CBS Time Warner dispute: How to beat the blackout

You may be able to get free over-the-air TV with an indoor antenna

If you’re one of the 3 million Time Warner customers in New York, Los Angeles, or Dallas who are no longer able to get CBS shows such as “Under the Dome," you don't have to idly sit back and wait for the channel to return. Below we've listed three ways you can get back on schedule until a deal is finally reached.

Unfortunately, there's also some bad news. If you're pining for the return of "Dexter" or "Ray Donovan" on the pay channel Showtime, a CBS subsidiary, you'll have fewer options, as the shows air only on cable.

Also, if you're thinking that you can just use your computer to stream the episodes, you’re out of luck: CBS is blocking access to full episodes online if you're a Time Warner broadband subscriber, even if you don't subscribe to the cable TV service.

The issue at hand is a disagreement about how much a cable station such as Time Warner should pay a broadcaster such as CBS to carry the network on its cable system. CBS wants to charge more, and Time Warner doesn't want to pay more. These fights over so-called retransmission fees are becoming increasingly common in recent years. Last year, DirecTV subscribers weren't able to watch Viacom shows for about 10 days, and in 2010 Fox went dark on Cablevision for 15 days.

Because an agreement hasn't been reached, millions of viewers weren't able to see Tiger Woods win the Bridgestone golf tournament yesterday or watch "60 Minutes" last night. It also means that a good number of Time Warner subscribers will get a blank screen tonight instead of the latest episode of the popular CBS summer drama “Under the Dome."

If you're one of the affected viewers, here are a few options to consider.

Find the right television for your needs and budget with our TV buying guide and Ratings.

Get an over-the-air antenna

All TVs since 2007 have been required to include a digital TV tuner. That means you can get free over-the-air local broadcasts—including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox—simply by connecting an antenna to your TV’s antenna input.

But your reception will depend on your distance from a broadcast tower, the terrain, and the surroundings (nearby houses, buildings, trees, and so on). We recently had a dozen employees test 10 different antennas in the NY metropolitan area, and eight were able to get at least some reception. And you don't have to pay very much: The least expensive antenna we tested cost about $10, and one of the best-performing models cost only $35.

Try out Aereo

For those, like me, who aren’t able to get decent reception using an over-the-air antenna, Aereo is another somewhat ingenious option. Although it’s not free, for about $8 a month Aereo connects you to your own tiny microantenna housed in its facilities, delivering over-the-air TV signals to you via the Internet.

Right now Aereo is only available in a few markets, but New York is one of them. The monthly fee includes 20 hours of free cloud DVR storage, which jumps to 60 hours if you’re willing to pay $12 per month.

Become an Amazon Prime subscriber

Talk about great timing. Before the start of the summer TV season, Amazon signed an exclusive licensing deal with CBS to let Amazon Prime subscribers watch new streaming episodes of "Under the Dome" just four days after they air on TV.

Amazon Prime Video is a free benefit to Amazon Prime subscribers, who pay $79 per year to get free two-day shipping. Obviously this is a solution for "Under the Dome" fans, but not necessarily other popular CBS shows, such as "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS."

Right now it's hard to tell how long the impasse between CBS and Time warner will last; typically these situations are settled within a week or two, for obvious reasons. Certainly it's unlikely that this one will last more than six weeks.

Why? That's the start of the NFL season. We can't imagine either company wanting to be in the position of explaining to die-hard football fans why they're not able to watch their favorite teams in action.

—Jim Willcox

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