Those Annoying Cable Channel Blackouts Are Only Going To Get Worse In 2018

from the more-money-for-the-same-substandard-service dept

The last few years, cable TV customers have faced a growing number of obnoxious carriage fee blackouts, which occur when broadcasters and cable operators can't agree on new programming contracts. Such feuds usually go something like this: a broadcaster will demand a fairly obnoxious price hike for the same content, to which the cable provider (already awash in complaints about higher rates) will balk. Instead of negotiating their differences like adults, this content is subsequently blacked out for paying customers to force a settlement. Customers never see refunds for the inconvenience of being used as props.

For weeks, consumers are bombarded with PR missives, new websites and on-screen tickers all trying to amplify public outrage and drive greater pressure for one side or the other to buckle. After a while, the two sides strike a new confidential deal, and the higher rates are then quickly passed on to consumers. In a letter to lawmakers last year, Dish Network argued that consumers have faced 750 such broadcaster blackouts since 2010, with the retransmission consent fees that broadcasters demand growing a whopping 27,400% between 2005 and 2016.

It's an idiotic cycle of dysfunction that's unsustainable and only acts to drive consumers to alternative video options (like piracy). The fact that these costs are only driving users away from the traditional pay TV ecosystem is irrelevant to many cable and broadcast executives, who seem inclined to believe that they'll be able to nurse this dying cash cow in perpetuity.

The annoying phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down in 2018. Frontier customers in Seattle this week lost access to CBS after the company says it was told it needed to pay 80% more money for the same exact content:

"Cox’s bullying and heavy-handed blackout tactics hurt consumers,” said Steve Ward, Frontier Senior Vice President Video Technology and Content. "Their demands for an outrageous price increase would have to be passed on to customers in the form of higher monthly service rates. It’s time for Cox to agree to a fair and reasonable solution."

Meanwhile, Suddenlink and Optimum (formerly Cablevision) customers woke up to the new year with the news that they'd no longer be able to access Starz after their cable provider and the broadcaster failed to strike a new deal. For now, customers of those cable providers are being told that if they want access to Starz content, they'll need to pay extra to access it via Starz online streaming platform:

"Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz' own over-the-top streaming service, we don't believe it makes sense to charge all of our customers for Starz programming, particularly when their viewership is declining and the majority of our customers don't watch Starz," Altice said in its statement. "We believe it is in the best interest of all our customers to replace Starz and StarzEncore programming with alternative entertainment channels that will provide a robust content experience at a great value."

Of course with regulatory capture and the death of net neutrality, it's likely that this is one of several problems in the telecom and cable world that will only get worse before it gets better. Regulators from both parties were already inclined to dismiss this problem as just "boys being boys," wary of getting involved in what they believe are simple business disputes. And while there have been occasional talks about banning these blackouts as an act of bad-faith negotiations, nothing much ever appears to come of them. The hope was that the threat of regulatory intervention would be enough.

And while it's certainly true that this behavior will only drive customers to new streaming alternatives, broadcasters still dictate licensing for (or outright own) those services as well, meaning it's only a matter of time before this problem expands to hamper access to online content. There have been several different times where broadcasters blocked user access to their online services as well (usually by ISP IP range); behavior that only ceased due to companies being worried that they might run afoul of net neutrality (since many ISPs are broadcasters, like Comcast) or adult regulatory supervision.

With both of those concepts on the chopping block, expect carriage fee bickering (and the subsequent blackouts) to get both worse and more sophisticated in the new year.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 6:58am

    So it boils down to copyright being the crap it currently is. Because this specific monopoly (copyright) would never go wrong like many others did before, right?

    If this monstrosity is ever reviewed and fixed I hope they add mandatory licensing without price discrimination to whoever wants to get the content. Of course this may be moot considering ISPs own copyright holders as well.

    Know what? Just let's go without.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:29am

    The blackouts will be worse for those who stick with cable. For everyone else, the blackouts will be the fuel that drives more cord cutting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      And that change will fuel blackout of the streaming services. Those ISPs are too wedded to their cable subscriptions to allow cord cutting to go unpunished.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re:

        I'll go to torrents, newsgroups, and even IRC. Fuck, I'll go outside and do things with people before I let those entertainment industry fuckheads "punish" me.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:13am

      Re:

      I cut the cord a number of years ago. Why drives me nuts is I still have to see this crap even when I'm on an Antenna. I'm not paying for Cable TV, why should I see these messages anyway?

      Jacking up these prices like they are is insane. These retransmission fees are a joke. These cable companies are doing them a favor in which more people can get and see their channel. Which in turn means more money for ad's on their channel. Yet these fees they want just to retransmit their channels keep shooting way up and up.

      Cut the cord and break free.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Snape (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:33am

    It looks like the future is going to be made up solely of ISPs who deliver everything entertainment. You'll get your TV, movies, music, and ePubs through the internet, and cable and satellite TV will go the way of the 8-track. This just accelerates the process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      On the positive side, the behaviour will likely result in legislation after next presidential change since there is a fairly obvious problem here (Honestly the best solution would have been to break the retransmitting company and the ISP into separate entities, but the investment vehicles are too invested in lobbyists for that to ever happen. The scene is set for another period of the privately funded theater of politics.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:43am

    "Given that Starz is available to all consumers directly through Starz' own over-the-top streaming service"

    Which means we can keep the revenue you were paying anyways for the now missing Starz line up & collect a bounty when your streaming pushes you over our bandwidth caps.

    There is a finite amount of money you can extract from consumers. There is not a single show that doesn't have an "alternative" path to acquire. They will tell you how horrible you are for doing this, ignoring how horrible it is to be a pawn in a corporate shakedown & having content you want to see go missing or flooded with tickers telling you it might go away.

    What will these channels do when they manage to kill off cable? None of them are smart enough to offer a decent streaming service, & even if they tried they would screw it up by trying to limit it into uselessness.

    If not for all of the hidden fees & game playing the industry is so in love with, they might finally offer ala carte packages. Imagine if consumers knew they were paying $20 a month for CBS, that they could get with an antenna for free.

    It is a pity our "free market" has no competition to act as price controls. We are just a flock to be sheared, until they finally push the good people into searching for "other" ways to get the content. Then they raise prices again, and other good people fall for the sweet words of the devil on their shoulder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:45am

    They can fight over nothing

    There's going to be a massive cable channel blackout at my house in 2018. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 7:57am

    I'm still happy with the service I get from Mullvad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:10am

    Blackouts

    Let the local TV blackouts begin. One way cable and satellite providers can avoid the rates squabbling with local TV stations is to drop them. They can now be picked up with new technology like digital antennas with free access. Let customers decide whether they want the local stations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:18am

      Re: Blackouts

      At some point they're going to have to be done with this crap!

      Maybe instead of dealing with Retransmission fees, they go with a Box where Broadcast TV is received by an Antenna Hookup to the Box along with the cable to satellite signal to it for all the other channels.

      If you can't get channels by an Antenna, you are free to get them from someone else. Just end this crap once and for all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nate, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:54am

      Re: Blackouts

      I'm fine with that let the local stations do whatever makes them happy. I just wish my cable provider, Frontier, could get the national CBS feed. I'll use an antenna if I want local content.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Iggy, 8 Jan 2018 @ 8:40am

    Entitlement Spending

    Was listening to AM radio in the car this morning and they talked about Entitlement Spending being an issue for the upcoming elections. How I would love that! The worst entitlements are frivolous copyrights, exclusive control of communication infractructure, and corporate subsidies that just end up going to CEO's and shareholders. A 20,000% increase in retransmission fees since 2005? Now theres an entitlement to cut!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 12:18pm

      Re: Entitlement Spending

      Yeah - but I think the "entitlements" they are talking about reducing are social security and medicare.

      The deal was ... they keep some of your earnings for you and in return you get your earnings back during retirement. That was the deal and now they want to change the deal because they have borrowed heavily from same and do want to pay it back. This is also seen in the private sector where pension plans are being robbed leaving some with nothing. Why do people still believe anything these politicians have to say?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 9:05am

    In a letter to lawmakers last year, Dish Network argued that consumers have faced 750 such broadcaster blackouts since 2010, with the retransmission consent fees that broadcasters demand growing a whopping 27,400% between 2005 and 2016.

    Can anyone explain why retransmission fees are even a thing in the first place?

    We already know the fair market value of broadcast TV content: zero. That's what they charge to broadcast it over the air, because it's supported by advertising. Anyone trying to charge money for it is running a scam, and it's a bit horrifying to see that scam upheld by courts!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2018 @ 9:49am

    "It's an idiotic cycle of dysfunction that's unsustainable and only acts to drive consumers to alternative video options (like piracy)."

    Is this really a zero sum game? I don't think so. Just because cable has become so ridiculous causing people to cancel their service does not mean they will get their video fix elsewhere. Perhaps some of them will simply do without, and they will not be missing much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    streetlight (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 9:58am

    Re: explain why retransmission fees are even a thing

    Because congress allowed transmission fees to be a thing. These fees are a major income source for local TV stations. Not sure if it's more than 50% of revenue, though, but could be. These fees help insure the very highest quality of the ten o'clock news. And also why we are so entertained by the increasing quality, number and length of commercials.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    heymanj, 8 Jan 2018 @ 10:38am

    FCC Must Carry

    If "must carry" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Must-carry) were eliminated - or modified - a lot of the problems might be alleviated.

    Several years ago here in Raleigh,NC the local ABC affiliate (must carry) is actually owned by Disney. In order to carry the ABC affiliate, DISH Network was being told that redistribution rights had increased *and* it *must* also offer multiple DISNEY channels on it's default offering - and pay for those (causing individual rates to rise).

    DISH network subscribers lost access to ABC (and Disney) channels for a while until the situation was settled - to the detriment of my pocketbook.

    I believe that content owners should not be allowed to own distribution mechanisms. "must carry" must also be eliminated/modified so that if an agreement cannot be reached, another affiliate can be substituted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jinxed (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 11:29am

    What's "cable"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DOlz (profile), 8 Jan 2018 @ 1:02pm

    One of the reasons Rome lasted so long was that the elites provide bread and circus to placate and distract the masses. In France they took away the bread. Here they're taking away the circus. Might be time to break out the trundle carts and guillotines again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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