CABLE’s Gilded Age: No Fanfare for the Common Person

According to a recent consumer survey, America’s consumers ranked four of the largest pay-TV providers among some of the nation’s worst companies.

Why has the American consumer turned its back on an industry that prides itself in delivering some of the most robust consumer services—video, voice and Internet—and has helped coin the 21st Century as the digital age?  

Well, in the words of that 1984 song from Hall & Oates, maybe they are just “Out of touch.”

Today’s pay-TV industry and its operators appear as victims of their own success, trapped in gilded cages with little ability to understand and/or relate to the financial challenges and sacrifices of their own customers. 

Evidence of this was made clear earlier this month, when the NY Times reported how at the lavish Cable Show in Los Angeles, several pay-TV CEOs actually displayed an utter disconnect between the rich and famous lifestyles they lead and the experiences of the average single breadwinning mom outside of Hollywood.  

One CEO lamented at the trade show about his troubles remembering all the passwords needed to connect with various cable and broadband services with the following gem…”I have three homes with three different cable providers, and I don’t know any of them.” 

Rather than address the cemented consumer inequities created by the pay-TV industry, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, now the chief lobbyist for the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) jokingly proposed that his trade association “is trying to eliminate the word cable” from its name.

That’s it! Maybe by changing the Association’s name it can make folks forget how industry-wide record profits, which generate more than $107 billion in revenue annually from video services alone, have led to 15 straight years of rising monthly pay-TV bills for consumers at double the rate of inflation

Or maybe changing the Association’s name can distract cable and Satellite TV subscribers from noticing the on-going and abusive billing and business practices of pay-TV operators and the staggering rates of return for pay-TV executives. 

Pay-TV’s gilded age now appears to have created a Bizzaro world, where their executives fall under some delusion that the nation’s minimum wage earners could somehow relate to someone having trouble with their Internet access at all three homes they own.  

Thankfully, some in Washington continue to live in the real world.  In April, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) stood up for consumers at a congressional hearing on the STELA reauthorization and called out industry leaders regarding abusive pay-TV billing and business practices.  After recounting her recent negative experience with her pay-TV operator, she urged consumers to contact their pay-TV providers to ensure they are not being overbilled.

It’s not too late for pay-TV operators to escape their gilded cages and listen to their subscribers – the ones who might not have three bedrooms, let alone three homes – and who represent 99% of America.

The cable and satellite TV industry itself needs to do more to educate consumers about their pay-TV bills and provide clearly distinguishable explanations in writing as to why customers are being charged inflated below-the-line fees and ‘extra’ fees each month. 

All pay-TV operators should be held accountable by lawmakers and policymakers for their business practices. 

If cable and satellite TV operators don’t voluntarily demonstrate to the public how they are identifying and self-correcting errors, subpar service quality and corporate policies that negatively impact customers, then decision-makers in Washington, D.C should take action requiring them to be open and transparent about the quality control measures they have in place.

Accountability and transparent business practices will go a long way to helping the pay-TV industry build a better public reputation. 

The gilded age is soon coming to end.  After all, it’s not just cosmetic branding that needs to be changed.  Pay-TV operators need to change their behavior and stop employing anti-consumer tactics for the sole purpose of generating bigger profit margins and to effectively right their tarnished reputations among America’s TV viewers.    

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Time Warner Cable Throws Fast Pitch by Its Customers

“The pressure of paying for this deal with the Dodgers has left TWC unfazed by the disproportionate increase in the monthly bills of its pay-TV customers…”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a Major League baseball franchise built on tradition and a history of great success. “Dodger Blue” has given its fans some great World Series memories, such as the 1963 Sandy Koufax-led Dodgers’ sweep of the Yankees and the improbable Kirk Gibson walk-off homerun in 1988 to beat the Oakland A’s.

This year’s team is talented and brings playoff hopes to the hearts of Dodger fans everywhere, most who won’t want to miss any games this season.

If you aren’t a Dodgers fan, however, you probably won’t be volunteering to buy any tickets to its games. But, if you are a Time Warner Cable (TWC) subscriber living in Los Angeles, you’ll be paying for the cable company’s new SportsNet LA network which will air all regular-season Dodgers games even if you don’t want or may never watch that channel.

TWC signed an exclusive $8.35 billion deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers to air all of the team’s regular season games for the next 25 years on SportsNet LA.  Given the hefty price tag, TWC apparently needs to force every subscriber to pay an additional $60 per year by placing this new channel on its basic cable programming tier.

With the network set to debut on February 25th, TWC is in ongoing negotiations with other competitors such as DirectTV, The Dish Network and Cox Communications to permit them to offer the channel to their customers in the Los Angeles television market for an additional $4 to $5 per month, per subscriber.

The Dodgers obviously have a right to be compensated for the rights to televise their games and TWC also for showing them.

What’s odd here, is the contradiction in TWC’s position. At a time when it’s increasing rates for its own programming, and forcing all of its customers to pay for a channel some may not want, TWC is in Washington seeking government assistance to change the rules of the game on retransmission consent negotiations related to TV broadcast programming.

The pressure of paying for this deal with the Dodgers has left TWC unfazed by the disproportionate increase in the monthly bills of its pay-TV customers which led to its decision to place its own channel- SportsNet LA- on the basic tier and require all of its cable customers to pay for the cost of this cable network programming for the next 25 years even if some customers will never watch the channel even once.

Ignoring its self-serving actions that are hiking fees on its own cable customers and potentially those of competitors, TWC and other pay TV providers are now engaged in Washington D.C. to blame network broadcasters and the nation’s most popular and highly rated TV and local programming as the reason they need to boost their record profits on the backs of consumers.

Given this development, it seems that TWC is really not concerned with how much their customers pay each month for TV service when it involves rate increases associated with its own content, but has a problem with paying TV broadcasters fair market rates for the high quality and most popular national and local programs watched by their customers.

The overwhelming majority of America’s TV viewers have made it clear that they value their local news, emergency alerts and warnings, and the Broadcast-network generated TV sports and entertainment programming regardless of whether they watch television through a pay-TV service or via free, over-the-air broadcast.

This latest TWC deal with SportsNet LA brings to light the glaring and hypocritical inconsistencies of how TWC works in the marketplace and the halls of Capitol Hill. would argue that it’s time for Pay-TV providers to stop the Washington gamesmanship, and, instead, they should focus on being transparent about all programming costs that America’s TV viewers pay and stop using consumers as bargaining chips at every turn to increase their record profits.


Robert C Kenny is the Director of Public Affairs for, a coalition of local broadcasters, community advocates, network TV affiliate associations, and other independent organizations; he formerly served as Press Secretary at the FCC.

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