EJM Designs Limited Blog

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Time Warner Cable: You Call That PR?

Time Warner is having some negotiation issues with channel providers. It's not new; it happens because everyone wants more for less. This round of cooperation turned into much less and led to a few channel blackouts. Okay, we understand.

But then I got this email from Time Warner. See if you can spot the terrible copywriting that stinks of an angst-ridden, petulant tween blogger:

On July 9, 2012 Hearst Television chose to black out their signals from Time Warner Cable customers rather than continue negotiations, and despite their CEO saying just two weeks earlier that broadcaster blackouts are unfair to consumers.


Q: Why is this happening again? It seems like this happens all the time.
A: Unfortunately, these kinds of disputes have become more common over the past few years. Cable TV prices are rising and one cause is higher fees being demanded by greedy broadcasters – as their advertising dollars decline, they want cable customers to make up the difference. And if we don't agree to their outrageous demands, they take away their programming. We don't think it's fair for TV stations to hold programming hostage for our customers, and we are working hard to keep the programming on our lineup while also trying to hold down the cost of TV.

Q: Why shouldn't I just go ahead and switch to DirecTV/Dish/FIOS/AT&T now?
A: Switching makes no sense; most of these contract blackouts are over within a matter of days. But switching isn't really the answer — any provider you switch to may eventually face the same kind of blackout threats. In fact, the American Television Alliance reports that broadcasters have blacked out signals in nearly 100 different cities since January 2011, with customers of DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T U-Verse, Verizon FIOS and other major cable companies suffering actual or threatened blackouts. We think blackouts are unfair to viewers, which is why we continue to negotiate hard on your behalf to try to keep prices down.

Q: Will you be crediting me for the channel(s) that go dark?
A: Remember that customers do not pay for channels on an individual basis — they pay for a package of channels plus the technology and service required to deliver those channels. So we do not typically offer a credit for channels that have been blacked out.

This is considered Public Relations? This isn't even high-school level persuasive writing. "Greedy broadcasters?" "Outrageous demands?" So, being the gadfly I am, I went to Time Warner Cable's website and submitted a query along those lines: Was it really a good idea to take a serious issue with many facets and turn it childish and churlish in an open letter to all of your customers?

I even received a timely response. Tell me if this sounds familiar (emphasis mine):

On July 9, 2012 Hearst Television, the owner of several stations in our Midwest Market and one station in Hawaii, chose to black out their signals from our customers rather than continue negotiations - despite their CEO saying just two weeks earlier that broadcasters? blackouts are unfair to consumers.

Time Warner Cable is always negotiating new contracts with TV stations and networks. We've reached hundreds of agreements with other broadcasters without public dispute, and what Hearst is demanding is out of line.

We think it's wrong to put viewers in the middle of business negotiations. We know our customers are tired of these public contract disputes-and so are we.

Unfortunately, instead of continuing negotiations Hearst TV has chosen to black out there signals from our customers. They are demanding a 250% fee increase for the exact same programming, most of which is available for free over the air or online. We don't think that's fair.

There is more, but I think a rehash with spelling errors is enough to get the point across.

Time Warner has its issues (with cable and internet and customer service), but I've never seen both an angry PR letter and a customer service response that was so obviously ignorant of the original communication. They literally responded to a concerned message about an unprofessional communication with another unprofessional communication. When I posed this question to their Facebook page, my post was quickly deleted.

I'm not interested in an apology or creating a mess for them when they're already dealing with one. More than anything, this is a teaching moment:
  1. If you're sending out a mass email to your customers that deals with a topic you are no happy with, argue your point with the facts, not name-calling invective. You will appear the petty fool and nothing more; you've already lost.
  2. If you are offering to receive emails from customers and respond to their concerns, read their emails. Respond appropriately. And check your grammar.

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