/ And the Oscar Goes to…the FCC?

For many Cablevision patrons, Sunday was a day filled with several stages of emotion, to say the least. Subscribers got wind that the Disney-ABC/Cablevision deal was far from finalized at midnight on March 6th, when Cablevision’s contract with ABC expired. This meant that WABC Channel 7 would be unavailable to customers until negotiations were finalized…and also meant that the 82nd Academy Awards would be nothing more than a blank screen on customers’ TVs.

Thanks to the age of virtual media, all was not lost to customers who took the time and savvy to search for alternatives. You had the option to purchase a Digital-to-Analog TV converter box ($60 at Best Buy for the NS-DXA1 model) and antenna to tap into the free ABC station using the old-fashioned method. Or you could have looked at the Associated Press’ livestream of the Oscar red carpet online and read their live blogs about the awards (note: the AP did not have the rights to broadcast the actual Oscars; you would have been privy to newsfeed that had a 2-3 second delay), which is all very well and good — if you’re not a diehard Oscars fan.

But the majority of the 3.1 million customers serviced by Cablevision were beyond irate and other cable networks like Time Warner sent a letter to their customers assuring them that their ABC service was not ‘yet’ at risk.

There has been so much back and forth about the Disney-ABC/ Cablevision fiasco: Disney says Cablevision owes them $40 million under an agreement and the latter still has yet to pay; the Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the number could be in the neighborhood of $1 per subscriber per month. The bottom line is that the customer doesn’t care about these nuances because he or she just wants what is being paid for: the channels.

To say this is extremely poor publicity for Cablevision would be an understatement (I cannot imagine how many last-minute calls were made by angry customers to Verizon FiOS, requesting an impromptu change). And this isn’t the first time Cablevision has dropped channels. Remember, that The Food Network and the HGTV channels disappeared last January because of a contract dispute with Scripps Network Interactive? The reason for that drop was that Scripps is in a financial mess and Cablevision was unable to reach a ‘reasonable’ agreement with the network. Time Warner had a similar problem with Scripps, but they were able to offer these two channels under a temporary agreement while negotiations continued.

While corporate America continues to thrive on greed, companies need to be careful not to destroy their public image and reputation. For a cable company to play Scrooge and sacrifice customer service on the day of the Oscars was a ballsy move and I’m suspecting Cablevision restored service at the last minute because of the large volume of irate customer calls, virtual backlash and dropout rates.

In the end, the Oscar in this mess has to go to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who has been in touch with both companies during this dispute. In a statement on Sunday morning, the FCC said, “Consumers should not suffer due to the inability of these two companies to successfully negotiate a deal.”

Someone should have given the FCC a gold statue during the 82nd Awards Ceremony for acknowledging the needs of the consumer. Let us never forget how inexplicably linked a company’s brand and image are to public perception and customer satisfaction.

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