National Consumers League

Narrow New Year's Day Escape from Blank TV Screens


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director Talk about “brinksmanship.” This past week we saw an extreme example when Time Warner Cable and Fox almost failed to come to an agreement for recarriage of Fox content on the Time Warner Cable network. Had the parties not met the December 31st deadline—as Fox was demanding greater compensation from Time Warner for its New Year’s football and other programming, and Time Warner was asking that the parties go to binding arbitration—starting immediately with New Year’s Day programming, millions of Time Warner Cable customers would have lost access to the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl, as well as NFL playoff games. Prior to last year’s digital transition, many consumers were able to put up rabbit ear antennas to receive programming. Senator John Kerry, as Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communication, Technology, and the Internet, took the lead in calling for a resolution of the standoff. Senator Kerry said last week, “We do not want consumers waking up on the first day of the New Year wanting to watch football and instead finding that they have to take a trip to the electronics store to purchase a digital receiver in the hope that they receive a clear over the air signal.” Senator Kerry, who has been a good friend to consumers throughout his tenure in the Senate, made this statement: “I have sought to place the interests of consumers at the center of our work. If both parties conclude that the best alternative to a negotiated agreement is to have screens go dark for consumers, then they will have neglected the core interests of the millions of households that subscribe to Time Warner Cable in affected markets. As leaders of major companies that are FCC licensees and are obligated to serve the public interest, I hope and expect that you will resolve this matter consistent with those obligations.” Well, Senator Kerry got his New Year’s wish. His staff also reached out to the National Consumers League and we issued a statement of support on New Year’s eve, as did others, including Public Knowledge and the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC.