Viewers first?

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In an era when marketers big and small tout their concern for the customer, where has Time Warner Cable been hiding? Even among cable TV system operators, notorious over the years for being monopolies that treated customer service as an afterthought, Time Warner's decision to yank Walt Disney Co.'s ABC-TV network was, well, breathtaking.

Disney's dispute with Time Warner, over fees and conditions for carrying Disney channels, has serious implications for future fair dealing among mega-media companies. But what made Time Warner think it could abruptly deny a popular TV network to its paying cable subscribers and simply blame it on Disney?

A better marketer would have known not to mess with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." A better marketer would know cable subscribers aren't interested in carriage fees. Too many cable customers already feel they're held hostage to mounting cable rates; the last thing they want is favorite programs held hostage to corporate feuds.

What elevates this misstep to an entirely different level is that Time Warner would take it while its merger with America Online is still awaiting government approval. The Federal Communications Commission that will pass on the merger now has found Time Warner violated agency rules when it yanked ABC. The last thing AOL or Time Warner want to hear from the FCC is: "You've got problems."

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