The feud between Time Warner Cable and CBS recently entered its fourth week, prompting Time Warner to take the unusual step of offering customers in Los Angeles and other blacked-out cities a free indoor TV antenna.
Free stuff! Woo-hoo!!
Oh, wait. The offer wouldn't restore the (comparative) bliss subscribers enjoyed before the Aug. 2 blackout because a) an antenna can't tune in Showtime; b) it won't help people who live outside the effective broadcasting range of the local CBS-owned stations; c) the antenna won't work with Time Warner's DVRs; and d) the offer is good for only one antenna (or coupon to purchase one at BestBuy), which means it will bring CBS to only one TV at a time.
Plus, antennas don't go well with most living rooms' decor.
I write all this as someone with three antennas currently in use inside my home -- one attached to each of our two TVs and another connected to the computer that acts as our DVR. So I'm a big fan of antennas. I'm also (ahem) well outside the mainstream among TV viewers.
Nevertheless, Time Warner's move strikes me as risky because it invites people to go back to the future. By hooking up a pair of rabbit ears, many people will get their first glimpse at home of free TV in glorious high definition. Over-the-air HDTV is an impressive sight, provided you can tune it in.
And once people see that, they might just explore how much they could find from sources other than conventional pay-TV providers. For less than what they might spend on a month of cable, they could invest in a Roku box or an Internet-capable Blu-ray disc player that gives them access to a wide assortment of programming on demand. Or they could connect a PC with a built-in TV tuner card to their TV to act as a combination Internet portal and DVR.
Granted, much of the best stuff online carries a price tag, but it's possible to put together a hefty package of programming for far less than $50 a month.
But what do you think about Time Warner Cable's offer? Take our not remotely scientific poll, leave a comment or do both.
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