Initially, I thought Time Warner Cable's offer of free indoor TV antennas to viewers who want to watch CBS's over-the-air broadcast -- blacked out on the cable behemoth due to a payments scrap -- was a stoke of PR genius.
Try using "rabbit ears" in New York City to watch a program. It's nothing but snow on the screen. That's a big negative in today's world of instant gratification.
TWC customers in NYC, Los Angeles and Houston have been CBS-less since Aug. 2. The cable company is offering deprived CBS fans a $20 voucher to buy an antenna at Best Buy. According to TWC, its offer is an attempt to "strike a balance between our desire to restore the channels as soon as possible and our responsibility to all of our customers to hold down the cost of the rising cost of TV."
TWC concedes that must people already believe their cable bill is too high, so it promises to buck the demands of "every outrageous demand make by every TV network." And there's the rub for TWC.
The cable business already is under assault by computer savvy younger people who are cutting the cord, opting to view programs on their computers. They resent TWC's imperious one-price fits all strategy, where a zillion channels are offered though perhaps only a dozen are ever watched. Home cable bills have been steadily heading northward for years.
A rabbit ears trial just may encourage TV watchers to re-think overall viewing habits. Indoor TV antenna viewing options are limited to the Big Four broadcast networks, PBS and a couple of useless syndicated stations. Though I vaguely remember as a kid that my family had one super-duper indoor antenna that was equipped with a dial for "UHF" stations.
The loss of cable will hurt some. Met fans, for instance, will be able to watch their team only once or twice a week, but the season is almost over. There's another option: the Mets recently starting airing games on FM radio, offering a crystal clear way to listen if Matt Harvey is going to finally win his tenth game this year.
In cutting the cable, consumers will save hundreds of dollars each year. In the world of rabbit ears, patience is key to survival. Word of advice: my dad was a master at adjusting the indoor antenna to "pull in reception" and avoid snow. Attaching wire hangers to the antenna was one of his tricks. However, today's rabbit ears technology has had to advance since the 1960s.
TWC's offer may come back to bite it.