Cable TV Customers Are Rightfully Pissed They're Still Paying For Cancelled Sports Programming

from the pay-a-lot,-get-a-little dept

For years, consumers have been bitching about the high cost of sports programming as it pertains to your monthly cable bill. Especially for those who don't watch sports, but are often forced to pay the sky high prices for sports programming as part of a bloated cable bundle anyway. One survey a few years ago found that 56% of consumers would ditch ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant saving the $8 per month subscribers pay for the channel. The "regional sports fees" tacked on to subscriber bills have also long been a point of contention because they're often used to help falsely advertise a lower rate.

This is the "norm" in more normal times. During a pandemic, sports have largely been cancelled, but consumers are still shelling out big bucks for sports programming that costs them an arm and a leg. That's resulted in a spike in complaints to NY Attorney General Letitia James, who this week announced she would be asking the nation's six biggest traditional cable providers to reduce or eliminate fees related to sports programming while there's, you know, no sports:

"At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing,” said Attorney General James. “These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief. This crisis has brought new economic anxiety for all New Yorkers, and I will continue to protect the wallets of working people at every turn.”

Many users pay upwards of $20 in monthly fees for sports programming that no longer exists. That's in addition to the $40 to $50 of each $100 cable bill sports programming is responsible for. But when users call to complain or ask for refunds, they're just ignored. Cable providers aren't exactly thrilled either, with Dish Network saying it wants a break from the $80 million to $100 million fees it pays ESPN for April sports broadcasts given there, well, aren't any. While many sports networks have adapted to the pandemic by airing a lot of reruns, they're not actually airing the content everybody pays an arm and a leg for.

And while cable providers may not like it, they can at least pass those costs along to the consumer, whom experts say is the real loser in the equation:

"One would think that sports network programmers would credit distributors for channels paid for when they can't deliver the content that was promised," LightShed says. Unfortunately, "distributors such as Comcast have to pay sports network programmers regardless if what content airs, and in turn, the consumer is the loser."

That said, charging for services you don't actually provide has long been the MO of the cable and broadcast sector.

Cable TV has, for more than a decade, been plagued by obnoxious feuds between broadcasters and cable providers that routinely end up with consumers losing access to content they pay for. Broadcasters repeatedly want more money for the same programming (often sports), then demand higher rates from cable providers. Cable providers balk, the two sides pout and black out content, and consumers repeatedly lose access to content they pay for. Almost never do you see refunds, and regulators usually treat these feuds as "boys will be boys" behavior between gentlemen, not worthy of intervention.

The problem is that unlike broadband, cable TV is becoming an increasingly competitive market thanks to the rise of streaming alternatives. For many, sports was one of the only reasons to still subscribe to traditional cable TV. With no sports, analysts expect the rate of cord cutting to increase. Traditional cable and broadcast executives already had an extreme allergy to competing on price and channel bundle flexibility, and without their ace in the hole and many consumers facing economic hardship, the sector is going to find charging an arm and a leg for bloated cable TV bundles a far more difficult proposition than ever.

Filed Under: cable tv, covid-19, fees, laticia james, pandemic, sports, subscriptions


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 6:19am

    Every month I look at my cable bill and think “it’s so much cheaper since I cancelled the TV part.” And yet I’m watching more stuff because of the lockdown. Thank you streaming.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 6:47am

      Re:

      "Thank you streaming."

      How did streaming force you to subscribe to so many services that you spent more than you did before? Maybe I just have wider tastes, but I never have that ind of problem. I just eep watching the "to watch" list on the 2-3 services I subscribe to constantly grow because I don't have time to watch everything.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 10:58am

      Re:

      I cut the cord 8 years ago because I was tired of my sky-high bill and paying for crap like the sports channels I never watch!!! I think I heard somewhere it's only like 8% of cable subscribers who even watch the Sports Channels. That means the other 92% subsidies the sports content for that 8%.

      I was at the time already paying for Netflix, so that's not an extra cost to me. I, of course, didn't turn around and start paying someone else to stream all those channels which of course forces you to pay for ESPN and maybe others also anyway either. Put it this way, what you can't watch, you can't miss it.

      Early on it took a little adjustment. But now I get most of my TV from the Antenna all for FREE. These days there are a number of DVR solutions using an antenna which is great. Tivo, Tablo, ChannelMaster, HDHomerun, etc.

      A number of TV series you can buy a season pass for. I did for The Walking Dead. I'd get to watch it the following Day. Air Sunday night, stream it from Amazon on Monday and commercial-free and I own it. 1 or 2 shows, not a big deal, cost wise.

      These days, it even makes sense to subscribe to like HBO for a month after the season of the show you like is done. Then cancel and the next month get CBS All access for a month and binge-watch the new Star Trek series. Then anything else you can fit it for that month, then Move to Disney+ for a month. Or maybe skip a month or two. This way you are not subscribed to a bunch of services. You can only watch so much, so fast anyway.

      It makes no sense to have all this crap at once. Which was yet another reason why I cut the cord. Huge cable tv and internet bill and it was just me at the time and it just made no sense. I couldn't use the internet enough and watch that much TV to justify what I was paying every month. My bill kept going up and I'd cut out something else. I had enough.

      Comcast is so worried about Cord cutters, it's generally cheaper to get a basic TV bundle with Internet than Internet only. Which I've gotten in the past with a basic cable Box which I didn't even hook up and still used my antenna because I could still DVR that way which the basic cable box I couldn't, and would have to run a wire for that anyway and I didn't want to.

      Every year I call Comcast when my 1 year it up and get signed up to a new 1-year deal so that I can save money. Generally around $40 a month just doing that. That little effort can save me around $480 a year not going to Comcast, but staying in my own pocket. That's worth it to me. You could think of that as paying for some other service or a few of them IF you wanted. I'd rather hold onto the money.

      Cut the Cord, make a yearly phone call. These are the things you can do to save money or how I like to look at it, stop wasting money, or throwing money away. Maybe being a sucker for paying for Sports you're not even getting is the final straw for you?

      I have the Regal Unlimited MoviePass. You have to sign up for a year. So I couldn't just cancel because of this Covid-19. I can't go to the Theater to even use it. Yet they Suspended everyone's account so we all were not paying for a service we aren't getting. I assume it'll start back up when the theaters open up once again IF they open up once again!!!! The longer the Government keeps businesses closes the more that will go under and the more people won't have a job to go back to when this is over. The longer the economy is going to take to recover.

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 6:33am

    Spelling mistake:

    You misspelled the New York Attorney General's name: It's spelled Letitia James.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 6:36am

    Not this side of the pond

    Sky aren't charging for the sports pack at the moment.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 6:48am

      Re: Not this side of the pond

      How depressing is it when you can say "Rupert Murdoch isn't profiteering this badly"?

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

    • identicon
      Naughty Autie, 5 May 2020 @ 10:21am

      Re: Not this side of the pond

      I don't know about that. Sky and Virgin TV both seem to get away with nine minute ad breaks when UK law restricts them to three minutes...

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

      • identicon
        Rocky, 6 May 2020 @ 5:37am

        Re: Re: Not this side of the pond

        There are ways around the limit, like having the broadcast originating from another country that don't have those pesky limits.

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

  • icon
    davetechdirt02 (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 7:32am

    Why more people don't cut the cord is beyond me.
    Lower cost.
    More to watch (if you are a house porn, food porn junkie).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 8:11am

    Brace yourself for the bad news …

    … Sky UK has been owned by comcast since Sept 2018.

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

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 8:14am

    If Only

    If only A-la-carte cable tv were a thing. The free market would fix the sports and cable industries in a heartbeat when the money stopped flowing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 9:18am

      Re: If Only

      But think of all the sports billionaires who aren't going to make a 30% return this year... How will they ever manage to survive?

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

    • icon
      nerdrage (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 10:39am

      Re: If Only

      A la carte cable will never exist. Cable will simply collapse before that happens and be replaced by streaming (which also isn't a la carte, but you can get that by ignoring streaming and just opting for iTunes or Google Play to pay for only exactly what you want; it's just pricier that way).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 9:14am

    It sounds like many of them are pissed about paying for sports at all. I feel kind of bad for the people who enjoy them because they will have a hard time leaving the cable ecosystem.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 9:38am

    good old USA! Land of the take as much as possible, for free, give as little back as possible, knowing that no one will ever see the inside of a court room!!

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 9:41am

      Re:

      As someone has said in a previous blogpost/thread, there needs to be a "sad but true" rating (but as I said in that thread, Metallica would sue for trademark infringement)…

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 3:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Speaking of bands, are people also gonna get their MTV fees pro-rated for any time spent on non-music-related shows?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 7:39am

          Re: Re: Re:

          MTV is also not like it used to be. Lots of Reality TV garbage for many years now. Just another reason to cut the cord on CableTV.

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

          • identicon
            Rocky, 6 May 2020 @ 5:41am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            MTV has been in decline for a long time now. The only music they broadcast today is "Nighttime Videos" which used to contain really odd videos (in a good way) - now it's just mainstream.

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

  • icon
    deadzone (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 9:46am

    No surprise

    Remember you guys, it's about profit, not what's best for us. It will always be about profits over anything else.

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

    • icon
      BG (profile), 6 May 2020 @ 6:17am

      Re: No surprise

      Not just profit, it's about short-term profit. Make all the money now and ignore any obvious, predictable consequences in the longer term ... even if it leads to customers turning away from your service in some form or another.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 10:22am

    Be fair. Most people were never paying for sports anyway. They were merely paying for the privilege of being billed for sports.

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

    • icon
      nerdrage (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 10:37am

      Re: figured that out years ago

      Yup. And when I figured that out, it gave me an incentive to bail on cable entirely. That and the ever increasing prices and the ever increasing ad glut...

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

  • icon
    nerdrage (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 10:36am

    cable is done

    Oh my lord why are there still cable customers at all? I bailed on it, what, 9 years ago or something, just watch Netflix and Amazon now. Add in DVDs (seriously; I never cancelled my Netflix DVD service) and that basically gives me access to every flipping thing, far more than I can hope to ever watch, even being super picky. It helps that I don't give a flip about sports and as for news, it's available for free all over the internet so who's gonna pay for that. People should not be paying more than, say $25/month for entertainment subscriptions.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2020 @ 3:45pm

      Re: cable is done

      Oh my lord why are there still cable customers at all?

      Some of them haven't died yet. Others have, and the executors are still trying to cancel.

      Another subset are there reluctantly and maybe don't use it. E.g., those in HOAs or condos where it's included in fees, or those who want other services from their local monopoly and get a lower overall cost by subscribing.

      Has anyone who didn't grow up with cable TV ever signed up for it on their own initiative? That would be interesting.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2020 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re: cable is done

        I didn't grow up with CableTV as a kid. We had an Antenna, an Antenna that we could turn remotely to get channels to come in much better. I did have some friends next door and I'd watch some MTV once in a while.

        I did sign up for CableTV with Comcast. This was before they had the Internet. Back then I had ISDN, then SDSL, Yes S, not your normal ADSL. The company I got SDSL from went out of business, and so I got ADLS which wasn't fast at all as I was near the end for the phone company to get that. Finally, Comcast announced that they were going to be offering Internet service. I picked up a cable modem, got it connected and waited until I saw my modem lights actually working, and then signed up.

        The costs on both just kept on going up and up. I canceled Showtime service, and it kept going up. At the time I wasn't making a ton of money and it was only ME and I never looked forward to opening up that cable bill every month. Not long before I went house shopping, I cut the cord. When I got my house, one of the first things I did is put up a nice large Antenna. Even when I look around my neighborhood today, standing on the roof and look out, I don't see any antenna's and I think SUCKERS.

        I did have AT&T U-VERSE for a few years, but their prices kept going up and up and the speed really wasn't very fast. They wouldn't reduce the cost when I called. I told them, I'd just get Comcast Internet as it was a whole lot faster for the same price. They didn't care. I said fine, I'll be calling back in a week or so to cancel service. I went out and got a Cable Modem. I don't remember why, as I had one, someplace. Maybe it didn't support the newer stuff? Anyway, I got it. Ran a new COAX cable from outside connection to where my stuff is all at, in a closet. Called Comcast and got it working and ripped out the AT&T U-Verse modem and called them to cancel. NOW they wanted to make a deal, but I told them I called a week ago and warned them. That I've already pulled the hardware and to cancel my service, and that was the end of them.

        I still get most of my TV from the Antenna. I have Netflix, which I had before I cut the cord anyway. I look at it this way, What you can't watch, you can't miss. So at first it was a bit hard after cutting the cord, but you get used to it. I have more crap to watch these days than ever before.

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

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 11:23am

    "One would think that sports network programmers would credit distributors for channels paid for when they can't deliver the content that was promised," LightShed says. Unfortunately, "distributors such as Comcast have to pay sports network programmers regardless if what content airs, and in turn, the consumer is the loser."

    Greed dictates that'll never change.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 12:55pm

    Iv seent he list..

    Its funny that we can look at the prices cable pay for all those channels.
    200+, and it shows that cable paid Pennies for 90% of them..
    And the conclusion I get is..
    That Cable faked those channels or that those channels are PAYING to be on cable.
    Its Fake Filler, to make things seem Larger then they really are.
    But its still Pennies, and even if all of them were charging $0.50 Each, which is about 10 times more then the list suggests, for 200 channels(if they all have something to watch) is $100.
    But that is about what WE, seem to be paying. THE AVERAGE, and at the high end is ESPN. And the low end is around $0.03, and thats most of the channels.

    Anyone on a limited income, or Low income, is having problems with this. The Channel creator and the Cable/sat companies advert and get tons of money, along with Every Cable/Sat giving money Back to them, from millions of subscribers.. 100 million (1/3 of the nation)times Pennies is Allot of pennies, esp when no one is watching those channels.. Which gives me the idea that Either Cable made a few fake channels to Add money to the bottom lines, or Those channels are paying Cable to run the channels...

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

  • icon
    crade (profile), 4 May 2020 @ 3:13pm

    I'm finding it hard to emphasize with these consumers... If you don't like it cancel your cable, if whatever you are getting is still worth what you are paying then don't cancel. Regardless of how the detail breakdown goes the cost for your cable is either worth it to you for what you are getting or not, and no one is twisting your arm to make sure you keep it

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 4 May 2020 @ 6:47pm

    In all fairness to the cable companies, the coronavirus really threw them a curve.

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

  • identicon
    ryuugami, 4 May 2020 @ 10:46pm

    I'm just surprised they didn't already replace the "sports fee" with a "pandemic operation fee".

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


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