Customers Caught in TWC-CBS Fight

Customer Strategy
Customer Service
When Time Warner blacked out CBS last week, millions of subscribers were left without the availability of some channels, negatively impacting the customer experience.

Customers have high expectations. But sometimes they just expect what they were promised, what they are, after all, paying for. What customers certainly don't want is to be caught in the middle between two companies.But that's what happened to around 3 million Time Warner Cable customers in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas as the cable company blacked out CBS, leaving paying subscribers without a number of CBS-owned and managed channels, including Showtime, which airs the popular Sunday evening shows Dexter and Ray Donovan.

I'm one of the impacted customers and found out on Sunday when my husband changed the channel to Showtime and we were faced with this notice:

The problem revolves around transmission fees. But do customers care? After all, when they signed on for Time Warner, the expectation was for a number of channels to be available. As The New York Times notes "people don't like to be told they can't watch CBS because Time Warner Cable doesn't want them to."

Time Warner is offering customers alternate channels "on a temporary basis." But even that isn't available in all areas. Even then, it's not what customers expect. It's like ordering a steak at a restaurant and being served a hamburger--it might still be good but not what you ordered.

When Time Warner recommended that customers sign up for Aereo, an $8 monthly service that allows customers to stream live broadcast television on Internet-connected devices, it felt like the cable company was rubbing salt into the wound. Even though Aereo offers the first month for free, it feels like Time Warner is telling customers to pay more for something that should be offered by the cable provider.

While negotiations are still underway between Time Warner and CBS, customers have been left stewing. And we might be losing more channels as, according to the New York Daily News, Time Warner posted a legal notice in newspapers saying that its deals with more than 50 channels are due to expire, and the company might have to "cease carriage of one or more of these....stations in the near future."

For me personally, this comes at a time when my patience with Time Warner is already being tested. Our Internet connection, which is also provided by Time Warner, has been spotty over the past weeks, dropping numerous times during a single day. Two technicians have been sent to check whether the problem is coming from our system, only to find nothing wrong. Both times we were told that construction in the neighborhood is impacting the connection and Time Warner, which I have to say is very efficient on Twitter, promised to "adjust our bill to reflect the down time" once the issue is resolved.

Until it is, I'm left paying a hefty monthly bill for Internet and television but not getting what I was expecting. I'm actually regretting not taking my husband's suggestion to switch to another provider that serves our building when we first experienced Internet problems several months ago. Others impacted by the CBS blackout might be thinking about doing the same, so Time Warner needs to find a proper solution at the earliest.

The bottom line is that customers shouldn't be caught in the middle of an argument between two companies, especially when they're paying for a service. This isn't simply about missing a favorite show--it's about customers knowing that the companies they do business with live up to their expectations.