Golf Fans Fume as Blackout of CBS Threatens Tournament Viewing

Dennis Goodman watches about three hours of golf on television every weekend, regardless of who’s playing. He even bought a ticket to see a practice round in person at this week’s PGA Championship in Rochester, New York.

The 67-year-old is also a subscriber of Time Warner Cable Inc., which has blacked out CBS Corp.’s network because of a contract dispute. If CBS remains dark this weekend, more than 3 million customers in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and other markets won’t be able to watch the tournament on TV. They’ll have to fire up the Internet to track the action, something that doesn’t appeal to Goodman.

“It’s a bunch of garbage,” he said of the blackout, which began almost a week ago after talks between the two sides broke down. “I wouldn’t sit in front of a computer all day.”

The tournament represents the latest flashpoint between Time Warner Cable and CBS, which are waging a battle with implications for the entire industry. The pay-TV provider took CBS off its system -- the first cable blackout in the history of the network -- after balking at programming fee increases.

Time Warner Cable, the second-largest U.S. cable company, is encouraging its subscribers to visit the PGA’s website, where they can watch the tournament this weekend from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. New York time. Time Warner Inc., the cable provider’s former parent company, also is broadcasting some coverage of the tournament on its TNT network.

Web Viewing

“We’re inviting all our customers without CBS who are golf fans to catch complete PGA Championship coverage live on this weekend,” said Bobby Amirshahi, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner Cable.

CBS, meanwhile, is suggesting that Time Warner Cable customers drop the cable service and look elsewhere.

“In most instances, there do continue to be options for fans to explore other programming providers, including Verizon FiOS, RCN, DirecTV and others,” said Dana McClintock, a spokesman for CBS in New York. “We look forward to being back on the air as soon as possible.”

So far, the blackout hasn’t spurred a “noticeable” number of defections, Amirshahi said.

For the PGA, the impasse comes at a troublesome time. The tournament represents the last chance for Tiger Woods to capture a major this year after faltering at the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open. He has regained the world’s No. 1 ranking this season, and fans are closely tracking his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s career record of 18 major titles.

No Positive

“We want as many households as possible to be able to watch the PGA Championship,” Pete Bevacqua, chief executive officer of the PGA of America, said in an interview at Oak Hill Country Club, where the tournament is being played this week. “That’s critical to us. Our mission is to grow the game. We are certainly concerned. It’s not a positive for anybody.”

Even so, golf alone probably won’t spur the two sides to reach an agreement, said David Bank, a media analyst at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

Last year’s PGA Championship weekend audience drew an average of 3.69 million viewers on CBS, according to Brad Adgate, director of research for Horizon Media Inc. in New York. That’s about a third of the total viewership for the most recent episode of “Under the Dome,” CBS’s hit summer drama.

The start of the National Football League season will provide a bigger incentive to negotiate, though that is still weeks away. While Time Warner Cable football fans will miss preseason matchups this weekend, the regular games won’t begin until early next month.

Far Away?

“This could go on for a while,” Bank said. “NFL regular-season kickoff is probably the catalyst to bring it to an end.”

While some discussions between CBS and Time Warner Cable took place this week, the negotiations have largely been held via the media. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt and CBS Chief Les Moonves have traded open letters, with both sides accusing the other of punishing customers.

The jockeying doesn’t interest Douglas Steel, a retired graphics designer who lives in Manhattan. He just wants to watch the tournament from his Upper West Side apartment this weekend without having to log onto the Internet.

“It’s stupid, the whole thing,” Steel said. “It would be easier to watch it on my television rather than my iPad.”

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