Silly Season's Greetings

Most of us have been trained to think of the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve as the "holiday season." This is the politically correct way of describing secular and religious holidays and an ongoing crush of retailer-driven activities that used to commence on Black Friday but now seem to run in a cycle more endless than showings of A Christmas Story on cable.

Note the qualifier most of us. I have learned over the years to think of this same time period--perhaps not necessarily using Thanksgiving as the starting date, but close to it--as the silly season.

It is the time when cable operators traditionally have tried to sneak in rate increases for the new year, figuring the public will be too consumed by the holidays to notice. Years ago, when in a past life I was a member of the Cable Television Public Affairs Association, I actually heard a PR professional from an MSO boast that her company announced rate hikes the day before Thanksgiving because the papers were full of stories, reporters weren't paying attention and consumers only wanted to know what was on sale on Black Friday. Pay close attention and you might actually even see a few of these news releases go out between now and Jan. 1.

It is also the time of the year when electronics makers are caught between a rock and hard place. They want to sell off as much inventory as possible. They want to position themselves as advanced electronics creators that will last into the future. But they don't want to overshadow all the new shiny objects they plan to glamorize at CES in the wee hours of the new year. Pay attention to how the big guys flaunt themselves as innovation leaders while their marketing, sales and public relations staffs are working feverishly on the message for next year's devices.

And finally, the latest silly season trend is saber rattling between programmers, content owners and service providers. Based on the calendar, it's likely that more than a couple retransmission agreements will be set to expire at the stroke of midnight Dec. 31. And based on past experience, it's also just as likely that those responsible for bringing you the delights of 5,700 channels of entertainment will start shaking their fists at each other and tossing the occasional rocks and bottles.

For evidence, look at what's going on between AMC Networks (Nasdaq: AMCX), which just settled a Hatfields and McCoys-worthy feud with Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH), and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS. According to my old buddy Mike Reynolds at Multichannel News, AMC has begun running the requisite warning crawl that its deal with FiOS is set to expire and that consumers--obviously more worried about Mad Men and Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead than the national economy and the latest sale at Target--should tell Verizon to get its act together and accede to the programmer's demands.

Verizon, of course, hasn't sublimated its ego, issuing an announcement saying it always works hard for its customers and opining that "it is unfortunate that AMCN has decided to unnecessarily publicize these discussions, but not surprising as they have a history of using their viewers as pawns in their negotiations with distributors."

So, for those of you who think the holiday season is stretching too long these days, be thankful that the silly season will only be going on for about a month. -Jim

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