Editorial: A Pointless Cable War

At a critical point during the Cold War, when it looked as though mutually assured destruction was just a crisis away, President Kennedy had his staff read Barbara Tuchman’s great book about the beginnings of World War I, The Guns of August. The book showed how the nations of Europe mobilized and went to war in the late summer of 1914, because nobody was willing to back down. And when the war was over and millions were dead, few remembered what the bloody point of it all was.

Memo to the executives of Time-Warner and CBS: Do you get the point? Or do we have to send you copies of Ms. Tuchman’s book?

The two media giants are lobbing poison gas at each other without regard for casualties or collateral damage. Millions of Time-Warner subscribers in New York and other large markets have been blocked from watching CBS programming. What’s more, Time-Warner has even blocked Showtime just because it’s owned by CBS. The suits at CBS fired back by blocking Time-Warner customers from getting access to its video websites.

No doubt there are important issues at stake here for both Time-Warner and CBS. This is more than a simple battle over transmission fees—both sides believe that the future of television is at stake. They are fighting over issues such as on-demand programming, access to CBS shows via Netflix and Amazon, and control over archived programs.

But here’s the deal: As they continue to pound each other, both sides are destroying their credibility and alienating their viewers. Perhaps one side will, in fact, emerge victorious. But at what cost?

It’s time for these two combatants to hold peace talks in the interests of their customers. They can still hate each other. They just have to stop killing each other.