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!

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Companies: cbs, time warner

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Comments on “Retrans Fights Get More Annoying As Cable Hits Users With Sneaky Below-The-Line 'Broadcast TV' Fees”

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22 Comments
The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

Re: Rule #1

That’s not in the current corporate business model. If you’re leveraged to the hilt and want to borrow more money for something, you have to drive stock prices up. In a non-growth industry, this means bilking the consumers a bit more to fake growth and hoping not enough of them leave to offset the gain.

JEDIDIAH says:

Bring it on!

I dunno. I think an itemized bill would not be a bad idea. Lay it all on the table and let everyone know how these ridiculous cable bills break down. I can understand the idea. Cable companies are being squeezed over nonsense that should be FREE. Of course they want to raise the profile of this issue any make broadcasters look like the greedy bast*rd they are.

Although it’s hard to have sympathy for either party here.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Cut! Cut! Cut!

You do not need cable TV in your life.

You want sports, then go play sports. You’ll have more fun and your health will improve.

Everyone else read a book, see a play, learn to play an instrument – you will be a happier person if you do.

And just think of all the extra money you’ll now have for your new hobbies when you’re not paying a cable bill.

Anonymous Coward says:

No looking back

Cut the cord 6 years ago and don’t miss it one bit. In fact, my options are better now than they were 6 years ago. Cable is such a waste of money. I prefer the money in my pocket rather than having all the endless reruns and reality garbage. There aren’t more than 20 stations worth having so who needs hundreds of channels when most of the time you surf through them all and still cant find anything worthwhile to waste an hour watching.

Kronomex (profile) says:

Hell, I wouldn’t touch cable TV with a 40 foot barge pole here in Australia. We have a choice of Rupert’s Fox Crapwork, I mean Network, or Optus which is made up of mostly Fox Crapwork. Some choice. Actually, I don’t even have a television anymore, I put it out on the nature strip one night about two years ago because of the steaming shit that passes for content in this country. My viewing by that time had literally dropped to one hour a week.

Anonymous Coward says:

“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.”

Did they get Clapper to write that for them? It sure sounds like his kind of justification.

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