Thursday, July 29, 2010

29 JUL 10: Free to See, You and Me

Be advised - today's post may contain what the late Paul Harvey called "a little bit more than I know." We tried to get some solid information about this topic, but didn't find much. But that doesn't stop a lot of political bloggers, so it might be good enough for me....

For the first time since last year's "Big Switch," warning messages are appearing across the screen on WTVM and WXTX. They warn the stations could disappear from Mediacom Cable Friday. I knew the summer heat was bad, but you don't expect TV stations to evaporate like this.

The warning messages say Mediacom's contract to carry WTVM and WXTX has expired. The cable company is showing the stations through Friday -- but if contract details aren't worked out by then, the stations could go off the box. And "America's Most Wanted" criminals could stay on the loose for years to come.

What's behind this Columbus TV standoff? Alas, that proved to be the problem Wednesday. First I called WTVM General Manager Lee Brantley, at the "Hey Lee" number which actually does reach his office. But my message was not returned -- almost as if Brantley fears I might return to see him someday.

Then I called the Mediacom contact number shown on its website. After only a couple of phone key presses, I talked to a real person in the cable TV area. I suppose we should declare Mediacom the upset winner in customer service right there, and move on....

But anyway: the Mediacom operator said he had no special notices about possible changes in Columbus TV service. Perhaps the news about WTVM and WXTX hasn't reached the Mediacom call center yet. After all, it took local stations four days to discover a giant marriage proposal above the 13th Street Viaduct.

The most detailed explanation of this standoff comes not from Columbus, but Albany. The big TV station there indicates Raycom Media is in negotiations with Mediacom about all its stations nationwide. WALB's contract runs out in December. In Columbus, we've gone to "extra time" -- and things could end with a penalty kick-off of programming.

(WALB apparently is displaying warning messages as well - five months before the Mediacom contract expires. Perhaps there's a well-coordinated deal to sell broadcast antennas at Best Buy.)

The Albany explanation includes everything but what Raycom Media and Mediacom are negotiating. I think the answer to that is simple - money. The cable company really doesn't care whether Barbara Gauthier or Semone Doughton anchors the 6:00 p.m. news.

Once upon a time, cable TV companies offered local broadcast stations to customers as a public service. But many stations have decided if cable is going to pay fees to show networks such as ESPN and MTV, they should pay to show local programs as well. No, I do NOT think that's how WTVM's "Share the Wealth" campaign started.

Some cable companies have tried to resist paying retransmission fees. Cable TV of East Alabama sent its own warning messages to subscribers three years ago - and WTVM was inundated over Memorial Day weekend with angry calls and e-mails. But the cable company eventually gave in [1 Jun 07], as the thought of showing Montgomery's ABC affiliate was too hard to bear.

At this point, it appears Mediacom Cable is taking a low-key approach to the negotiations with WTVM and WXTX. After all, if the operators aren't telling customers Lee Brantley is the greediest man since Bernard Madoff....

But Raycom Media's on-screen messages might be seen as something more than informational. News anchor Jason Dennis admitted on his Twitter feed Wednesday he's been looking for an excuse to switch from Mediacom to satellite TV. Normally men only care about "dishes" when they're at the kitchen sink after dinner.

Of course, some of us have no Animal Planet dog in this media fight. I still have basic broadcast TV at home, and that's good enough for me. The programs on eight stations are free. And I think the women in my church congregation come much closer to being "Real Housewives."

Let's switch off the set now, and check some Wednesday news clippings....

+ The high temperature in Columbus was 96 degrees F. That was down a bit from recent days, yet WTVM notes Columbus could wind up with the hottest July on record. You KNOW it's hot when you leave a bag of popcorn in your car at the start of the workday, and it's popped by lunchtime.

+ A Columbus assistant city attorney told WRBL Battalion Chief Janice Bruner never contacted city affirmative action officers about her issues with Fire/EMT directors. Considering it took Bruner 13 months to file a fair treatment report over screws in her tires, maybe she's simply too busy doing her job.

+ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution checked divorce records, and found Georgia Attorney General candidate Preston Smith admitted in court to an adulterous affair with a staff member. If Smith wins the Republican runoff, Ken Hodges obviously won't have to change his "prosecutor, not a politician" slogan.

+ Authorities in Pinson, Alabama reported they discovered a methamphetamine lab operating behind a produce stand. That wasn't juice from the oranges keeping customers healthy - it was the well-hidden cough syrup.

+ Columbus Northern stayed unbeaten in the Georgia Little League baseball tournament by mauling Martinez-Evans 15-5. Someday I'll find out once and for all if that city near Augusta is pronounced MAR-ti-nez or Mar-TEE-nez. Maybe it was founded by the same people who founded Buena Vista.

(WRBL noted the Northern game was delayed when the sprinklers at Double Churches Park came on unexpectedly. So how many parents tried to rush onto the field to cool off?)

+ Instant Message to Heath Jackson of WBOJ-FM "88.5 The Truth": I heard you mention Wednesday was National Milk Chocolate Day. But here's my question -- why? Do Hershey's and Nestle really want their chocolate bars to melt, while I drive them home from the store in midsummer?

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