Cable Programming Blackouts Continue To Rise As Cord-Cutting Continues

from the fueling-the-fire dept

We've for some time written about cable TV programming blackouts stemming from contract disputes over retransmission fees. The way this works is that cable operators pay broadcasters of television channels fees to retransmit those broadcasts to customers. When those contracts come to term, broadcasters often demand rate-hikes, which the cable operator resists. In the event no agreement is reached, one side or the other blacks out the channel, pissing off fans of that channel. That anger is then leveraged by both sides to negotiate better terms. Pay TV customers, meanwhile, never see any kind of refund for the missing channel.

In the pantheon of reasons that cord-cutting continues to be a trend, blackouts may not rank as the highest of reasons, but it might be one of the easiest to understand, irritating examples of how the cable TV business simply isn't serving its customers all that well. Blackout instances have been trending upward for years, but as Karl just discussed 2019 is already a record-breaking year for blackouts, and we're only a bit over half way through the year.

Broadcast TV stations are being blacked out on cable and satellite TV systems in record numbers this year, with 230 blackouts so far in 2019. That beats the record of 213 blackouts set in 2017, even though 2019 is just seven months old. The 230 figure represents a huge rise over the eight blackouts seen in 2010 and 42 in 2011, according to a pay-TV industry advocacy group.

Blackouts has mostly been trending up in the past decade, though the number frequently goes down one year before rising again the next. There were 90 blackouts in 2012, 119 in 2013, 94 in 2014, 193 in 2015, 104 in 2016, 213 in 2017, and 165 in 2018.

Both sides are, as per usual, scrambling to blame the other side. What nobody is really speaking to, however, is why consumers should bother putting up with any of this. With tons of options for professional and amateur content on the internet, much of which is on par with anything offered through pay TV channels, and without the entanglements that lead to these blackouts, why should the public stick around to see the end of these blackouts at all?

Many of them aren't, of course. They're cutting cords faster than a new father in the delivery room. Any battle cable providers want to wage against that trend is going to be hampered by these blackout squabbles, as customers see less and less value in the service for which they pay. And it's not as though blackouts are the only thing reducing the value-per-dollar equation for customers.

AT&T and other TV providers have complained for years about rising programming costs in general, not just for broadcast stations. One counter-strategy TV providers have used is to buy large programmers, like AT&T did with Time Warner in a deal finalized last year. But that doesn't stop the AT&T-owned Time Warner from charging high prices for its content, and the industry consolidation hasn't prevented TV users from being charged ever-higher prices.

AT&T claimed that its Time Warner merger would lower prices for consumers, but AT&T has since been raising them instead. AT&T is also starting to pull Time Warner shows off Netflix in order to make them exclusive to an upcoming service it calls HBO Max.

There's a lot in the world about which to be confused, but why the public is cutting the cord in the face of these lies and greed is not one of them.

Filed Under: blackouts, cable programming, cord cutting


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2019 @ 11:11am

    Years ago, back before the change over to digital broadcasting, I began to feel I wasn't getting my money's worth out of PPV. Constant reruns, channels I had no interest in that I was paying for anyway, black outs over sports that hadn't filled their stadiums locally, poor quality programming, the idea that I was paying for a service for no ads and then getting ads on my dime.

    Finally I had enough, I dropped PPV and since that day have never went back. Today, I'm not chained to a TV for my entertainment. Today I could careless if all the PPVs go bankrupt. I might and that's stretching it, watch a few hours at best a week with the antenna. Mostly, I've found other things do to that don't require me waiting on a certain day at a certain time in order to see something I might be interested in.

    I've dropped out of the PPV market way back when. I have no intention of ever spending another dime on such. After all this time I don't miss it, not one bit. When I think back of how much money I did not dish out to these providers, it makes me smile.

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 2 Aug 2019 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      Do you know what PPV means?

      Years ago, back before the change over to digital broadcasting, I began to feel I wasn't getting my money's worth out of PPV. Constant reruns, channels I had no interest in that I was paying for anyway, black outs over sports that hadn't filled their stadiums locally, poor quality programming, the idea that I was paying for a service for no ads and then getting ads on my dime.

      You seem to refer to Cable as PPV.

      PPV refers to pay per view, a system by which you could purchase a one time viewing of some content, most commonly a live event (such as Boxing or wrestling) broadcast or a movie which you could view at a specific date and time (or a looping encore feed over a specific period of time.)

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2019 @ 1:41pm

        Re: Re:

        PPV refers to pay per view, a system by which you could purchase a one time viewing of some content

        Or, if we're talking about "back before the change over to digital broadcasting", you'd purchase a box one time, from some shady source, and get free PPV as long as you paid the cable company enough not to cut your cord.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2019 @ 2:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          and get free PPV as long as you paid the cable company enough not to cut your cord.

          Um... try reading that a couple times... I dont think those words mean what you seem to think they mean

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2019 @ 4:24pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Which words, "free"? If you're paying for basic cable and not PPV, and you can watch the PPV channels without paying per view, it's close enough, and how else would the opening comment about PPV make sense?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 9:08am

      Re:

      The year-by-year dumbing of content.

      Cut production costs. Survey viewership -- still viewers? Great! Target that audience. Keep going. Intelligent viewers cut cable.

      Cut production costs more. Survey viewership -- still viewers? Great! Target that audience. Keep going. Moderately intelligent viewers cut cable.

      Cut production costs more. Survey viewership -- still viewers? Great! Target that audience. Keep going. Less intelligent viewers cut cable.

      You now have reality television and Kardashian's filling air between ad blocks from every network from ESPN and MTV, to History and Weather channels. And an exceedingly distorted view of the public as selection pressure leaves only the most passive and easy to please viewers still subscribed. You've got a huge cable cutter population who have gone dark.

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

  • icon
    AricTheRed (profile), 2 Aug 2019 @ 11:19am

    Perhaps you should?

    If you could care less...

    Perhaps you should!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2019 @ 12:56pm

    Those that continue to jack the prices of content seem to not understand that there is a Point of Diminishing Returns and this implies they do not understand their market.

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

    • identicon
      E., 2 Aug 2019 @ 3:16pm

      Re:

      Yep, and yet they just don't care to. All they care about is the almighty dollar.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Aug 2019 @ 9:14am

      Re:

      All American Business cares about is the current quarterly results. We are going to get more milk, even if the cow dies next year as a result.

      For a laugh, rewatch the episode of South Park the addresses the cable companies. Clips are on YouTube.

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

  • icon
    dave blevins (profile), 3 Aug 2019 @ 4:09am

    Who should pay on cable content

    I've always wondered why the cable companies aren't paid by the content provider for the carriage rather than vice versa as now. After all if the content provider broadcasts its product it has paid the govt for the bandwidth.

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

  • identicon
    Stephen Green, 4 Aug 2019 @ 8:46am

    uh oh

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

  • identicon
    martin gray, 4 Aug 2019 @ 8:58am

    Cable

    I currently pay over $250.00 a month for 500 channels. I can only watch 6 at the most. Who needs 500? The 6 I watch have more commercials than programming. So I am paying to see more commercials than programming. If I switch to another channel all I get is more commercials because they have all conspired to run their commercials at the same times to deter cable switching. If I complain to the cable company they tell me I do not pay for programming,but I pay for equipment to bring me the programming. However I am getting more commercials than programming. I have been exploring streaming but I am afraid they will soon catch up to cable rates.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:59am

      Re: Cable

      Why are you paying so much, that's crazy!!!! That's $3,000 per year!!! Just to watch 6 channels at most?

      I get most of my TV from the Antenna. My Tivo records it all. I can watch in other rooms on my Tivo Mini's. Then Netflix fills in most everything else. I do have Amazon prime and once in a while, I'll watch something on that also.

      As I say, you can't miss something you can't see. At first, I missed the many cable channels I had, but in a pretty short time, that was no longer the case.

      Maybe you want to watch the new StarTrek: Picard next year on CBS All Access. Well wait for the season to be about over and sign up for 1 month and then binge-watch the whole season and then cancel. Maybe watch whatever else for that month.

      You can do the same with HBO, Showtime, etc. Sign up for 1 month and binge-watch the whole season and then cancel. My brother's kids were pretty much watching Netflix only. There is so much kids content. They didn't know what a commercial was for quite some time. You should be able to cut your costs by more than half.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2019 @ 8:43am

    I don't get the whole B.S. Re-Transmission fee's in the first place. The Cable companies are doing broadcast TV a favor. Getting their channel out to far more people that for whatever reason can't get them with an Antenna. More people that are watching, the more they can charge for the ad's they show.

    Yet they want more and more and more crazy money for what people can get for FREE with an antenna. Personally, I think Cable companies should end these Retransmission fees. Just don't carry the broadcast TV. Maybe instead, offer mounting an Antenna? Connecting that to the cable box where it can record those with everything else?

    At this point in time, as the cable company's keep jacking up their prices, more and more people are fleeing. Costs need to be brought under control. Can't keep giving in to the demands. These companies are pricing themselves out of the market.

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

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 6 Aug 2019 @ 4:58pm

    Comcast/NBC, AT&T/HBO, and Streams

    Ok, not a very good name for a band. Now that quality that HBO/Cinemax once used to pull in cable users is irrelevant since AT&T jacked the price up so far that Amazon offers better deals than cable - $12 monthly for device dependent DRM and PIN codes that Comcast now offers. Not Comcast's fault to say no to a bad deal - nice to offer users the pricey option.

    All the factions that want to play in content generation will notice monthly fees stack up. I'm limited to Netflix and Amazon Prime and cable. Cable is starting to get grumbles from budget.

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


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