I have a full day’s work to do, but I’m home watching my four-year-old. Thus, this morning, Noggin was on.
“Daddy, what’s that black?” my daughter asked, pointing to the TV.
A black crawl eating 20% of the screen announced that Time Warner Cable, New York City’s virtual monopoly cable provider, will stop broadcasting Noggin at midnight tonight.
Comedy Central (home of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), MTV, and other Viacom-owned channels will also be lost, the crawl said. But as the parent of a child under five, you’re asleep before The Daily Show comes on, and you haven’t cared about MTV since Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith.
Time Warner Cable can do what it likes where your personal entertainment needs are concerned. But if they stop broadcasting Noggin, your four-year-old won’t shrug it off. It will be like when great grandma died.
Your mission is clear. You have to save Noggin.
The crawl and the websites of the soon-to-be-cancelled channels list a toll-free 800 number where customers can demand that Time Warner Cable keep Noggin on.
When you call the number, Time Warner announces that it cannot take your call due to “technical difficulties” and hangs up on you.
In its way, it’s kind of brilliant. By not answering their customer feedback number, Time Warner can claim not to have heard from their customers.
Although I subscribe to their overpriced service, I’m no fan. Since I described my frustrations with their fast, high-speed access, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner Turbo has continued to pile on the incompetence. This month they sent me a new modem and told me I needed to manually replace my old one. Beside the fact that nothing’s wrong with my old one, the new one isn’t compatible with my set-up, which is wireless.
Time Warner set up the wireless network using their wireless modem, and charges a monthly surcharge for the wireless activity they provide. But they sent me a non-wireless modem as a replacement. A two-man shop in Kazakhstan’s smallest town would not send a non-wireless modem to replace a wireless one. But Time Warner Cable does, because they are a monopoly and under no pressure to offer competent service.
And yet, although Time Warner Cable’s uncountable levels of existential suckage could induce vomiting in a giraffe, reality is never as clear-cut as a crawl on Noggin.
It is obvious that Time Warner Cable and Viacom are playing hardball in a price negotiation. Time Warner wants the Viacom channels cheaper than Viacom wants to sell them. Instead of working out a deal like mensches, the companies are taking their impasse to the public, and playing on the anxieties of parents with young children. Indeed, Viacom appears the guiltier company, since it is Viacom that is running crawls on its channels and popups on its websites, using the kind of language and typography more properly reserved for fake terror threat alerts.
Although Time Warner doesn’t answer its customer feedback number, some of the company’s phone numbers still work, and if you loop your way through a sufficient number of audio menus, you soon hear the company’s claim to be negotiating with Viacom.
If it were only about me, both companies could stuff it.
Will no one think of the children?
[tags]Viacom, Time Warner Cable, Noggin, high-speed access[/tags]
Stick out your tongue
While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.
Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.
The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.
The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.
It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.
During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.
And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.
We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.
After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.
The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.
Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.
Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.
Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.