Broadcasters And Cable Companies Trying Harder Than Ever To Annoy Paying Customers With Ugly Public Contract Disputes

from the everybody-loses dept

We’ve already noted how the retransmission fee disputes between cable companies and broadcasters have grown significantly more annoying over the last few years, as broadcasters seek out higher and higher rates to prop up the unsustainable current TV ecosystem. These fights have become a master class in how to piss off your (already quite annoyed) customer base during rate negotiations, with paying TV customers being bombarded with ads, TV tickers, and a bevy of lame websites by both sides trying to direct consumer outrage toward the other guy. Customers who happen to get broadband from a TV company engaged in one of these fights have also recently started to enjoy having access to online content blocked, even if they subscribe to TV services through another operator.

While broadcasters (especially sports programmers) own the lion’s share of the blame for the soaring rates, neither side is blameless. Cable operators will blame broadcasters with one breath, and in the very next hit consumers with their own assortment of higher cable modem rental fees, more expensive DVR and set top rental charges, or strange and obnoxious new below the line fees. Once both sides spend a few months publicly sniping at one another and bombarding consumers with artificial concern for soaring prices, they’ll strike a confidential agreement and quite happily raise consumer rates in unison. Cable TV customers get to pay for the honor of the entire experience.

AMC has recently ramped up their use of this tactic, blasting consumers with tickers and ads not only after contract negotiations break down, but months before current contracts expire. AMC repeatedly warned viewers of the latest “The Walking Dead” episode that DirecTV wasn’t bowing quite deeply enough during efforts to renew a contract expiring at year’s end, and therefore consumers might lose access to their favorite content:

During the Nov. 2 premiere episode of The Walking Dead, AMC began alerting DirecTV subscribers via commercials and graphic snipes that their ability to watch cable’s top series, and TV’s leader among persons 18 to 49, could be compromised…”DirecTV has not engaged in meaningful negotiations with us, which leaves us to doubt whether a timely renewal is possible,” (a statement declares).

Because bothering you at home during your favorite shows isn’t enough, Viacom recently got the great idea to take their feud with small cable operator Suddenlink on the road, hiring actors dressed up as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to help educate kids and parents during a Charleston-area homecoming celebration:

Viacom has enlisted Nickelodeon?s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to help reunite Suddenlink customers with some of the characters they might be missing since losing access to Viacom channels in early October. The turtles were scheduled to make an appearance at Capital High School?s homecoming game Friday night at University of Charleston Stadium. The move, Viacom spokesman Mark Jafar said, is intended to let area customers know the company is still thinking of them.

Because nothing quite says, “I’m thinking about you,” like costumed turtles trying to offload blame for your own obnoxious prices hikes, right?

Of course this attempt to generate consumer outrage on the part of broadcasters only works if consumers actually miss your content, something that’s only going to happen less as alternatives to cable expand. When DirecTV customers recently lost access to The Weather Channel during a contract dispute, it turned out that customers really didn’t miss the channel all that much because the channel’s quality had eroded substantially and many users had already shifted to getting their weather online. It’s also worth noting that some small and mid-sized cable operators, unable to afford these endless rate hikess, are no longer offering cable TV and simply selling broadband.

Cable company executives spend a lot of time publicly wondering why younger cord cutters can’t seem to see the incredible value in traditional cable television, oblivious to the fact that annoying paying customers goes a long way to explaining it. These are the same companies and executives who in a few years will stare dumbly at their shoes wondering how they failed to keep pace with evolution in Internet-based television, and these increasingly annoying and loud contract disputes are the last, sad gasps of a dying dinosaur.

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Companies: amc, viacom

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Comments on “Broadcasters And Cable Companies Trying Harder Than Ever To Annoy Paying Customers With Ugly Public Contract Disputes”

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Anon says:

Re: Re: Too True

decades ago I used to be glued to the TV and watch what I was given. I had a very limited choice of (broadcast) channels, as I refused to pay highway robbery for the same vacuous content. Eventually Canada got some variety in its content, but I found the internet stealing more and more of my time… not only do I not watch much TV, but I have a backlog of books in the last 20 years that I have meant to read but cannot find the time due to the internet.

In fact, the great thing about Netflix is the ability to go back and watch a series like Weeds or House of Cards in its entirety in a matter of a few weeks or less – but still I watch a lot less content, and much current content DVR’ed and possibly skimmed. If providers don’t want to license such content, there’s always out friend the internet to provide it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

⬆ This. What’s TV?

I gave up long ago before they really hiked prices. I no longer care what their problems are. It doesn’t effect me one way or the other as I no longer pay for programming nor do I even own a tv.

Weather Channel? I got a good substitute for that. It’s called National Weather Service. You know the same place these other weather places get their info from. Only way weather reports can add value to the NWS is by adding false info in their reports because the NWS is very accurate in comparison. Reducing the accuracy of a weather report is not exactly a way to encourage me to listen to your weather report when I can see for myself what it is going to be and do.

The Weather Channel started out as a good idea, weather all the time, no ads. At the time I cut the cord I couldn’t stand their service as they had ruined it with more and yet more ads.

PPV? Thank you but no thank you. I do quite well with out it or OTA broadcasts. Even better is I don’t miss it and surely don’t miss the infection of commercials heisted on the public.

Anon says:

And also...

You haven’t even gotten to providers’ deep and earnest attempt to pry even more money out of you with online subscriptions. “Watch the last 3 episodes online if you missed them” has morphed into “provide a cable subscriber ID”. Some news commentators discussing this, said something like:
– How many of these $8.95 a month online services are you going to want to pay for?
-One – Netflix.

I think that the first to market with a passable product nailed it just like Amazon or eBay, and all the replacement competitors in the world are not going to knock it off its pedestal.

Pac97 says:

I currently have Dish Network a satellite content provider. Have been victim of these rate negotiations and the inevitable outcome. When Disney had a spat with Dish, the outcome was Disney HD going dark. Now all the Disney (non EPSN) channels are standard definition. When AMC had a spat with Dish they came back with what feels like way more commercials for the same content and my interest in AMC has faded. Now Dish is having a spat with Turner Broadcasting which is odd because they removed cartoon network and other turner properties but kept TNT and TBS on air. I suspect when this latest contract dispute is resolved we’ll either lose the High Definition aspect or see higher rates – again.

I’ve researched the duopolies in my area. Comcast is not an option based on reading through their contracts where I would be locked into a two year term at rates I’m not comfortable with. I looked at DirecTv which I once had contracts with but their package offerings are actually higher that Dishes and also have term lock ins and penalties.

As a consumer my choices are beyond limited. The whole let’s cut the cord approach doesn’t get me access to BBC America or TCM or even cartoon network – the few channels I enjoy. I’ve checked out Amazon Prime, iTunes and even Crackle from Sony and the content I enjoy just isn’t there and that goes all the way back to the media companies that own the content license and keep their programs and movies in closed ecosystems they have control over.

I’m sick of Turner and AMC and Disney and they next dozen content owners tricks and traps and the copyright terms that lock content up well beyond reason.

Dear Congressional Representatives and those Senators with oversight and their committees along with the FTC and FCC who have oversight and regulatory powers. You are failing citizens in allowing media companies to dictate terms, to dictate pricing and especially dictate licensing with stipulated blackout periods and time limitations. I ask you, them to look back in history and remember the Paramount Antitrust and how they used theaters at the time to do unto the consumer what they are doing today using current technologies.
Sincerely, a citizen a consumer whose only options come down to choosing between the lessor of what I term evil business models.

TexasAndroid (profile) says:

DISH is currently in the middle of one of these with Time Warner. Something like 8-10 TW channels have been gone from DISH for a couple of weeks now, including CNN, Cartoon Network, and others. The biggest annoyance, personally, has been Cartoon Network, which was one of my son’s favorites. But with them gone, we’re doing without quite fine. And the longer they are gone, the less important they will be whenever they eventually return.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There was a time when Cartoon Network had great shows (Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Justice League), but lately it all seems like screaming drivel. Back then I would have been livid and changed providers but now I didn’t even notice it was gone for a couple weeks.

Since I never watch any Turner shows or channels, I say keep them off the air for a while.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You have brought up the exact point on why they are no longer important in my life since I dropped all TV. I’ve been away from it long enough to know peace from the lack of commercials.

Nor can I tell you anything about what is on it. I have no connection to what is broadcast so desire none of it. I’m quite happy over it too I might add when I hear others horror tales of what they are paying for services.

Vidiot (profile) says:

The ultimate irony is that retransmission is a dead issue, in the most-deadest division of the content delivery universe. The ability to retransmit local OTA television is valued by fewer and fewer people every month, even while retransmission fees become an increasingly greater proportion of network revenue — witness Les Moonves’ public shit-fit over Aereo for no other reason than lost retransmission fees. So… take your weakest, most trivial, soon-to-be-dead issue, and wave it in the public eye… brilliant.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Not just the youngsters

Cable company executives spend a lot of time publicly wondering why younger cord cutters can’t seem to see the incredible value in traditional cable television

As an older person, I also can’t see the incredible value of traditional cable television. Perhaps because it’s the exact opposite of an “incredible value”.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Not just the youngsters

As an older person, I also can’t see the incredible value of traditional cable television. Perhaps because it’s the exact opposite of an “incredible value”.

Exactly. When I cut the cord, the only thing I missed was Mythbusters. I used to religiously watch that show, and used to buy the DVDs. After cutting the cord, I cared less and less about missing that one show (since they don’t offer it anywhere…except on Discovery.) Now, after several years, I don’t even buy the DVDs. Had they been available on Hulu (like the new Cosmos,) I would have continued to watch and continue to support…but without them I moved on.

Sadly, when looking at my cable bills for the several years before I realized the only reason I was buying cable was to support 1 show, I realized that for the cost I could buy about 30 copies of the DVD each year and still have plenty of money to spend on other entertainment options.

Like Taylor Swift’s brain-fart of leaving good money on the table because she is greedy…had Discovery made Mythbusters available through other methods (for reasonable cost, say $5/mo), I would have continued being interested in supporting them. But $140/mo is an awful lot of money to spend on one TV show.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not just the youngsters

Mythbusters is (or was — I haven’t checked recently) available on Netflix.

Only the shows that have been released on DVD (or the last time I looked.) The DVDs are still several years behind (2009 is the latest shows released/available on DVD.) Streaming of Mythbusters is not currently available, and I don’t think it has ever been available (I’ve been watching for it on streaming, and if it is available, it isn’t available where I live in the United States.)

Anonymous Coward says:

By the numbers: an analysis

This is what Comcast offers here (Maryland), by channel:

2 NBC Sports – mixed, getting better
3 Golf – meh
4 MASN/ESPNews – live sports, okay
5 ESPN2 – live sports, okay
6 ESPN – like sports, okay
7 CSN – Comcast Sports Network, live sports, okay
8 TCN – some live sports, meh
10 ABC Family
12 WMAR (ABC affiliate)
13 QVC – overpriced crap
14 WNUV (CW affiliate)
15 WBFF (Fox affiliate)
16 CSPAN – useful
17 MASN2 – live sports
18 HomeShopping – more overpriced crap
21 WBAL (NBC affiliate)
23 WJZ (CBS affiliate)
25 Baltmore County – horrible
27 AMC – movies with constant ads, popups, and crap
28 TCM – actually presents movies without crap
29 Bravo – reality crap
30 TNT
31 TBS – runs of the Big Bang, so there’s that
32 FX – sliced-up censored movies, commercials
33 SyFy – no science fiction content to speak of
34 Spike – junk
35 A&E – endless reality crap
36 Lifetime – sappy junk and reality crap
37 History – reality crap
38 Discovery – reality crap
39 Learning – reality crap
40 AnimalPlanet – reality crap
41 Oprah – sappy reality crap
42 Cartoon – Robot Chicken, so there’s that
43 Disney – program the little ones to obbbbbeeeeyyyy
44 Nickleodeon
45 TVLand – meh
46 HGTV – stuff you can’t afford
47 Travel – stuff you can’t afford
48 Food – stuff you can’t afford
49 ESQTV – crap
52 VH1 – whiney crap
53 MTV – offensively whiney crap
54 Jewelry – still more overpriced crap
55 FoxSports – shows promise
57 TruTV – crap
58 CNN – “news” and yes those are air quotes
59 Headline – Nancy Grace 24×7
60 CNBC – “news”
61 MSNBC – “news”
62 Weather – people doing stupid things outdoors
63 Fox – “news”
64 TVOne
65 E!
66 ComedyCentral – Colbert and Daily Show
67 BET
70 Hallmark – sappy crap
(there’s more, but this is long enough)

About a dozen of these are actually worth having, and most of those carry live sports. The rest have been programmed out of the remote, because they’re utterly worthless to us. The rates go up every year (of course) and so every year we inch closer to cutting the cord, putting up a good antenna, and just watching the sports we can get that way, screw the rest of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: By the numbers: an analysis

The PBS channels are (largely) commercial free except for brief sponsorship notices and their own fund drives. Of course a lot of their programming has suffered over the last decade or two: we’ve gone from “The Ascent of Man” and Jeremy Brett’s definitive Sherlock Holmes to a fair amount of woo-woo new age bullshit, self-help financial voodoo and other tripe.

TCM doesn’t interrupt movies with commercials and has Robert Osborne commentating, which is fun and educational. (And sometimes Drew Barrymore sits in — she’s impressively literate in film and adds a nice perspective.) Of all the commercial non-sports channels, this is the one that I’d pay for, even though I don’t watch a lot of movies — because when I do, this yields a pleasant experience.

The pity of it is that there’s a lot of great programming gathering dust while some of the networks turn out junk. Let’s take SyFy (or whatever their name is this week). They could be showing Blake’s 7, The Prisoner, Babylon 5, Dr. Who, Farscape, Firefly, Red Dwarf, Stargate, the X-Files, all kinds of great series. But no. They roll out utterly worthless crap like “Sharknado”. Or “Real Ghost Hunters”. I programmed them out of the remote several years ago: haven’t found a reason to revisit that choice.

Peter (profile) says:

Re: By the numbers: an analysis

Aside from the sports channels, for me there’s nothing on this list worth watching. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon offer better shows and documentaries ad free (even Hulu is ad free if you pay for it).

All major news services offer free apps that stream directly through a Roku or other device to your TV. You just have to put up with the ads.

Trevor says:


Do these companies realize that they are driving customers to cut the cord or *gasp* find it online for free?

I have DirecTV, and watch The Walking Dead (one of my, if not the, favorite shows on TV right now) the night that it airs. I have little kids so I DVR the live broadcast, and just watch it later after they are asleep.

If AMC and DirecTV don’t work it out, I know of at least 5 places online that I can watch a copy of the episode the next day. For free. The only thing stopping me? I already pay for DirecTV (and therefore AMC), and don’t want to deal with the hassle of going all the way over there to get my laptop and waiting for it to boot up.

Go ahead. Take AMC off the air for a few months. I’ll just watch it for FREE anyway, because then the effort to turn on my laptop will be worth it.

Hear that DirecTV and AMC? You’re competing with the effort it takes to turn on a computer. And you’re barely winning.

sehlat (profile) says:

So the World Finally Starts Catching Up With Me

Back in 1992, the SciFi channel (now SyFy) started, and dear, sweet Comcast offered me a five channel bundle with that and four other channels, none of which were worth spending thirty seconds on, never mind the $30/month fee to watch ONE channel.
I was snottily told by their customer service that it was the package or nothing.

I chose nothing, canceled my account with them, and haven’t regretted it for a minute. In fact, about ten years ago, the installed cable had rotted out to the extent that I threw it in the garbage where it belonged.

About the ONLY thing Comcast does for me these days is provide fodder for the paper-recycling bin.

Nice to see the rest of the public is catching on.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Who provides your Internet service? The cable company? Guess what, you have not cut the cord, the money you pay the cable company just goes in a different pocket.

Not everyone uses the cable company for internet. Last time I checked, cable didn’t provide DSL/FIOS/LTE (though those companies may, or may not, provide Cable TV.)

However, regardless to who you pay for internet, so long as they don’t restrict your access to internet, it is a completely different model (and usually cheaper than cable TV.) On cable TV, the broadcaster decides when and what I watch (or at least, until the DVR time-shifts it.) On the internet, I decide when and what I want to watch, so long as I can find a provider to provide it.

So yes, we may still pay money into the cable companies pockets for internet, but we aren’t paying them for Cable TV.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The triple play bundles (voice, video and Internet) are all nice and good but if you want to just use your cellphone (or Vonage) you can drop your voice. Guess what, your bill won’t go down much if at all. Drop voice and video and your Internet will go up.

As long as we have to rely on that cable running into our house with no competition, there really isn’t much you can do.

My advise? Live really close to a Starbucks.

Peter (profile) says:

Re: Look it up

Look it up: cutting the cord refers specifically to cable service and not Internet connectivity.

But in my case, I was able to give Comcast Internet the boot as well. I signed up with a smaller company charging half as much for better internet service. So of the $165 Comcast used to charge me for my bundle, the company now gets nothing except shareholder earnings from its investment in Hulu.

John85851 (profile) says:

Killing the goose that laid the golden egg

For so long, cable companies had basically captive customers: there was no competition and for the most part, people wanted the channels.
Now, cable companies raise their rates or have spats with providers about their fees, all the while assuming the customers will put up with this nonsense. Frankly, people don’t care if it’s AMC or their cable company that’s not “negotiating”: they just want to see their show.

You won’t give me AMC? Okay, I’ll get their shows on Hulu or (worse) download them from file-sharing sites. But either choice means no money for the cable company.

Peter (profile) says:

There is no value in cable

Customers are smarter than the cable industry realizes, and resent the fact that they pay high rates for access to bad content with ever-increasing ads.

I cut the cable 6 months ago and now enjoy ad-free streaming via Hulu no ad, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Kodi add-ons, and various apps, all playing directly on my TV for a fraction of the cost of a cable subscription. Whenever I see a conventional cable program — I was recently in the hospital — I find it simply unwatchable.

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