Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Weather Channel to return to basic cable"

The Weather Channel is returning to Cox Communications' basic cable lineup in time for hurricane season.

So says this morning's Advertiser. That's good news as we head into hurricane season.

Those with long memories will recall that Cox pulled the Weather Channel in the middle of hurricane season last year in a public relations gaffe that it is difficult to credit that ANY company, even Cox, could make a year after Katrina and Rita ripped across south Louisiana. That move caused a firestorm of criticism—that extended from letters to the editor to a command performance for Sharon Kleinpeter before the City-Parish Council. But last year Cox held firm.

It was part of a larger disturbing trend. Lafayette and the rest of Acadiana was being completely brought into line with the Baton Rouge market to create a single large entity dominated by the interests of Baton Rouge.

In both markets the channel guide was moved off basic onto a $30 dollar a month more expensive tier. In Acadiana the weather channel was also moved up (Rita not withstanding) to that tier. (Cox New Orleans, a different division, had the good sense to leave the weather channel alone in their area.)

Also at issue was the single French channel. It was moved up to a more expensive tier associated with sports. (Hunh?) This in a city where 13% of the population tells the census they speak a French dialect in the home. (The "large" Spanish-speaking population got a new 10-channel tier in contrast.)

Rates were raised on most services with Lafayette getting larger increases to bring them into line with Baton Rouge.

Local people were unhappy, to say the least.

The Advertiser story repeats Cox's explanation that the channel was moved to make Lafayette more like Baton Rouge. While that wasn't particularly well-received (Acadiana has no desire to emulate Baton Rouge, quite the contrary) there were other explanations at the time. A more complete explanation of the impulse to unify Baton Rouge and Lafayette lies in the size of the large new, unified advertising market Cox would create by combining Louisiana's two most dynamic economic markets.


Moving popular and useful channels like the Weather Channel, the Channel Guide, and the French channel up into substantially more expensive tiers was meant to push as many people as possible off the cheaper tier which is still watched by regulators and whose valuable analog bandwidth is lusted after by the programmers. --Each analog cable channel can be made into many digital ones. Both short-term profits and long-term strategic goals make this a financially advantageous move for Cox. (If not for Lafayette.)

The changes to the lineup and the concurrent rate increases were all about increasing Cox's bottom line.

The weather channel replaces an all-ads-all-the-time channel at 22 that often is used to promote Cox products--and had kept its privileged place in the basic tier when the French channel and the Weather Channel were expelled. This was a change that the Lafayette City-Parish Council suggested during the dispute but at that time Kleinpeter said legal issues made that impossible and her claim went unchallenged. Apparently it wasn't so impossible after all.

At one point Kleinpeter explained the community's vocal distress with:
"It's just change. People don't like change"
That was never anything but a breathtakingly arrogant response. One that only a monopoly could make. Apparently Cox is now taking the upcoming competition from LUS a tad more seriously as we head into this year's hurricane season.

You can chalk the change up to the mere promise of locally sensitive competition.

Good.

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