Comcast Tells Customers They May Lose Access To Comcast Channels If Comcast Can't Agree With Comcast

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Comcast is informing the company's 20+ million cable TV customers that they may lose access to Comcast TV channels next month if Comcast can't come to some sort of agreement with... Comcast.

It's an absurd twist on the already annoying practice of carriage disputes, where customers pay the price for broadcasters and cable TV providers being unable to come to terms on new agreements after old ones expire. Usually, this involves both the cable company and the broadcaster trying to get customers pissed at the other guy, despite both sides pursuing relentless rate hikes (be it for programming or cable set top box rental). Usually this results in outages that customers don't get refunds for, after which a new confidential deal is struck and consumer prices go up anyway.

While there have been some flimsy discussions about protecting consumers from these kinds of stand offs, not much comes of them. Matthew Keys notes how this particular standoff effectively involves Comcast bickering with itself (Comcast NBC Universal):

"But the Comcast situation is unusual because the cable giant owns NBC Universal and the channels that are slated to be dropped. The channels are carried under an agreement negotiated between the cable service and its subsidiary broadcast and cable network group.

“Comcast has successfully renegotiated thousands of expiring contracts over the years and rarely experienced an interruption of service,” a statement included with the notice said. “However, it is possible that contracts for the channels listed below will not be renewed, in which case Comcast would no longer have the right to carry those channels on our systems."

Needless to say, it's pretty likely that Comcast will be able to agree with Comcast before Comcast customers lose access to channels they pay for. And the notice was created because cable providers are legally obligated to inform customers of looming blackouts when a new contract hasn't been signed yet. But I think Cory Doctorow does a good job getting to the heart of this absurdism by noting its origins lie in trying to pretend that monopolistic business sectors are more competitive than they actually are, and creating the illusion that monopolies are good and efficient:

He also quite correctly notes that the performative nonsense (and unnecessary stress placed on the backs of customers during an already stressful time) is generated by a need to create the illusion of competition, but also to help set the rates Comcast gets to charge other, largely unaccountable media giants:

Either way, these fights have been getting increasingly worse over the last decade, with consumers routinely losing access to TV content they pay for -- and almost never getting a refund. Regulators in the Trump era effectively giving up on consumer protection hasn't helped. And while the added competition from streaming has helped matters somewhat, you can expect entirely new issues as the battle over gatekeeper dominance simply changes shape.

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Filed Under: carriage disputes, tv
Companies: comcast

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  1. icon
    Thad (profile), 4 Nov 2020 @ 8:36am

    Reminds me of the old Lewis Black segment on The Daily Show where he played a bunch of clips of Fox News commentators ranting about the left-wing debauchery on the Fox network. He closed with a line that was something like "Thank God those fine, upstanding citizens at Fox are here to protect us from those godless commies at Fox."

    (Course, that joke wouldn't work today, now that Fox News and 20th Century Television actually are completely separate companies.)

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