air that CBS wold not threaten to pull its broadcast later when it would be more advantageous to them, such as the beginning of football season," she said.
Quinn also chided Time Warner Cable for its offer to carry CBS on an a la carte basis and let subscribers pay for the service separately from the rest of their pay-TV package similar to how networks such as HBO are sold.
"That's not an offer. That is a prescription for failure and subscribers deserve to have all local broadcast channels included as part of their basic subscription," she said.
Quinn, along with Weprin and council member Daniel Garodnick, chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, also wrote the Federal Communications Commission urging it to investigate the dispute and to facilitate an agreement. The FCC has typically steered clear of these distribution fights.
The dispute has big ramifications in New York City because it is election season and WCBS-TV Channel 2 there is a popular television station for candidates to run commercials on.
The two companies also blamed each other for the standoff during the hearing. However, CBS Executive Vice President Martin Franks did say negotiations are ongoing.
Franks was asked by a council member why CBS had also blocked Time Warner Cable broadband subscribers access to its website where many of its shows are available for viewing.
"We have no public obligation to make that content universally available over the Internet," Franks said, adding, "we are not going to give Time Warner Cable the opportunity to evade the consequences of their blackout by taking advantage of our online offerings."
The signals of CBS-owned TV stations and cable channels came off of Time Warner Cable on Friday afternoon in several markets around the country. In Los Angeles, KCBS-TV Channel 2 and KCAL-TV Channel 9 are both dark in over 1 million Time Warner Cable homes here. Also pulled down was Showtime, the pay-TV channel CBS owns.
The two sides are bickering over terms of a new distribution deal. CBS feels it is underpaid and is seeking a significant increase in the fees it gets from Time Warner Cable to carry its channels.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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