from the Titanic-deck-chair-rearranging dept
For many years now we’ve seen a dramatic spike in programming contract disputes between broadcasters and cable operators, usually resulting in consumers losing access to TV content they’re paying for. These feuds usually begin simply enough; with a broadcaster asking for a programming rate hike cable operators don’t want to pay for. But instead of sitting down and hashing out a new deal that satisfies both parties like grown ups often do, the companies take their feud into the public sphere, punishing paying customers in the process.
This involves blacking out content users are paying for (without giving any refunds), annoying customers with ads and on-screen tickers blaming the other guy for being a greedy villain, sometimes cutting off user access to online content, and making an endless series of snippy comments in the media. After months of annoying customers, the two sides will usually strike a confidential deal, and the rate hike will get passed on to consumers whose cable bills are already skyrocketing at four times the rate of inflation. It is, to be kind, an unsustainable death spiral of dysfunction given the looming threat of Internet video.
The latest fight of this kind is between Comcast and the Fox and Yankees-owned YES Network. Comcast pulled the network from its lineup last November after YES asked for a 33% rate bump. Comcast has spent the last few months publicly complaining that nobody watched the network. YES Network has spent the last few months calling Comcast gutless, and with the new baseball season approaching has launched a new ad campaign using Yankees players like Alex Rodriguez and a new website that urges customers to switch to another cable operator while mocking Comcast:
“The most recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranks Comcast among the lowest of the more than 300 companies it tracks, calling out Comcast Xfinity for suffering one of the largest drops in customer satisfaction in the pay-TV industry. In a 2015 poll conducted jointly by 24/7 Wall St. and Zogby Analytics, Comcast finished dead last for the second straight year in terms of quality of customer service among 151 of America?s best-known companies across fifteen industries…Now Comcast is depriving fans of watching Yankees games on YES, even as it continues to force price hikes on its customers and charge more money for less service.”
The problem is that with the amount of money broadcasters are demanding, and the apathetic, dysfunctional nature of cable companies (Comcast is a broadcaster itself no stranger to rate hikes), these are feuds many people wish both sides could somehow lose. Again, customers are paying for content they’re not getting, being refused refunds, being harassed with on and off screen marketing, and — once Comcast and YES strike a secret deal just before the first pitch is thrown — customers will be pounded with a shiny new rate hike anyway. Regulators have thus far responded by implying these fights are just boys being boys.
It would be in the cable and broadcast industry’s best self interest to get these deals done without pissing off any more customers, but the industry’s incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Such as the fact these fights only accelerate piracy streams, cord cutting, and the downward-sliding satisfaction ratings of the least liked industry in America.