Washington Secrets

CBS-Time Warner Cable war sparks run on TV 'rabbit ears'

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The month-long feud between CBS and Time Warner Cable that's left viewers in eight major markets without CBS and its sister networks Showtime and TMC has sparked a huge run on digital antennas that is leading to shortages.

"We are seeing a pretty dramatic uptick in sales," said Richard Schneider, president of St. Louis-based Antennas Direct. He told Secrets that sales have nearly doubled over 2012, with August sales already at 62,000.

What's more, he added, the TV war has prompted cable users in the impacted markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, to drop cable after seeing how many free channels they can get through digital antennas, which he said provide a clearer high definition picture than cable and satellite.

CBS and its stations have been blackballed from Time Warner Cable since August 2 when negotiations broke down over CBS's request for more money per subscriber. It has cut similar deals with other cable providers, but TWC has balked.

Schneider said the dispute prompted thousands to call his company to buy digital antennas which average $100 each. He's received so many calls that he had to hire more people to answer the demand.

"We're getting cleaned out," he said, adding that the demand is so high that shortages are expected. "We're looking at shortages of antennas by November."

Even Time Warner has gotten into the act, offering customers free digital antennas to keep them happy.

The new antennas aren't like the old "rabbit ears." The design is more modern and outside antennas are much smaller -- as little as 12 inches.

Initially, Schneider said callers were angry at TWC and having to buy the antennas. But once they saw how many digital stations are now being broadcast for free -- up to 100 in major markets -- "they were happy."

He said that some of his customers who pay about $100 a month for cable are canceling their service and instead are adding a TiVo account which gives them movies and reruns of favorite shows. TiVo's Roamio combines all HD channels available over the air with web content like Netflix and You Tube for a maximum of $14.99.

"People are rediscovering television antennas," said Schneider. "They can replicate much of what they are getting from Time Warner."

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.

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