Retrans Fights Get More Annoying As Cable Hits Users With Sneaky Below-The-Line 'Broadcast TV' Fees
from the nickel-and-dime dept
If you hadn’t noticed (read: are a cord cutter), the battle over higher retransmission fees between broadcasters and cable operators has grown immensely more annoying for consumers, with last year seeing a record amount of content blacked out as the two sides fought over rates. Consumers are usually put in the middle of the battle, with broadcasters blaming pay TV companies for the breakdown in negotiations and vice versa; both sides then bombarding consumers with calls or on-screen tickers insisting they act immediately and call the other guy to complain. We’ve seen these fights evolve over the years to include the blackout of online content as well, with the Time Warner Cable and CBS fight last year reaching entirely new levels of annoying.
After the smoke clears, confidential deals are struck, and the pretense of caring about how much consumers are paying fades away, the costs then get passed on to the consumer as the icing on an ugly process. Normally, cable companies include these hikes in the cost of doing business on your final bill. However, a growing number of cable companies are embedding a portion of these hikes in below the line fees, allowing them to jack up your cable bill, but still advertise the same price. Comcast, for example, recently started charging users a $1.50 Broadcast TV Fee that the company insists is part of improving your entertainment experience:
“At Comcast we are committed to constantly improving your entertainment and communications experience, and we continue to invest in making your services even better. As we make these and other investments, we periodically need to adjust prices due to increases we incur in programming and other business costs. Among these price changes, we have itemized a Broadcast TV Fee in order to identify some of the rising costs or retransmitting broadcast television signals. In recent years, the cost of retransmitting broadcast television signals has increased significantly, and going forward we want to address these increasing costs through a separate itemized charge.”
While I know massive multi-billion-dollar new skyscrapers don’t build themselves and the $45.2 billion needed for new mergers doesn’t grow on trees, I was always under the impression that part of the primary cost of doing business in the cable industry was programming — and as such, that should be included in the normal price of service (the same service broadcast and cable raises the price of sometimes as often as twice a year). Comcast certainly isn’t alone in this practice; Charter has imposed this kind of charge for more than a year, and AT&T this week notified U-Verse customers they’ll now be paying $3 per month instead of $2 for the fee. If you’re on Time Warner Cable, you should be getting a notice soon that they’re adding the fee as well.
Again, burying ordinary costs of this kind is a common tactic in the cable TV industry, and it’s a form of false advertising regulators seem to believe is all in good fun. It’s useful if you’re a cable operator interested in jacking up prices while keeping advertised prices the same, bumping prices on people you’ve convinced have signed “price lock guarantees,” or raising rates on users who are otherwise paying a fixed-rate under contract. It’s also useful if you want to trot out statistics showing how cable rate hikes are slightly less than they actually are. Or, as Comcast phrases it, ensuring you have a really fantastic, compelling television “experience” and are getting the utmost “value” for your entertainment dollar. Enjoy!