TWC to Offer Free TV Antennas In CBS Blackout Markets

Time Warner Cable on Friday will start to offer free TV antennas to customers who are affected by the MSO’s ongoing retransmission dispute with CBS. As another option, the MSO has also partnered with Best Buy to give customers affected by the blackout the opportunity to purchase antennas at a discount.

According to an advertisement/open letter to TWC customers from CEO Glenn Britt, the MSO will begin to make antennas available “so you can watch CBS shows over-the-air.”

“We are trying to strike a balance between our desire to restore the channels as soon as possible and our responsibility to all of our customers to hold down the rising cost of TV,” Britt explained in the letter. “We are trying to strike a balance between our desire to restore the channels as soon as possible and our responsibility to all of our customers to hold down the rising cost of TV.”

The MSO has also extended the antenna offer in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis., where Time Warner Cable and Journal Broadcasting Group are locked in a separate retransmission battle.

TWC, in a web posting that details the antenna program, the MSO notes that it has a "limited quantity of basic indoor antennas available to pick up for free, for customers at our TWC retail locations in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles/Desert Cities, New York City, plus Milwaukee and Green Bay in Wisconsin." TWC is limiting the offer to one antenna per customer "while supplies last."

In partnership with Best Buy, select retail stores will provide $20 vouchers that can be used toward the purchase of any in-stock broadcast antenna.

According to Best Buy’s Web site, the retailer sells several models, including an outdoor HDTV antenna from Audiovox for $50.99, and indoor and outdoor models from Terk that go for $47.99 and $80.99, respectively. Earlier this month, Radio  Shack said purchases of HD antennas and related products were up “double digits” in three markets affected by the blackout when compared to sales in prior weeks.

The antenna giveaway and Best Buy partnership mark the latest tactic TWC has put in play to help soften the blow of the ongoing dispute with CBS, which affects 3.2 million TWC customers in eight markets, including Dallas, New York and Los  Angeles.  CBS cable channels Showtime, TMC, Flix and the Smithsonian Channel have also gone dark across TWC’s 12-million sub footprint, as well as systems owned by Bright House Networks. Soon after the blackout took effect on August 2, CBS opted to block TWC’s high-speed subs from accessing full episodes of CBS shows via the Web.

Among other gestures to customers during the blackout, TWC is also offering Starz Kids and Starz Family premium channels to affected subscribers on a temporary basis, and will offer the Tennis Channel to its digital customers as a freeview during the U.S. Open, beginning August 26. The MSO is also offering affected subs a movie-on-demand coupon or an Amazon gift card, and is sending emails and postcards with instructions on how customers can redeem them.

In the letter, Britt said the MSO will stand firm in its negotiations with CBS. “If we agreed to every outrageous demand made by every television network, cable TV bills would skyrocket. We know you think they’re high enough already,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Verizon Communications, a TWC competitor, has found common ground with CBS before its existing retrans deal with the broadcaster was set to expire at the end of the year.

On Thursday, the telco announced a deal with CBS that covers the CBS-owned stations that are not being carried by TWC. As reported, CBS CEO Les Moonves, in a letter to staff, said TWC “is demanding different terms than any other company in the business. I am frankly mystified by what appears to be a lack of urgency to resolve this matter for their customers.”