But What If I Want You To 'Roll Over?'

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Time Warner Cable is hosting a Soviet-style election.

Its new Web site, Rolloverorgettough dot com,  has drawn more than 400,000 visitors, gathered more than 130,000 comments and more than 95% of the votes so far have encouraged TWC to “get tough” on programming increases rather than “roll over.” So said CEO Glenn Britt in a release, adding “our customers clearly agree that the current programming business model is broken.” Many commenters say they’d like the option to buy smaller packages of channels. “As an industry we need to listen to these kinds of concerns.”

Agreed. But the hilarious part — which at least two commenters on our Web site have already pointed out — is that the Web site also has two vote buttons. One says “Get Tough,” the other says “Roll Over.” But if you click on “Roll over,” the vote doesn’t go through that way. There’s some text that explains rolling over means cable bills will go up. Instead you’re offered a second chance to push the “Get Tough” button.

I’ve asked TWC to address this and will update this post if they do. Update: a TWC spokesman says if you hit “Roll Over” and enter a comment it counts as a vote the same as if you vote “Get Tough.” So TWC just gets a second bite at the apple to persuade you to vote for “Get Tough.” Confusing? I’d say so.

No doubt TWC faces tough decisions on programming costs, which analysts predict will spike for the cable operator this year, between retransmission payments to broadcasters, proposed regional sports network hikes and other factors. As Mike Reynolds noted in our first report on the TWC site,

“Time Warner Cable has been engaged in a long-running dispute with NFL Network, which remains on its distribution sideline over pricing and positioning issues. Perhaps more pressing is an array of expiring contracts with various Fox properties, many of which were set to conclude at the close of 2008, but were tabled until this year. According to sources, some of the properties involve include: FX, Fuel, Speed, Fox Soccer Channel, and a number of its regional sports networks. Moreover, Time Warner Cable faces retransmission-consent negotiations with Fox Broadcasting.”

TWC also faces tough competition, such as from Verizon FiOS in Manhattan, where I live.

Today, the FCC is expected to begin discussion on eliminating the so-called terrestrial loophole that allows cable operators to withhold some programming from satellite and phone company video providers if it is distributed by fiber and not by satellite. If and when that happens, it eliminates a key competitive advantage TWC and Cablevision have in New York: HD versions of Cablevision’s MSG channels.

All that’s to say, Time Warner Cable doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to pass along big rate increases and wants to enhance its ability to tell the public: we had to drop or refuse to add this programming in order to keep your rates low. It needs political leverage with which to “Get Tough” with programmers. (Programmers reply: As if the house that Fred Dressler built hasn’t always been tough!)

Still, just for fun, I’d have liked to vote “Roll Over.” The contrarian in me just couldn’t resist voting “Roll Over.”

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