The first installment of Broadway Television Network's "On the Aisle At..." series, a free pre-show scheduled 30 minutes ahead of BTN's pay-per view premiere of Smokey Joe's Cafe, was not unscrambled for some viewers in the New York City area. Though publicized as "free of charge to all viewers," the pre-show was never intended to be descrambled, according to a Time Warner source.
BTN heavily publicized the Sept. 10 premiere of the "On the Aisle At..." pre-show, which starred Tony Orlando and Deborah Gibson. After a resident of New York City complained that he did not get the preview, Playbill On-Line asked Tim Warner whether or not the pre-show aired and what refund policy was being instituted, if any. A source at Time Warner told Playbill On-Line that there were several calls from pay-per-view customers who had ordered the pre-show and couldn't get it.
We found out about this two minutes before the show," a Time Warner source told Playbill On-Line. "We were told we would not have the pre show unscrambled...and this was from the head office."
The Time Warner "head office" apparently reminded its customer service department that the company does not unscramble pre-shows. "They said we were only doing the Smokey Joe's event, the company source said. "I don't know if it was a misprint in the TV Guide, or whatever, but Time Warner never intended to unscramble that pre-show."
One of the first Time Warner cable customers to report the pre-show issue told Playbill On-Line that he had ordered the service last week. "I was waiting for the pre-show to come on," said Jonathan Thompson of Queens, "and when it didn't, I called and they verified the order information. They said we were listed in the computer, and that they would turn it on again. They [customer service reps] said, 'Some cable providers were not carrying the pre-show.' We didn't start receiving the show until the end of the opening number, so we told them we wanted to cancel our order because we didn't want to pay $25 for a show that we didn't see [in its entirety.]" Thompson said Time Warner was polite but unwilling to offer a refund until Thompson's partner mentioned that he worked in a law office and that his lawyer would be in touch.
"At one point," Thompson said, "the Time Warner operator said it was just after 9 PM and therefore it wasn't such a big deal that we hadn't started receiving the show." Thompson said he was disappointed that he didn't see the show and that he had really been looking forward to it.
BTN spokesperson Hali Simon said she saw the pre-show in its entirety on DirectTV, while BTN's Susan Lee said "A lot of people saw it and some didn't. We sat here and watched it (at BTN) and we have Time Warner, but I guess it might have been different in different areas."
"I can't believe we were the only ones who had any problem," Thompson said. "I'm excited about BTN's prospects and I hope they correct this because I would like to see future shows.
The Time Warner source also said that it is standard practice for the pre show to be scrambled. As for the number of complaints that hit the Time Warner office at the time of the BTN broadcast, the source said, "There were a lot of them." The source said no credit was being given to Time Warner customers at this time.
BTN said earlier that it will be a while before it has viewership and PPV figures in for its debut broadcast of Smokey Joe's Cafe."We're getting calls from all over America," said BTN's Susan Lee, "and the response has been terrific." Lee acknowledged a few complaints had come in and that her network was looking into it. "We're trying to figure that out," Lee told Playbill On-Line.
Earlier in the day, Lee addressed the issue of a refund for the viewer who had written in and said, "If they (Time Warner) don't refund his money, we will." Later, Lee said that she was trying to get to the bottom of the issue at Time Warner and that there were no refunds planned.
-- By Murdoch McBride