The Cultural Disgrace of HOT

Had HOT witnessed even a touch of determination on the part of its subscribers, it would have found a way to leave the channel in the cable box.

The heads of the HOT cable television company can be pleased with themselves. Four days ago, they cut off their customers, about one million subscribers, from CNN and the sky did not fall down on them. Apart from a few grumblings of protest in the press and in the Knesset, no one was really upset about it. Once again, it became clear that HOT can depend on the apathy and tunnel vision of Israeli media consumers. The response pointed not only to their lack of consumer awareness, in their meek acceptance of the cable company's arbitrariness and its reduction of available channels without compensation, but also to their limited, ethnocentric cultural world, a world in which global issues are of low priority. In any case, there is no reason to fight for the right for access to the international network that is one of the most important features of any cultured state.

HOT's explanation for its decision owes everything to the world of business. The management declared its desire to cut content costs by NIS 200 million (but without any obligation to cut subscription fees). The end of the contract with CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcast, appeared to HOT like a golden opportunity to demand a significant reduction in broadcast franchise fees. The parties were unable to reach a compromise, resulting in mutual mudslinging and charges of disingenuousness.

HOT officials claimed that Turner was demanding a "disproportionate" fee, that it was "playing a silly children's game instead of sitting down to negotiate" and that, in any case, "the channel's viewing numbers have dropped greatly." Turner Broadcasting, for its part, claims that HOT used the language befitting an outdoor market and cast aspersions on the product in order to reduce the price, and says that its criticism of CNN is sullied by commercial considerations and does not reflect the channel's popularity in Israel.

The Israeli consumer lacks the tools to judge the financial dispute, which is not in any event supposed to be of interest to him or her. The consumer's interest, as a citizen of the world, is to have access to the channel that was and remains the primary, the most professional and most authoritative source of information on international and regional topics.

When the company asked 500 Israelis which international news station they turned to in an international crisis, about 40 percent cited CNN. (BBC World came in second, with 6 percent.) The preference for CNN is seen throughout the world (apart from enlightened countries such as Iran, where CNN is not broadcast). Anyone staying in a hotel anywhere in the world treats CNN as the first choice for news updates, and every tourist in Israel will be disappointed to discover that his or her hotel subscribes to HOT, which does not provide the popular channel.

The alternatives offered by HOT will not satisfy the true consumers among Israeli viewers. First, CNN is the only international news channel that adapts its contents to the region, the Middle East in our case. Second, it has a relatively balanced political perspective, certainly in comparison to its two main competitors, BBC World and Fox News. The former has a left-wing agenda (in international terms), that trickles down into its broadcasts and often affects their credibility; the latter looks at the world from a right-wing, patriotic American perspective that borders on cultural arrogance and colors every international crisis in the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes. In that respect, CNN is a much more reliable source of information.

The fact that the business relationship between CNN and the Yes cable company is smooth may have two explanations: Either Turner Broadcasting's demands are not unreasonable, as HOT claims, or Yes has more respect for its customers and for its obligations as a provider of quality content. Had HOT witnessed even a touch of determination on the part of its subscribers or the Satellite and Cable Broadcasting Committee (as occurred previously when it was forced to reverse its plan to stop showing CNN), it would have found a way to leave the channel in the cable box. But HOT, as we have said, knows its customers. One more reason to switch to Yes.