Tag Archive | "cablevision"

The Scramble for the Oscars

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At one point on Sunday evening, Bay Street Theatre managing director Gary Hygom found himself surrounded in the booth by would-be Oscar viewers, desperately trying to help Hygom find a live feed able to broadcast the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.

“Everyone had said, you can get it on ABC, you can get it on Hulu,” said Hygom. “But once the event started everything shut down.”

Hygom and the crowd of roughly 100 East End residents gathered at Bay Street for its annual Oscar night broadcast were not alone. An estimated 3.1 million Cablevision subscribers were without WABC/7 at the start of the Oscar telecast after the channel pulled its signal at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning in the midst of a contract dispute with Cablevision.

According to a statement broadcast to Cablevision subscribers days leading up to Sunday’s blackout, Walt Disney Co. was demanding $40 million more in annual fees, over the $200 million Cablevision already pays Disney. Disney released its own statement on the company’s website, arguing that Cablevision charges $18 a month to its customers for basic broadcast signals like ABC, but does not share any of that revenue with the broadcast networks.

After the signal was pulled Sunday morning, Cablevision sent subscribers e-mails detailing where the telecast could be watched via the Internet, and offered free movie rentals from the company’s on-demand movie system. However, several subscribers reported trying to access the free movies, only to find the system was overloaded and the films not available.

At Bay Street, where residents munched on popcorn and sipped wine while watching Hollywood parade down Oscar’s red carpet, several people expressed disdain with the cable provider – some saying the stalemate with ABC may be the last straw for them as Cablevision subscribers.

“It seems like this is all about money and yet we are paying our bills,” said Cynthia Battaglia, the owner of a Sag Harbor-based catering company.

Battaglia said she was at Bay Street specifically because she was without the Oscar telecast, but also bemoaned the possible loss of programs like Lost, and Oprah, as well as Good Morning America and World News Tonight – her two favorite news programs.

Battaglia said this is not the first time she has taken issue with Cablevision and how it handles contract disputes. In January, in the midst of a battle with the Scripps Network, which airs The Food Network and HGTV, those channels were also pulled for three weeks.

“Of course there are two sides to every story,” she said. “But I also think both parties should remember they are in the service industry. If I did this to my clients, I would be out of a job.”

As Battaglia settled in for the Oscar telecast following the red carpet, the screen went dark.

“The funniest thing was the parade of people coming to the booth to give me suggestions,” said Hygom. Finally, two men hailing from Las Vegas, who are able to view their cable television on their iPhone, worked with Hygom to connect the phone to the theatre’s system.

While a third of the theatre’s patrons had already left Bay Street, some finding Oscar solace at The American Hotel, which has Direct TV, Hygom was able to get the telecast up and running, although the image was badly digitized. Wiping his brow, and walking into Bay Street’s lobby, Hygom noticed they were broadcasting a clean telecast of the Academy Awards.

At 8:43 p.m., just before Christoph Waltz took the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance in “Inglorious Basterds,” a deal was inked and ABC was back on-air for Cablevision subscribers. Details about the deal have yet to be released and calls to Cablevision were not returned as of press time.

“Probably around 60 to 70 people stayed all the way through,” said Hygom. “The number of people who came really surprised all of us, especially with everything so up in the air. But we all had a great time. Everyone had fun and was accepting that we might not see it here. It was like we were all working as one big team.”

Cablevision Fees to Increase

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In 2010, Southampton Town residents will notice a slight increase in their Cablevision bills. The Southampton Town Board passed a law on Friday, November 13, raising the Cablevision franchise fees from 4 to 5 percent. These fees are tacked onto Cablevision customers’ monthly bills.

Due to the increase, residents subscribing to basic service will pay an additional 17 cents per month or roughly $2 annually. Customers with the family plan will pay 52 cents per month, or $6.24 per year. IO Silver subscribers should expect an increase of 76 cents per month, or a yearly increase of $9.12. Lastly, clients enrolling in the premium service, IO Gold, will pay a 91 cent raise in monthly fees, or $10.92 for the year.

Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said the town will receive $250,000 in additional revenue from this measure. Although supervisor Linda Kabot was absent on Friday, she has previously remarked that these revenues could re-instate funding for SEA-TV, youth programs and senior services.

Although councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst will officially take office in January of next year, she presided over the town board work session on Friday as supervisor LindaKabot was on vacation. The heavy rain and lousy weather no doubt kept the public at home. Only town employees, with the exception of incoming councilman Jim Malone, attended Friday’s budget hearing.

The hearings regarding the budget and piercing the five percent tax rate increase cap were adjourned until Friday, November 20. The board must file a final budget by then.

Similarly, a resolution allocating $275,000 in funding for video arraignments was tabled until this Friday’s meeting.

Town Tables Cablevision Verdict

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 By Marissa Maier 

 Southampton Town and Cablevision appear to be at an impasse once again over the issue of the availability of local public access TV stations to certain residents. At the town board meeting held on Tuesday, April 28, neither party could agree on how to best accommodate analog customers as the company prepares to transition to “digital only” service.

 After months of back and forth negotiations between the cable provider and the town, Cablevision representative Joan Gilroy said her employer was willing to supply free “cable boxes” to analog households for a 90-day period. The company offered a similar promotion to analog customers in the fall of 2008. Gilroy reported this deal would likely be off the table if the town pursues legal action against Cablevision. Since January, the town has floated the idea of filing a formal complaint with the state public service commission.

 The discord between Cablevision and Southampton began after the company switched the public access channels 20 and 22 from analog to digital on September 15, 2008. Gilroy estimated that of the 24,000 East End subscribers roughly 10 percent still use analog televisions. After the switch, these customers could no longer access the public, educational and government programming found on these channels. In order to get these channels, customers needed a Cablevision converter box or a digital television.

 “Purchasing a digital television is too expensive for [many customers],” Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot wrote to Gilroy on April 8. “Many are elderly; very often their only access to what is happening in local government is through Channel 22.”

 Gilroy reiterated the company’s proposal to offer free converter boxes for a three month period, but town councilwoman Nancy Graboski said this would hardly mitigate the problem. Cablevision would only provide one free box per household, regardless of the number of televisions. If a home had a combination of digital and analog television sets, the residents wouldn’t be eligible for the promotion. Gilroy said Cablevision is exploring offering a second converter box for customers in extenuating circumstances.

 The town previously tabled the issue eight separate times as the board seems divided on the appropriate next step.

 “Are we putting off the inevitable?” asked councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst. “It seems to me this is where technology is moving today … I am concerned that by us stopping the negotiations process at this point [by taking legal action] we are in fact not helping Southampton residents and taking away their opportunity to get a free box.”

 Southampton Town isn’t the only battleground where this issue is being fought. In Dearborn, Michigan a court issued a temporary restraining order against the cable operator Comcast pending a decision from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

 “The FCC is actively reviewing this question — does the cable company have the right to digitize access channels?” said Gilroy.

 Town attorney Dan Adams noted that it is unclear when the FCC will deliver an opinion. The board ultimately decided to table the issue once again and continue negotiations with Cablevision.

 “This has gone on for almost a year … And I am feeling frustrated,” said councilwoman Sally Pope, though she opted to table the issue for the next town board meeting in two weeks. 

May Give Housing Preference to Vets 

A discussion of giving priority to veterans for affordable hosing in the town was one of the lighter notes at the recent board meeting.

 The town has long recognized the need to provide affordable housing for middle and lower-middle income residents. Southampton councilman Chris Nuzzi is hoping to extend the eligible pool of residents for this type of housing to include military veterans.

 The Suffolk County Legislature recently adopted legislation which gives affordable housing preference to military veterans. Southampton Town is following suit and hopes to enact similar code amendments. The town, however, will give preference specifically to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are year round residents. In addition, the veterans must be income-eligible for the program. Those who qualify will be given priority before any open lottery is held for housing. The legislation also authorizes the use of Community Housing Opportunity Funds to make affordable housing properties accessible for disabled veterans. A public hearing on the code amendment is set for Tuesday, May 12.  

Basic Information

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This week we found that many local community groups and village officials are discussing the newly enacted decision by Cablevision to withhold two local channels from the airwaves for those subscribers who only pay for their basic package. The two channels are 20 and 22 — a public access channel and a government channel. We find this — at the very least — disturbing. Cablevision is saying that basic subscribers can get the channels, but for a price. Though the company is willing to provide one free box to each home, residents with more than one television would have to purchase all others — as would schools and hospitals which have multiple sets in multiple rooms.

Are we missing something here? Public access means exactly that. In the case of a public access channel, the public should have the right to view it without the added expense of having to purchase a converter box to gain access to the channel. The other channel at issue is a government channel, one where those in the community can watch the goings-on at the local level through the broadcast of town board meetings and other programming.

Television programming is going digital in 2009, and we could better sympathize with Cablevision’s position if it were unable to provide channels 20 and 22 to basic subscribers because of technical reasons. But their reasoning isn’t technical. It’s financial. By eliminating those two channels, it frees up more bandwidth and allows Cablevision to carry other, more lucrative, offerings. But it is our position that Cablevision should provide access for all Cablevision subscribers — no matter what level package a subscriber pays for.

We like the idea that there are airwaves that belong to the “public” regardless of how much money you have and what you can afford. To restrict those who can’t afford digital television or worse, the elderly, who often cannot figure out how these digital converter boxes work, seems to us, discriminatory.

Nancy Graboski said, in addition, one of the things that is beneficial about the public access channel is that it helps those who may not be able to get to public meetings, feel that they are able to participate.

At it’s basic level, we feel that television has done well in its education and informative role, and when these two channels are taken away — what is left for those with basic packages remains some of the less educational and informational programming — infomercials and home shopping is what immediately comes to mind.

What we learned this week from a Cablevision representative is that only 10 percent of the viewing audience will be affected by this change. Is that all? Just 10 percent? Given the fact that 20 and 22 are the channels that residents are expected to tune to in times of emergencies — hurricanes, blizzards or even manmade disasters, do you think that 10 percent is acceptable? We feel that no one should be excluded and feel pressured into spending more money for this upgrade.

Many rely on public access to understand the immediate world around them, so Cablevision please give us back our channels. Otherwise, we may just have to make sure all those residents who don’t know how to program their TVs or those converter boxes have your phone number close at hand on the day the broadcast world goes digital.

Cablevision Changing Channels

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On Wednesday, Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski was taking a tour of the town’s public television station’s new facilities. SEA-TV has set up new studios on the Stony Brook Southampton campus where they edit footage from local events and town meetings and create programming, which is broadcast over channel 22.

But since September, many subscribers to Cablevision have discovered they no longer are receiving the public access channels from the town. Indeed, public access channels East End-wide seem to have vanished from the basic tier of services the cable provider offers. The loss to subscribers is a concern expressed in village meetings and local citizen advisory committees as well, including Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton and Noyac.

A few weeks ago the Village of Sagaponack received a letter from Graboski, who is the town’s cable liaison, regarding the removal of channels 20 and 22 from the basic tier package and analog format of Cablevision. This means cable subscribers with basic service need to upgrade to a higher level of service in order to continue receiving the two channels.

Graboski said in an interview this week the town is investigating the issue with the four other East End towns in order to force Cablevision to restore the channels to basic tier packages.

Graboski said that many people she has spoken with are confused about what has happened.

 “I can’t make heads or tails of it,” Sagaponack village board member Alfred Kelman said during their meeting Monday.

“It’s hard to get your arms around the issue which unfortunately impacts our seniors and others on limited incomes much harder, since many can’t afford a higher tier of service,” Graboski said.

According to Graboski, the two channels were eliminated so that more bandwidth could be freed up and allow for more high definition channels to be offered. In 2004, the town and Cablevision signed a franchise agreement – approving the allowance of free access to both channels, according to the councilwoman.

However, Patrick MacElroy, a spokesperson for Cablevision, explained that 90 percent of subscribers would not be impacted by this change since they are not basic subscribers. The other 10 percent that were notified in the summer of the change were offered one free digital converter box, if they asked for it prior to the December 31 deadline.

Even customers with digital televisions are having a problem receiving the channels if they are subscribers at the basic tier. Graboski mentioned one of the town’s attorneys has been unable to connect, although she added there is a way of re-programming the sets to receive the channels.

 

According to Graboski, Cablevision attempted to rectify the issue by providing a “dumbed-down” cable box for subscribers with the basic tier packages so that both channels can be converted from digital back to analog and viewers can access them. But Graboski says that is not enough, because it will only work for one television per household. Further, Graboski argues that this solution will not help students in local schools who can no longer receive the channels in their classrooms and the same goes for those who are in hospitals and town hall.

MacElroy explained that back in 1972, when cable television first came on the scene, the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) mandated that public access and government channels be made available on cable systems. Those channels, he noted, have never been available on satellite or phone company provided television.

Graboski argues that its important for all residents to have access to the channels without additional cost or equipment, particularly because they are advised to tune into channel 22 in case of emergency, natural disaster or otherwise. She added that a similar matter has been the subject of litigation in Dearborn, Michigan, regarding another cable company, Comcast. The court issued a temporary restraining order against Comcast, pending an opinion from the FCC, according to the councilwoman.

Graboski said they are waiting to hear the outcome of the Dearborn case, and have considered legal action to restore the channels.

Representatives of the East End Towns met with Cablevision representatives one week ago, but she has not heard whether the company intends to meet the towns’ request.

 “Our goal is simple,” said Graboski, “we want Cablevision to reinstate channels 20 and 22 to the analog basic tier… and we want Cablevision to replicate the level of service that we had prior to September 15, with reception on all TV sets in a household, with no added costs for subscribers.”