Here's the emotion that Sunday's boring Super Bowl managed to stoke: the irritation Time Warner Cable subscribers are feeling for the cable company.
And here's the surprising news: The cable company fell on its sword. Kind of. Time Warner Cable announced Monday that it would provide a $5 gift card to subscribers who don't have digital cable and could only watch the game on a standard definition channel. But even the subscribers who have digital TV — the majority — and so watched the game on a high-definition channel get something: credit for the cost of an on-demand movie once it is purchased.
"Although most of our customers didn't experience an interruption, we want to express our sincere apologies to all Time Warner Cable TV customers in the Los Angeles area," said Deborah Picciolo, senior vice president of operations at Time Warner Cable, in a statement. "We didn't live up to our standards for a quality customer experience. We know there's no way to undo the inconvenience of last night's outage, and we want them to know how truly sorry we are for this issue."
Not only did viewers miss a chunk of the second and third quarters, they missed the halftime show (Bruno Mars was spectacular — or so they were told) and the clever commercials. However, service was restored in time for them to see a commercial from Time Warner boasting of soon-to-be enhanced service. "Whatever you are passionate about, Time Warner Cable invents ways for you to enjoy it even better," the ad said. A similar ad on the cable company's website exulted: "Welcome to the new world of entertainment."
Subscribers railed at the self-promotion. "You cannot be serious posting this right now," wrote one on Time Warner's Facebook page. "Good lord, tone deaf much?"
Soon all subscribers will have to have digital cable boxes. (That's "the new world" Time Warner is talking about.)
But overall, Time Warner has not had a very good season, at least not from a public relations point of view. Late in the summer, the cable giant's bitter, protracted fight with CBS over retransmission fees led to a monthlong blackout of CBS and Showtime channels. In that fight between media behemoths, the viewers were the collateral damage. Now, there's the unintended Super Bowl blackout.
It's not that unusual to have a cable outage, but this one happened with spectacularly bad timing. According to Time Warner spokesman Dennis Johnson, the problem was a piece of equipment that processes video signals. "We had teams of engineers working throughout the telecast and they restored the signal as quickly as they could," he said in an email.
Even if this wasn't a case of incompetence, it just rubbed raw subscribers who already feel bruised paying high prices for a cable service from a company with a monopoly on that service in their area. The cable industry in general is notoriously bad at customer service. And as cable companies grow bigger and bigger, which Time Warner is expected to do, they tend to get more remote from their customers.
Going all digital will indeed give Time Warner a more reliable platform. But Time Warner could use a charm offensive in Southern California. The $5 credit is a good start.