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Television Businesses Communications The Almighty Buck Entertainment

Comcast Pressures Local Cable Firms to Curb Low-Cost TV Packages (bloomberg.com) 98

Gerry Smith, reporting for Bloomberg: Comcast is trying to restrict cable operators' sales of low-cost TV service to ensure its regional sports networks don't lose too many subscribers, according to a trade group of about 750 smaller companies that have taken their complaint to regulators. Comcast has tried to limit the availability of sports-free offerings in contract talks with pay-TV operators, according to the American Cable Association, whose members have about 7 million subscribers. In addition to being the largest U.S. cable provider, Comcast owns regional sports channels in markets such as Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia. The claim shows programmers are fighting back as more consumers seek TV options that don't include sports. Cable operators are trying to stem subscriber losses by offering a "basic" service with just a few channels and internet access for fans of Netflix or Amazon.

Comcast Pressures Local Cable Firms to Curb Low-Cost TV Packages

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  • One of the reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @01:45PM (#55357139)

    The main reason I stopped bothering with cable was the endless sea of crappy programs and commercials, and the terrible video quality.

    But an important secondary reason was the insane "sports tax". Making me pay for expensive programming that I have zero interest in was just pouring salt into the wound.

    • There's "insane taxes" on all packages, though. There's a sports tax, a religions tax, a soap opera tax, etc. The real problem is the endless fees. Connecting fees, cancellation fees, etc.

      When low-cost TV packages get at $10 per month with no other fees, then they'll be competitive with Netflix and others.

      • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:09PM (#55357329)

        There are such taxes, yes, and they're all objectionable. However, the sport fee is the only one that is significantly large. Paying an extra $0.60 because of religious channels? Not enough to get worked up about. Paying an extra $5 because of sports? Screw that.

        But, truly, cable isn't worth it to me even if it's free -- which it is! I get basic cable with my internet because my total bill is lower that way than with internet alone. I'm effectively being paid to have basic cable. But watching it is painful, so I don't do it. Instead, I returned the cable box to save that rental fee.

        • I'm effectively being paid to have basic cable.

          No, you're effectively having a penalty withheld in return for accepting basic cable.

          It's an important distinction, because what they're engaging in is basically a gentle form of extortion. You accept something you don't want and probably don't want to support, (the advertising ecosystem, which rewards your cableco with more dollars for more subscribers), in return for a lower price on the thing you DO support and want. (It's kind of like "ad impressions" on the Web - they're largely meaningless, but they h

          • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @04:22PM (#55358385)

            It's an important distinction, because what they're engaging in is basically a gentle form of extortion. You accept something you don't want and probably don't want to support

            That's a valid perspective, but here's why I don't think of it that way:

            If I am to have internet access, then right off the bat I have to accept something I don't want to support: Comcast. So that becomes the baseline, and is true independent of issues around fees. Since I have to accept that, being able to pay less for it is a relative win.

            Any bets on whether or not the stats on people like you are a secret closely guarded by your cable company?

            I am very well aware that the entire reason they have this deal is to be able to count people like me as if we are "cable subscribers" to artificially inflate their subscriber count. That doesn't bother me, actually.

            Your cable provider has oh-so-kindly given you a choice between paying, and paying twice. That's not the same as "not paying for basic service", and not even close to "being paid to have basic cable".

            Yes, this is correct -- but since I'm paying the first (or second?) time no matter what, that's the baseline I'm measuring from.

            while people like me, who are more careful about our privacy, pay even more money to fund the discounts that others enjoy.

            When it comes to loyalty cards (which I don't use for the same reason as you), I avoid the issue by shopping at stores that don't offer loyalty cards. Interestingly, the normal prices as those stores tend to be about the same as a "discount with a loyalty card" at loyalty card stores!

            it's something you might want to think about the next time you look at your 'internet' bill.

            I think about these issues a lot. I have a serious question for you, though -- what action do you think I should take about the internet service? Since only other option is to go without it, I'll take whatever discounts I can so I can at least minimize the amount of money that goes into the pockets of a company that I loathe.

            • All very valid points - especially the last one, and especially since I'm currently paying Bell for my Internet service. Guess it's time for me to get off my high horse now...

              I'm glad you replied - we need more discussions like this, so people will be consciously aware of the choices they make and the impacts of those choices. If more people are more aware of the corporate dickery that goes on, maybe more of us will find ways to push back against it.

            • by tepples ( 727027 )

              Others have suggested finding a city with a more freedom-friendly incumbent ISP, interviewing for jobs in that city, and moving there.

              • That's just silly.

                I've sampled many parts of the nation, and haven't seen anyplace better than where I live. I'm certainly not going to move somewhere that isn't as good just because of a crappy internet provider.

                • by tepples ( 727027 )

                  Others have suggested finding a city with a more freedom-friendly incumbent ISP

                  That's just silly.

                  Not everybody agrees with you that voting with your feet for a better city with better home Internet access is "just silly". Over the past few years, I've been collecting comments by other Slashdot users who appear willing to move for better home Internet access: here [slashdot.org] and here [slashdot.org].

                  • Not everybody agrees with you that voting with your feet for a better city with better home Internet access is "just silly".

                    Moving to a better city isn't silly. Moving away from a city that you love living in, just because of an ISP, is. Or, I would argue, moving to a different city solely because of a bad ISP is silly regardless, unless the ISP is causing a serious degradation of your happiness.

        • Let's assume that Basic Cable plus Internet is *NOMINALLY* $10/month cheaper than standalone Internet. Your Basic cable will probably have a bunch of "below the line fees" that could add up to more $10/month. Take a close look at your bill.

      • There's "insane taxes" on all packages, though. There's a sports tax, a religions tax, a soap opera tax, etc.

        If you asked me to list examples of problems facing the world today, and I responded with "child slavery, having to wait for elevators, and people who snuffle instead of blowing their noses" as my list, you'd probably look at me funny, since that first one is in a league of its own compared to the others. Right?

        Likewise, ESPN's sports tax is not like those other taxes you listed. Not even close. Back in 2013, ESPN collected affiliate fees that averaged to $5.13/mo. for each cable subscription [stratechery.com], meaning that

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I wanted to watch game 4 of the Red Sox vs Astros the other day and it was only on some random cable channel... would have watched it if I had it on my very very basic cable. Ended up turning on the radio instead. I have no interest in paying even $15 more per month for a bunch of channels I might want to watch once or twice a year. Might have paid a couple dollars to watch pay per view... or even five dollars if people were coming over. But would have preferred it just being on a broadcast advertising

    • by ebyrob ( 165903 )

      Which is pretty funny considering no self-respecting sports fan is going to want to pay their "sports tax" either because they don't actually show the games people want to watch. Take the NFL for instance. At most you can choose to watch 1/3 of all the games played. So depending on your favorite team you may only get to see 1/3 of all their games. Even with DirectTV's competing service you can get most of the NFL games, but not all of them.

      They put up with this garbage from the sports associates then wo

      • They put up with this garbage from the sports associates then wonder why no one wants to buy their service...

        Well, obviously it isn't true that nobody wants to buy their service. And they put up with it because they know the cost of covering all the games would be very high. Most people would not want to pay that amount. That's why they have special packages that do have them all. MLB and NFL networks. And NHL. A dozen channels each. You want them all, you can buy them. Be ready to pay through the nose, though.

    • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:17PM (#55357381) Homepage Journal

      You should see the politics sphere in the US now. Everyone is being loud about dropping the NFL for this whole kneeling thing, yet we've been hearing the NFL and ESPN were dying for a decade now.

      Sports channels are overbought. CableTV providers bundle ESPN with everything, so everyone pays for NFL and MLB and MASN. Now we've found a way out, and they're crying that Kapernick has sabotaged their empire--instead of admitting that nobody wanted their damned tyranny in the first place.

      It's hard to tell if they're protesting the wave of police brutality in the media and the states or mourning the death of the sports bubble.

      • You should see the politics sphere in the US now.

        How could I not? That stuff is all but inescapable.

      • Why the fuck should I care whether they kneel or not. I want them to play football and get hit in the knees, what they do outside the field with their knees, why should I give a shit?

        • I don't know. Everyone is like, hey, we want to watch football, not this shit; and I'm like, hey, every time they play football, they have a boy scout sing a song for two minutes before they play, and you're complaining now because they're doing different things during that song because you wanted to watch football, not this shit. You've been watching this shit for 40 years; they've just been standing while it's going on.

          Some folks have a less-stupid narrative going on about disrespect to a piece of cl

            • Interesting. I thought it was a long-standing tradition from back in the 60s when baseball was a sport people cared about, and just inherited by football.

              Football is sort of a 2000s-era game; when I was a kid, Cal Ripkin was selling Comcast because baseball was America, and there were a lot of odd baseball games on the NES. Football players didn't get on a box of Wheaties; it was baseball players. You put baseball cards in your bicycle spokes to make it sound like it had a V8 engine.

              Baseball cards.

              N

          • I think people should less respect the piece of cloth and more remember what it stands for. Land of the brave? Home of the free? A few more such zingers and you have a stand up routine!

    • We stopped bothering with FIOS for TV and Phone because of the costs and the fact that we didn't watch 90% of the channels. Now we have an antenna, Roku, Ooma, and SlingTV. We haven't regretted it for a moment and our monthly costs dropped to less than half, which is just to pay for Internet.

      I could probably do without the Ooma but it works well and my wife wanted to keep our land line in place, so to speak. No big deal. I like having blinky things in my closet.

    • OMG - YES. There IS a portion of humanity that can take a break, get coffee, eat a snack, and make it back to the desk WITHOUT TALKING (or even THINKING) . . . SPORTS ! ! ! !

  • About the only thing I watch is soccer and curling, and I can get that on CBC and watch soccer games on Telemundo. They have this neat over the air feature on my HDTV called SAP, which allows me to hear English on a Spanish channel, and if I turn on this other thing, it shows me a translation from Spanish to English as well in text, it's designed for people who are hard of hearing.

    So, this move to limit us from getting rid of all those hundreds of channels we never watch would be a good thing for consumers.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @01:59PM (#55357271) Journal
    Comcast is sure sounding a lot like a monopoly right now.
    • The problem is in areas such as where I live, there is no alternative. Nothing viable, anyway.

      And any anti-monopoly cases brought against them are not likely to change anything for quite some time, so I'm stuck.

      • Me too. And yet the FCC says it's a competitive marketplace.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Well, on the broadband side, the FCC says that theoretically there could be competition so it's a competitive market. They probably feel the same way about cable. Don't you feel better knowing you have theoretical options?

          • Well, on the broadband side, the FCC says that theoretically there could be competition so it's a competitive market.

            Well, on the broadband side, since there is no legal monopoly status for ANY ISP, the only reason there isn't competition in your area is because nobody has thought it would be profitable to try. They have in my area, so there is competition.

            They probably feel the same way about cable.

            They determine competition not by the physical medium being used for delivery, but for the service itself. Dish Network, DirecTV, and now things like Sling and other streaming video services count as competition because they provide the same service, just not using the

      • Same here. There are no other options. And I'm not even interested in about 75% of their programming; at least half of their total programming alone is some form of pointless reality TV (Food Wars; House Flipping, the Kardashians, River Monsters), BS "science" shows (Ancient Aliens, various crytozoology shows, etc.) and sports channels.

      • Can you put an antenna on your house and be happy with OTA broadcast instead? I've always got more to watch than I have time for, and although I won't pay for streaming either, you could do that, too, and get pretty much everything you want.
  • Such dissonance... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:01PM (#55357283)

    If a person is online, they don't pay for anything. Always try to get around the ads with blockers etc. The biggest web services don't directly charge their customers (Facebook, Google) because they would lose 99% of their customer base in a month trying such a thing.

    But as soon as that same person turns the TV on, they find it totally normal somehow that they are paying $70 or so a month...to watch ads they can't block, in order to see content that half the time is beamed over the air for free. Just bizarre dissonance that will crumble sooner or later.

    • If a person is online, they don't pay for anything.

      My bank statement proves this wrong. I pay real money to a number of online services and websites.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        "People don't pay for services" probably refers to websites hosting news or editorial text articles. People aren't willing to pay $4 for a month's subscription to each of five websites just to read a single article from each of those sites, and credit card processors charge too much per swipe for a pay-per-page model.

        • Yeah, this is true. I still wonder why it is that websites have troubles using micropayment services when there are multiple other types of businesses who've figured it out while ago.

    • They don't find it totally normal. They just have no way around it.

      You just identified the difference between monopoly and a fiercely competitive market.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:08PM (#55357317)
    Don't feed the "basic" troll: man up and just cut the cord completely to starve the cable beast.
    • It's impossible, the beast evolved and mutated into something that can send its signals without any wires, from space! We can't even nuke it from orbit since it's already there!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    An offer that some operators cannot refuse. If you want to carry the local O&O NBC station, you have to include the RSN (replace NBC with ABC and RSN with ESPN for the Disney contract), and it is a tougher sell for any TV package without the major networks (not that they always are worth watching, but most people expect them to be available).

    • The operators could easily add a tuner and antenna terminals to the cable box and raise a finger.

      But that's just to make it seamless, everybody's TV already has the tuner.

      • CATV - Community Antenna Television. The whole thing was originally created for people where the broadcast reception was poor. But if they're leasing an antenna to each subscriber and not paying licensing fees, they've just recreated Aereo [wikipedia.org].

        • No, that was entirely different. Aereo pulled the signals from off the air and re-transmitted them over the Internet. The cable companies could include an antenna and feed the signal into their set tops without violating any laws. The problem is that it would require adding an additional tuner into the set top and modifying the software to switch the tuner when viewing an over the air station. You also would not be able to record these channels to a cloud based DVR system.
          • The cable companies could include an antenna and feed the signal into their set tops without violating any laws.

            First, why would the cable companies want to show people that they don't need the cable companies? And second, how do you deal with the problem of not being able to get very much OTA anyway?

            Wouldn't it be wonderful for my "cable company" to give the finger to the major broadcast networks by refusing to pay them their transmission fees, and then give me the finger by charging me for a device that cannot pick up CBS ever, has very marginal NBC when it does, reasonable Fox/CW and a couple of niche secondary

            • I have both an HDHomerun Prime and a Connect, and the same Windows Media Center can record from either one to disk.

              But how would one get Windows Media Center nowadays? New PCs come with Windows 10 Home. Unlike Windows 7, Windows 10 lacks Windows Media Center, and unlike Windows Pro, Windows Home lacks downgrade rights. Do people routinely buy the Pro Anytime Upgrade in order to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional with Windows Media Center?

              Or is there another solution for recording from a CableCARD tuner to a PC?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Cable is a bad way to get serialized entertainment. Channels are a pretty bad way to organize content - and channel managers do a very bad job on average choosing and maintaining content that will maintain an audience.

    As storage and networking technology continue to get cheaper, the idea of using such tools to distribute entertainment SHOULD appropriately be seen as completely antiquated and counterproductive to finding good entertainment.

    The likes of Youtube are also a fairly bad filter to finding and mai

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:58PM (#55357665)

    Local cable providers. When Comcast calls you, just route the call back through Comcast customer support.

  • ...of several years back, when cable TV was new. The local provider had salespeople going door to door to pimp it. I didn't need cable at the time, so when the sales guy came by, he was frustrated at no making much headway with me. But then, he played his ultimate trump card - if I didn't get cable from his outfit, I w would no longer be able to see some local major sports team or the other, since they were'nt going to be available any more on local broadcast TV. He smiled, thinking g he had me cornered. I
  • >"Cable operators are trying to stem subscriber losses by offering a "basic" service with just a few channels and internet access for fans of Netflix or Amazon."

    Which is exactly what they SHOULD be doing. I know it seems they can't understand this, but there is a huge portion of the population (me included) that has ABSOLTELY NO INTEREST IN SPORTS, WHATSOEVER, IN ANY FORM. And won't want to pay a "sports tax."

    Once they figure this out, they then need to figure out how to give customers customized lineu

    • They do understand this but the companies that create these channels will not allow them to do that. People seem to think that the cable companies can offer whatever packages they want. That is not the case. Every channel they have is provided under a contract which states the packages that it must be included in.
      • That is not the case.

        And that is why I find Sling's TV ads to be downright misleading if not outright lies. I want to buy ONE CHANNEL from them. They say they offer this kind of pickiness. ("If you are that picky about your beer, why aren't you that picky about your TV?") The website says "customize your packages", but no, you only get to pick which of the pre-configured packages Sling wants to sell you.

        Well, show me how I can get just Turner Classic Movies from Sling. When I actually try, I find that I have to buy a base pack

  • I am Jack's complete lack of surprise. It's only natural to thrash about when you're suffocating from the modified-atmosphere of your own Rectum.

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