OFF THE GRID

My Mother Wants Her Food Network!

Jan 4, 10 | 7:53 AM   byMichael Wolff
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My mother’s lost the Food Network.

She is 84, her feet hurt, she no longer drives (thank goodness), and the weather is too bad to go outside, and now she find herself the victim of the war between Cablevision, which provides her cable service, and Scripps, which distributes the Food Network.

Cablevision and Scripps were unable to come to an agreement about how much Cablevision should pay Scripps to carry the Food Network (as well as Scripps’ other channels, including Home & Garden). So that’s it for the older women in Northern New Jersey and Long Island—there goes their Food Network. “We wish Scripps well and have no expectation of carrying their programming again,” said a Cablevision spokesperson, who is either heartless or playing hardball.

Cable brinksmanship is suddenly a new paradigm. Fox and Time Warner Cable went down to the wire the other day, with Time Warner taking full-page ads accusing Fox (or its parent, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.) of extorting Time Warner. It all feels like the labor-management disputes of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The content providers are going on strike.

The pressure is certainly on. Cablevision hopes Scripps will shortly feel the squeeze of losing lots of major-market households. Scripps is hoping that my mother and her many irate friends will besiege Cablevision and, as well, their congressmen and the local government authorities who granted Cablevision their franchise.

Anyway, what we should all take note of is that the media system is straining and perhaps falling apart. Everybody is making less money and wants more.

These kind of business disputes go on all the time, but seldom—not since the great age of industrial conflict—do they so directly involve nor are they so nakedly exposed to the consumer.

In this regard, I would not want to be in the cable business. It’s not so great to be in any business which seems stubbornly and intractably not to want to give its customers what they want. And television shows are not just brands to be replaced; rather, they become like members of the family. Or worse, cable providers are like utilities suddenly shutting off the heat to their customers.

Still, I feel the cable system’s pain, too, as it faces imminent and aggressive disintermediation from new technologies. I will shortly be showing my mother other avenues to the Food Network (this will not be great for the Food Network, which, via the Internet, will now make much less, or even nothing, off of my mother).

Anyway, welcome to the next chapter of media breakdown. As in labor disputes, it will shortly seem like social breakdown, all the things we depend on suddenly stopping, a steady background noise of media skirmishes, conflict, wars, with the content creators and the distributors drawing the remaining blood from each other.

Meanwhile, my mother really does need her Food Network.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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