) -- Football season is three weeks away, and if there is a deadline for


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Time Warner Cable


to get their acts together and settle their dissing match, it's Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. New York time.

Yes, CBS's ratings have slipped a bit since Time Warner Cable chose to black out the network's programming on the afternoon of Aug. 2 after the two sides failed to meet a self-imposed deadline for a new retransmission contract. But customer complaints about not being able to see

Under the Dome


Big Brother

in mid-August are likely to be tame in comparison to the anger and visceral venting that would accompany a blackout of the scheduled New England Patriots vs. the Buffalo Bills game to kick off CBS' coverage of the professional football season.

"The NFL is premier content, and people want to see it," said Salvatore Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York-based sports investment banking firm. "If the fans that have the Time Warner

Cable service can't see the NFL, you're going to get a whole different level of complaining. That's the real pressure point, so they're going to have to resolve this one way or another."

Investors appear to be getting jittery about the situation.

CBS shares were dropping 2.1% to $52.51, its largest drop in seven weeks, extending the network's decline since Aug. 2 to 3.7%. Time Warner Cable were slipping 0.5% to $113.23, extending its retreat since Aug. 2 since to 3.4%

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Both declines exceed the

S&P 500

which has lost 1.2% since Aug. 2 amid broad concerns that the index may have reached its 2013 and all-time closing high that day.

As for CBS ratings, the most-watched U.S. TV network averaged 5.51 million viewers in the week ended Aug. 11, a decline from the 5.78 million who tuned in during the prior week, according to Nielsen. The blackout largely applies to customers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas where Time Warner Cable gets its CBS feed from local television stations directly owned by the network.

Even with the blackout, CBS retained its top spot in the rankings, handily beating


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's NBC at 4.18 million viewers and


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's ABC at 4.17 million viewers.

Meanwhile, Congress is starting weigh in on the disagreement, ostensibly on behalf of the viewer. California senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in a letter to both companies wrote that "the status quo is unfair to the millions of your customers who are caught in the middle of your dispute, and we strongly encourage both side to resolve it immediately."

Maybe Congress will have more influence here than the average NFL football fan. Then again, maybe not.

Of course, disgruntled Time Warner Cable subscribers can always turn to Aereo, the online TV service, to watch games, or even hit up their local electronics store for a plug-in antennae. Afterall, CBS' NFL kickoff is just 24 days away. The two sides are said to still be negotiating.

-- Written by Leon Lazaroff in New York

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