Magazine article The New Yorker

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Magazine article The New Yorker

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Article excerpt

New Yorkers returning to the city and its tabloids last week were greeted by a pair of reassuringly belligerent ads. Readers of Monday's Post encountered first a notice from the Fox Broadcasting Company. "ATTENTION! STARTING JANUARY 1ST, TIME WARNER CABLE MAY STOP CARRYING FOX 5," it declared, in white and liquigel-blue letters, proceeding to other incitements ("NO FOX? NO WAY!") and a series of screen shots of Fox 5 stars presumably worth fighting for--Ernie Anastos and Bart Simpson. Several pages later, readers encountered a huge paste-up-style ransom note: "PAY OUR PRICE OR YOU'LL NEVER SEE FOX AGAIN." Placed by Time Warner Cable, the ad went on to say, "We're standing up to Fox. Don't let Fox hold your TV hostage."

Here was the dispute: The contract that entitled Time Warner Cable to carry Fox's programming would expire December 31st. Fox wanted more money. Time Warner Cable did not want to pay. If the standoff was not resolved before the contract deadline, viewers would face Sunday afternoons without the Giants and weeknights without "American Idol." To monitor public opinion, and to sway it, Time Warner had, in November, launched a campaign called "Roll Over or Get Tough," which asked customers to visit a Web site of the same name and vote on whether Time Warner should "give in to their demand for massive price increases" or keep "holding the line." Eight hundred thousand people had done so. (Ninety-five per cent of them thought that Time Warner should "Get Tough.") Fox, late, for once, to the rabble-rousing, set up a nearly identical Web site of its own, KeepFoxOn.com. This was not David vs. Goliath, or even MySpace vs. Facebook, but the duelling ads were snappier than the usual corporate full-pagers--pious notes from Mobil and bar graphs showing the G.D.P. of Kazakhstan. A call to Time Warner revealed that the company had hired Purple Strategies, a Washington, D.C., public-affairs firm, to create the campaign. Bruce Haynes, the partner in charge of the ads, said, "When Fox comes and says, 'Look, you're gonna pay up, up to three hundred per cent more, or we'll take away these shows from customers,' it's an outrageous demand. It kind of reminds you of Dr. Evil. Where's the guy with the pinkie on his lip saying, 'We want one billion dollars'?" (Never mind that Dr. Evil was asking for only one million.)

For "Roll Over or Get Tough," Haynes--a consultant to the Republican National Committee in 2008--imported some political tactics. "Most successful marketing campaigns now allow people to be a part of them," Haynes said. …

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