Thanks To Crappy Cable Channel Bundles, Non-Watchers Hugely Subsidize Tucker Carlson And Fox News

from the fossilized-business-models dept

We've talked about the problem with bloated, expensive cable TV channel bundles for a long time. You might recall the push for "a la carte" TV channels (being able to buy cable TV channels individually) was even a pet project of the late John McCain, though his legislative efforts on that front never really went anywhere. And while the rise of streaming competition helped mitigate the problem somewhat, the tactic of forcing US cable TV consumers to buy massive bundles filled with channels they don't watch remains a very real annoyance.

The latest case in point: many folks are realizing that the attempt to drive advertisers away from white supremacy apologists like Tucker Carlson aren't really working, in part thanks to the traditional cable TV bundle. In short, because Fox News is included in most cable TV lineups, millions of Americans are throwing money at Fox News despite never watching the channel:

I spent much of February talking to as many media scholars as I could for a piece trying to find a solution for the Fox News disinformation problem. The reality is there are very few policy proposals that wouldn't run afoul of the First Amendment, especially with a rightward-lurching Supreme Court. One that might actually help work remains pushing actively to eliminate the bloated cable TV bundle:

"You’d kill those stations in a heartbeat if they didn’t get bundled in every cable package,” said Christopher Terry, assistant professor of media law at the University of Minnesota. “All of those outlets thrive in the delivery to the audience they get by being included in every package, but in an a la carte cable package, only a handful of the true believer crowd would be willing to pay extra for them."

“Imagine if they had to survive in an actual market-based scenario where the number of viewers they could have was limited by the people who would pay to have access to that specific content,” he added. “You’d cut them off at the knees and use their own rhetoric to do so while making cable companies more accountable to the local customer base."

Actually competing for attention, imagine that! Again, this was something that was supposed to be addressed by market forces via the streaming revolution, though many of the same failures in traditional cable simply wandered over to the streaming sector (not surprising since the same broadcasters and telecom giants dominated both arenas). And while streaming does provide greater choice, cable TV remains the dominant platform. As a result, Fox News still hauls in massive subsidies from a dated business model that involves tens of millions of Americans paying for a channel they never watch:

"Fox News makes $1.8 billion from the carriage fees it charges cable TV providers to include the channel in bloated, increasingly expensive cable TV bundles. But just 3 million of the nation’s 90 million cable TV subscribers actively watch the channel. In other words, 87 million Americans pay their cable company for and thus subsidize Fox News—despite rarely if ever actually watching the channel."

"According to a survey conducted late last year, about 14% of cable TV subscribers watch Fox News regularly. But every cable TV subscriber pays an average of $1.72 a month to receive Fox News. In contrast, 31% of cable TV subscribers regularly watch FX (owned by Disney) but the channel adds just $0.81 to an average cable bill.

Judd Legum recently crunched the numbers further, showing how a lot of Fox News' income comes utterly unearned, from people who may have zero interest in the racist tirades of a frozen TV dinner empire heir:

"According to a survey conducted late last year, about 14% of cable TV subscribers watch Fox News regularly. But every cable TV subscriber pays an average of $1.72 a month to receive Fox News. In contrast, 31% of cable TV subscribers regularly watch FX (owned by Disney) but the channel adds just $0.81 to an average cable bill.

This means, for every actual viewer, Fox News receives a $7.75 subsidy from people who never watch Fox News. This is a higher subsidy than other non-sports channels, like FX ($1.79), CNN ($3.18), and TBS ($2.79), receive. And none of those channels regularly spreads white nationalist talking points to millions of viewers."

But again, as John McCain showed, breaking this logjam is easier said than done. Maine, for example, recently tried to pass a law forcing cable giants to sell channels individually, but found itself quickly sued by Comcast, which claimed the law violated the company's free speech rights (Comcast's winning that battle so far). The cable and broadcast industry has lobbied relentlessly to ensure this shift to individual channels never happens, claiming that moving to an a la carte model would kill niche channels and raise consumer prices (both things that repeatedly happened anyway).

Granted this isn't just about not liking the channel or disagreeing with the channels politics. There's clear evidence, especially on the COVID front, that the bullshit pouring out of the Rupert Murdoch empire is actively harming human health:

"A media watchdog found over 250 cases of COVID-19 misinformation on Fox News in just one five-day period, and economists demonstrated that Fox News had a demonstrable impact on non-compliance with public health guidelines,” the lawmakers wrote."

If you can't rely on the wisdom of the courts, free market competition, or regulators to disrupt the Fox News disinformation parade, that leaves activists like Media Matters, which have increasingly been trying to target the problem with it's Unfox My Cable Box campaign. But even if we're to simply wait for the purely organic death of the traditional cable TV channel bundle at the hands of the streaming television and pissed consumers, it's not entirely clear, based on the popularity of many bigoted influencers, that dangerous dipshittery won't just find a new form to inhabit.

Bullshit is more profitable than truth under the engagement-driven, ad-based business models we're building, and that's simply a fact. Policies that change this reality won't be easy to come by. The world's top media policy experts are glacially pondering practical solutions to the toxic sludge of disinformation pouring out of the face of trolls like Tucker Carlson, but you may want to go read a book, because it's gonna be a long wait.

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Filed Under: bundles, cable bundles, fox news, subsidization, tucker carlson
Companies: news corp


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  1. icon
    Andrew (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:21am

    Now do ESPN

    ... which is something we actually pay hard money for above and beyond our contractual monthly cable bill "charge".

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:57am

    Fox News and Disney (especially ESPN, but not exclusively) are two of the biggest reasons I haven't had cable since the 90s.

    I'm a strange case of cord cutter. I didn't leave because other options were available, I left because 'Fuck them, that's why.'

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

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Qritiqal (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:23am

    Disgusting attack.

    I thought techdirt had a better purpose than politics.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:24am

    And forced to take ESPN, MSNBC, and CNN that we don't watch.

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

  5. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:40am

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    You obviously don't understand the first thing about Techdirt, since its entire raison d'être is politics and how they relate to tech…

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

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:41am

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    Eat shit.

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

  7. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:51am

    Re:

    Disney is now in the streaming space. However, unlike the Cable space, you could choose not to pay for them if you don't want to do so. I think that's what Karl meant when he said that Streaming has "helped mitigate the problem somewhat".

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

  8. identicon
    Alan, 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:56am

    Al la carte

    Imagine if I didn’t have to subsidize the msm channels I never watch. How much money would I save?

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

  9. icon
    frank87 (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:05am

    World famous Fox, with 3milion viewers. CNN with 2 milion...
    I bet the Berlin, or Paris regional television has more...

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

  10. icon
    Ed (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:15am

    Cut the cord

    We "cut the cord" several years ago. We get over 50 channels OTA for free, and anything else we want to watch we can get over the internet.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:23am

    Re:

    You missed the in before famous:-)

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

  12. identicon
    Anonimnik, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:28am

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    Sooo.... when is BlueBall going to jump in and note how a dormant account came out of its slumber?
    Wait, he only does it for accounts that say something sensible.

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

  13. identicon
    christenson, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:42am

    Getting paid for re-broadcast

    Seems to me a retransmission fee is quite the boondoggle...

    You broadcast it, and I then pay you to extend the reach of your antenna???

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:45am

    Re: Re:

    The person you're responding to did choose not to pay for them "in the Cable space". Sure, it involved canceling cable altogether, but lots of people are happily doing that. Only occasionally is this choice unavailable (e.g., some condominiums include cable TV in their fees—I cross those off my list so as to avoid giving the MPAA money).

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

  15. icon
    Thad (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 9:09am

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    That's weird. You don't seem to have had a problem with political stories on Techdirt when they weren't criticizing popular white supremacist TV programming.

    What is it, precisely, about Tucker Carlson that incenses you enough to break eight years of silence to tut-tut about how Techdirt's not supposed to be about politics, it's supposed to be publishing neutral, apolitical headlines like *checks notes* "Don't let Congress censor the Internet"?

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 9:35am

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    Sorry, but the village idiot that usually comes on here pointing out how accounts that have been dormant for years somehow implies Techdirt fuckery typically doesn't look at accounts critical of Techdirt.

    I am the equal opportunity guy. How are we supposed to take you seriously since you haven't bothered to comment in 9 years?

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

  17. identicon
    Whoever, 29 Apr 2021 @ 9:39am

    This demonstrates the purpose of Tucker Carlson

    The other takeaway from this should be that the purpose of the Tucker Carlson show is to distribute propoganda that aligns with the Murdoch clan's agenda.

    They could make more money with a more factual show, but they are prepared to make less money as long as he continues to promote white supremacy and lies about COVID, economics, Trump winning the election, etc..

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

  18. icon
    TaboToka (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re: Disgusting attack.

    note how a dormant account came out of its slumber?

    Prior post: Dec 14th, 2012

    That was 8 years, 4 months, and 16 days ago -- pretty impressive! I wonder if it got brain damage from ice crystals in the brain after that long hibernation?

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re:

    in b4 famous

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 12:58pm

    They pay for him through carriage fees, which we all pay into through our basic cable packages.

    So it's like socialism...imagine that.

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

  21. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    restless94110 (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 1:10pm

    who you gonna believe

    So you seriously believe that the most-watched guy on cable at this time, it's only because of bundling?

    It couldn't be because his shows are great? It couldn't be because he is a dissident voice?

    Breathtaking. Truly astonishing. In all my days, I never thought I'd witness such a flow from another human being in America.

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

  22. identicon
    Glen, 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:10pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    Do you have a source for all that felgercarb you are posting?

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:10pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    less than 3% of cable viewers watch fox, so it a huge leap to claim he is popular, unless you mean within that 3%.

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:37pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    It couldn't be because his shows are great?

    Well no, because Fox News itself said 'no reasonable person would take what he says seriously' as to their defense to a defamation suit:

    https://www.businessinsider.com/fox-news-karen-mcdougal-case-tucker-carlson-2020-9

    ...and a judge agreed.

    It couldn't be because he is a dissident voice?

    Not so much 'dissident' as 'rambling fool who shouldn't be taken seriously.'

    If Fox News says out of their own mouths that he's full of shit, what does it say about you simple-minded fuckheads who use him a source of 'news?' I mean, if you want to be taken seriously, believing that the functional equivalent of professional wrestling is real isn't a good look.

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

  25. icon
    Thad (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:43pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    So you seriously believe that the most-watched guy on cable at this time, it's only because of bundling?

    Of course not.

    It's also because Bill O'Reilly got fired.

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

  26. identicon
    Rocky, 29 Apr 2021 @ 2:56pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    So you seriously believe that the most-watched guy on cable at this time, it's only because of bundling?

    It's very likely, because if Fox was unbundled they would loose a substantial portion of their viewers, since they actually would have to increase the price for subscriptions to compensate. This goes for any channel if they where to be unbundled.

    It couldn't be because his shows are great?

    That you think his shows are great is not under question, because that is a very subjective thing, just like how coprophages likes to eat shit.

    It couldn't be because he is a dissident voice?

    Dissident voice, huh? He got sued for slander and his defense was that you can't believe what he says since he isn't actually stating facts because his show engages in "exaggeration and non-literal commentary". In other words, he makes shit up on his show to get viewers and that's because he's no dissident. What you see is a very calculated performance, a performance designed to get fools like you believing he's telling the hidden truth, and other fools to clutch their pearls at the things he says.

    Breathtaking. Truly astonishing. In all my days, I never thought I'd witness such a flow from another human being in America.

    That's because your whole point of contention is based on false assumptions, it's easy to do when you lack reading comprehension and believe the words of demagogues. TL;DR, you're a gullible fool.

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

  27. identicon
    Less Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 4:58pm

    the problem with it's Unfox My Cable Box campaign
    You probably want to use "its" here instead of "it's."

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

  28. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:34pm

    a dissident voice

    Tucker Carlson stumps for white supremacists vis-á-vis promotion of the “great replacement ‘theory’ ” and recently called for viewers to have the authorities alerted to parents who have their children wear masks outside. He isn’t a “dissident”. He is a threat.

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

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:41pm

    Re: who you gonna believe

    Are you capable of independent thought? Every time you "comment" on an article, you literally regurgitating the Fox viewpoint. Period. What places them above criticism?

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

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 5:41pm

    Re:

    Daaaaamn, son. I don't think I've seen this level of simping since Belle Delphine marketed her gamer girl bathwater...

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

  31. icon
    JMT (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:01pm

    Re: Disgusting attack.

    Thank you for that comprehensive and well thought-out critique of the article and Techdirt in general. You've given us all a lot to think about...

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

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:16pm

    I do not have cable and I have never watched Tucker Carlson.
    But based on ratings, would CNN not be the bigger beneficiary of fees from those who don't watch their channel?

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

  33. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:57pm

    Great way to prove that defense correct I guess...

    Dissident voice, huh? He got sued for slander and his defense was that you can't believe what he says since he isn't actually stating facts because his show engages in "exaggeration and non-literal commentary".

    That defense gets me every time, because you've got people like him and The Kraken arguing that only fools would take what they say seriously, and then lo and behold people come springing to their defense, apparently missing that by the arguments of the very people they are defending they have shown themselves to be fools.

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

  34. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    btr1701 (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 6:58pm

    And the non-watchers also subsidize the leftist shills on MSNBC and CNN.

    But I guess that's not a problem for the article's author.

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

  35. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:16pm

    'Most importantly it would reduce OUR profits...'

    The cable and broadcast industry has lobbied relentlessly to ensure this shift to individual channels never happens, claiming that moving to an a la carte model would kill niche channels and raise consumer prices (both things that repeatedly happened anyway).

    Strange, that sounds remarkably like that mythical 'Free market' large companies are all for when they're not trying to rig it against their competitors, where a product/channel either succeeds based upon it's merits or fails and is replaced by one that the public actually does want, I guess the cable companies aren't fans of the free market after all, imagine that.

    Ah well, I'm sure Tucker Carlson is thrilled to be on the receiving end of a nice dose of socialism, supported not because people want to pay him but merely because money spent elsewhere is funneled to support him.

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

  36. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 7:57pm

    Do either CNN or MSNBC have hosts who routinely spout misinformation and lies, white supremacist rhetoric, and what practically counts as defenses for fascism? I just wanna know if you’re okay with all that going on over at Fox News in general and Tucker Carlson’s show specifically.

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

  37. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 8:12pm

    Hey Karl, might be time to find that tweet from Blackburn talking about how Tenn lets people choose & not tell them what to do & put her into a corner asking why if we are free to make choices, why aren't we able to chose what channels we want.

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

  38. identicon
    Pixelation, 29 Apr 2021 @ 9:47pm

    Well, at least I love Fucker Carlson. He the best of the shit pie.

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

  39. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Apr 2021 @ 10:53pm

    Re:

    btr1701 has made it clear for years that he's absolutely strongly supportive of Tucker Carlson's personal brand of fascism.

    But, it is true that MSNBC (especially) and CNN (to a lesser extent) both have problems with hosts pushing misinformation. There is a difference, however, as outlined in Yochai Benker's book. When Fox pushes misinformation, no one within the conservative media ecosystem ever push back. Instead, they take the misinformation and they amplify it and justify it. When people like Joy Reid and Malcolm Nance push misinformation (as they have done), there are people within the mainstream media ecosystem who do call them out on it.

    It's an important difference, though I do wish MSNBC and CNN would move away from platforming such people themselves.

    But when put in context, it's clear that Fox News is significantly more dangerous in the type of disinfo it pushes.

    And, yes, unbundling would also harm CNN and MSNBC and... I don't mind that, nor do I think the author minds that.

    But the point of his article was to figure out what stopped the truly dangerous disinformation pushers, and that is Fox News, without a doubt, even if you are sucked into their bubble, as btr1701 truly is.

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

  40. identicon
    dickeyrat, 30 Apr 2021 @ 2:12am

    Kewl!! That makes the Cuckster our favorite entitled, mindless, trust-fund frat-boy!!

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

  41. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Allen (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 6:43am

    They were forced to take ESPN, MSNBC, and CNN, which we don't watch. Thanks for sharing about surveys https://www.tellmandscouk.com

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

  42. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:02am

    Re: who you gonna believe

    "It couldn't be because his shows are great? It couldn't be because he is a dissident voice? "

    You realize his own legal defense is that no rational person would ever take him seriously?

    His "show" is basically him ignoring factual reality and pushing out a message intended to make white supremacists and Qanon fanatics sit up and salivate because it tells them what they want to hear, not anything which is true.

    All I have to say is that if your idea of "entertainment" is to have some clown sit and spout racist bullshit and reality denial for half an hour then that just says as much about the fragile alt-right snowflakes who can't handle the truth as it does Tucker Carlson.

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

  43. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:07am

    Re: Great way to prove that defense correct I guess...

    "... lo and behold people come springing to their defense, apparently missing that by the arguments of the very people they are defending they have shown themselves to be fools."

    Literally so;

    Carlson: "Only morons would believe what I say on my show!"
    MAGA Mob: "Carlson is ahr prophit! He tells it like it is! Stop bein MEAN ta him!"

    Of course, by now most MAGA hat wearers, proud boys, and of course Restless94110 is convinced that "Idiot" really just means "Conservative" rather than "Someone of very low intelligence".

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

  44. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:12am

    Re:

    "And the non-watchers also subsidize the leftist shills on MSNBC and CNN."

    There are no leftists in the US.

    Seriously, Bernie Sanders would be considered a centrist conservative in the rest of the world. Eisenhower and Reagan would, today, be considered centrist democrats.

    THAT is how out of touch and disjointed your politics are.

    Now that we've gotten that out of the way...no, MSNBC and CNN still have advertisers and sponsors for their anchors, because those anchors spin what is there, they don't spout complete bullshit like Tucker does.

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

  45. identicon
    Rocky, 30 Apr 2021 @ 8:52pm

    Re:

    Considering his journalistic career before his show on Fox, I don't think he really believes in any of the stuff he says - it's just a way to get ratings.

    Anyway, Popehat's Law of Goats still apply.

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

  46. icon
    John85851 (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:40am

    Re: This demonstrates the purpose of Tucker Carlson

    Yes, of course this.

    I don't remember where I saw it, but Rupert Murdoch said he'd switch to left-leaning news if it got more attention than right-leaning news. But it doesn't, so he keeps FOX spouting information that appeals to right-wing people and gets left-wing people upset.
    Either way, he gets more attention.

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

  47. icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 5:31pm

    Cable bundling has to go.

    A slightly modified version of the opening covering the other half the country is
    Thanks To Crappy Cable Channel Bundles, Non-Watchers Hugely Subsidise CNN, MSNBC, and other disinformation platforms.

    I’m paying for all the news networks and don’t want any of them.
    On top of that we’re still paying for broadcast fees, don’t watch Broadcast channels.

    And US pro sports. Baseball, football, basketball? Don’t watch them.

    Discovery Plus is making it very close to being able to drop TV service. With the other services I have to watch what I want when.
    But we’re not quite there. Most, but not all, video groups now have some level of subscription offering online.

    Just be patient. They days of paying for crap are coming to an end.

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


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