Regulate cable

Odds are angry Israelis won't besiege offices of HOT to protest decision to yank yet another channel.

October 23, 2007 23:29
3 minute read.
Regulate cable

CNN off the air 224 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Odds are that legions of angry Israelis won't besiege the offices of this country's monopolistic cable-provider, HOT, to protest its decision to yank yet another channel off our screens. The threatened channel this time around is CNN, hardly dear to many Israeli hearts. A hostile-to-Israel thrust has grown steadily more pronounced, to the point that CNN is often perceived here as outrightly inimical. Increasingly, more and more Israelis find it hard to stomach CNN offerings (such as Christiane Amanpour's skewed "God's Warriors," which portrayed Orthodox Jews and pro-Israel evangelical Americans as moral equivalents to Jihadists). A great many Israelis plainly won't miss CNN if it disappears from HOT's schedules on October 31, as HOT forewarns, should contract renewal negotiations fail. But this isn't about likes or dislikes. It's about basic consumers' rights, a monopoly's breach of contractual obligations and what this is liable to augur regarding other TV fare. If CNN goes, more popular channels won't be safe either. As is, Israelis cannot for the long run expect to enjoy whatever is now available. Everything our one cable provider - as well as the sole satellite-carrier, YES - make accessible to subscribers is provisional - a temporary kindness subject to arbitrary company convenience and erratic haggling with overseas outlets. The public is expected to continue paying fees in full, while both cable and satellite executives claim the liberty to pull the plug on any channel they target. Their cynicism borders on mendacity. Thus HOT has promised to recompense its subscribers should CNN go the way of other Turner Broadcasting System offerings (like TCM and the Cartoon Network), but its spokespersons apparently couldn't keep their stories straight. On some occasions HOT's officials said FoxNews would be added in lieu of CNN and on others al-Jazeera was touted. The problem is that both of these channels have long featured in digital HOT packages, right along with CNN - part and parcel of what viewers already pay for - and therefore can't be now be presented as alternatives beneficently bestowed on customers. The most troubling aspect of the latest HOT shenanigans is their repetitive nature. It's yet another of the many reruns HOT purveys for full price. Hallmark and National Geographic were also candidates for cancellation. Earlier this year HOT announced it would cancel BBC-Prime, the most popular non-local channel. YES canceled Star World. As is currently with CNN, then too it was a case of one-upmanship vis-a-vis content providers. HOT CEO David Kamenitz, then as now, cites his consortium's insistence on paying less for content. Not only aren't subscription fees reduced proportionately to cost-cutting and cancellations, but fees keep creeping upward, the shekel's strength notwithstanding. Kamenitz evidently expects subscribers to pay more for less. Last time around he argued that Chinese and Ethiopian channels are adequate replacements for BBC-Prime. At the end of the BBC-Prime cliffhanger, which engendered an unprecedented grassroots backlash against HOT, a deal was struck allowing the channel to remain - for the time being. What's replayed before us in the CNN sequel is the continued dilution of programming packages, capricious cancellations and bogus substitutions. The public is held hostage to brinkmanship bargaining maneuvers by two monopolies. Subscribers are treated by both as inconsequential pawns, caught every few months in yet another financial stand-off between local and foreign interests. The Communications Ministry's Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting habitually prefers an aloof hands-off stance. The upshot is that the subscribers are abandoned without powerful advocates. It's high time the CCSB take on the subscribers' cause and force both HOT and YES to quit playing fast and loose with consumers, as if they were captive audiences with no champion or choice. The CCSB must protect the public by imposing substantial and significant fee reductions, commensurate with the value of whichever channels are removed. This isn't only fair. It would introduce a painful punitive element for service-providers to ponder. This marketplace features only two players, with great practical disincentives to switching between them. The government's supervisory agency's elementary duty, accordingly, is to lay down the law unequivocally, as it is unquestionably authorized to do, and rein in badly misbehaving cartels. In the absence of genuine competition, only the Council can do so.

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