Media Literacy: Why is Your Cable Bill so Damn High?

Lot of Boomers and Millennials are the “Cord Cutters” and “Cord Nevers” respectively. This means the former generation is done with it, and the latter generation will never install a cable TV line. They claim it’s so expensive and they don’t like the content. They also think local media requires cable. Over the Air goes over their head (no pun intended sadly to say.)

But why did it go up? Maybe you should read some more…

  • Ted Turner said so: In the creation of CNN*, the reason why Turner chose CNN as the “Cable News Network” was so it could be easily marketed to cable systems. For CNN to be profitable, the only way was to charge the carriers, and the subscriber would pick up that tab, as they would extend the cost. While customers were charged a dime or on that average; as this came to be the business model, other Turner networks would be required to pay up (WTBS, as in the superstation was free up until the W was nixed in the branding, as the station became more of a cable network. We can talk about W/TBS another day. Then other cable networks would come up and request the cable systems pay them too.

* The irony of this for many, many years, the network was dependent on the large satellite dishes to broadcast the network and receive video from their affiliates. “Underground” cable lines like Fiber Optics wasn’t a thing till about 20 years ago; and with everything fed over the Internet Protocol, the trucks and Atlanta base are basically just receiving data, much like how you access your apps. There has been an app for liveshots in recent years in the simple way.

  • Local TV stations copying the cable model: The Turner method was considered to be called dual-revenue stream (advertisers plus subscriptions) as most of America was getting TV via cable and later Digital Broadcast Satellites; the local stations would move to a pay to play model.
  • Reverse-compensation imposed by the Big 4 Networks: What separated PBS from the commercial networks, was local member station had to pay into the PBS pool, depending on the market and financials. While 300 stations were part of PBS, this enabled them to get onto PBS’ pipeline of content. The commercial networks paid local stations if they had ran most of the network’s lineup without much preemption because the local stations thought they knew better than you of what you want to watch. (But unlike PBS, WDIV in Detroit couldn’t throw a talk show and propose it to NBC’s brass to air, another once diff between comm and non-comm networks.) Bob Wright from NBC pushed this amongst affiliate renewals from stations receiving money had to pay them, since many markets had cable heavy markets, they just shifted the cost to the cable subscriber.
  • Mass Consolidation: As a result from reverse-comp, and the cable market growing, individual owners of stations were forced to sell to chains, or existing chains had to sell out to larger ones. With more and more consolidation, meant a better cost for the groups to bind to single networks or majority of stations on one network. This was a direct result of a network realignment across the U.S. between 1994 to September 1995; resulting in just stations trading towers and studios, to complete change of owners, or affiliate changes because of an overlap of deal happening concurrently in the same market. Nearly 80 stations in the upper markets had some impact. CBS went way below the dial in Atlanta and Detroit, while Fox would take over those channel numbers… why?
  • Sports “rights”: All major leagues (including the International Olympic Committee and NASCAR) had taken the copyrights away from the networks and the networks would then have “rights” to produce and carry coverage and commentary. As a result the networks pay millions and millions for “rights”. This also includes the local stations and their parent companies paying into this large pool to be allowed to air a certain amount of minutes of sports highlights per newscast. Wonder why sports is never seen on streams? It’s blocked because of contractual obligations. And whose paying the for these rights? That’s on you. The owners of the affiliates extended these costs onto the cable subscriber yet again.

It all drills down to, Ted Turner making it a business model for cable systems to not just run free to air channels; networks seeing this need for “money” almost copying the PBS method, but rest assured, the commercial networks pay taxes; requiring a massive change to affiliates that made 1995 the year of “The Big Switch” in local TV in the U.S. – because they didn’t want to be taxed on some wheelin’ and dealin’ towers or studios or flat out stations themselves; to the sports leagues that can’t get enough billions off the American People.

Ed Markey did his part to make the cable TV business a bit more complicated, but blaming politicians for rising cable fees shouldn’t be at fault; nor should municipalities that are locked into agreements with the cable systems for public access channels, of which YouTube is not, or any Big Social either. “Cable Franchise Fees” are certainly NOT a tax, it’s only a “tax” for a white privileged male who thinks he should have more money in his pocket because his core beliefs say so.

What has changed? The public gets more “local news” so the local station can make money on political ads, because every year is a political year is great for the chains and networks for ad revenue, but what does that do to local content? Cheap talent? Cheap cookie-cuttered sets because you own a 100 stations, and it’s cheaper to do one size fits all? The same theme package you hear from one market to another?  The cable systems are not the problem, some go along to get along (that’s Comcast) some will play ball but be a wimp (Spectrum or Altice/former NY Cablevision.) The outrage should be against the cable networks, and the major sports leagues.


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