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MCCULLOUGH: Hard to take a side in TV disputes

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

I'm a DirecTV subscriber. Tuesday night at midnight 20 million of us lost access to Viacom's channels when the two companies couldn't come to terms on a new contract.

Now I know in a world in which people starve in mud huts, and wonder if the next moment in their life will be their death, that my not being able to watch "That Metal Show" is a non-problem. But I do pay for those networks, and now I'm not getting them. What's more, it's hard to take a side in this fight, other than my own.

As I explained to my daughter, who was quite upset at the loss of Nickelodeon, after enough people complain to both DirecTV and Viacom, a deal will be made. It may be done by the time you read this. And I don't know who will come out on top, but I know who won't: consumers.

Whatever deal is reached, the cost will be passed on to us. But the two companies will spin it like each side did us a favor, and that's what angers people. As the song says, they'll "smash your face in, but with a smile."

These ever-more-common disputes between television carriers and the media companies that supply content always turn into these finger-pointing contests with the same refrains. Carriers claim they are watching out for their customers and trying to hold costs down for them, while content providers claim to need additional revenue to continue providing "quality" entertainment.

In this particular dispute, Viacom is seeking a 30 percent increase, the equivalent of a $1 billion hike. DirecTV has refused to pay because it says the ratings for most of Viacom's networks are sinking, and thus the value of the product has gone down, not up. The company says it also finds it hard to justify charging its customers more for content Viacom is increasingly providing for free online. (In one of the more sleazy moves in this sorry episode, Viacom pulled a lot of its online shows after DirecTV pointed out to its customers where they could watch them for free.)

As an added appeal to the capitalists in their customer base, DirecTV pointed out that consumers should be able to buy channels ala carte anyway and not be forced to pay for bundles of channels that contain one or two good ones and 15 loaded with junk no one wants to see.

If the facts in this case ended there, I'd stand firmly behind DirecTV. But DirecTV is not necesarrily the good defender of capitalism it claims to be, otherwise why would it force me to sign a contract to keep its service for two years with penalties for leaving early? Shouldn't I be able to fire them anytime I want if the quality of service diminishes, like when you suddenly have 19 channels less than what you're paying for? And if these are the kinds of tactics we're using, shouldn't Viacom be able to guarantee its own revenue stream for the contract period with DirecTV, just like DirecTV does with its contracted customers?

What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, but it's not. If it was, DirecTV (and all the television and phone companies for that matter) would not use we-have-you-now business practices to tie us down with contracts selling us services that gradually increase in price and decrease in value while simultaneously complaining about how they are being treated unfairly in their own disputes.

And if they really believed in capitalism, the television carriers would band together to push the channel providers in the direction of ala carte instead of just talking about how nice it would be. Do that, and I'll rah-rah-rah behind them.

In the meantime, I did the math, and Viacom's increase amounts to $50 per subscriber over the contract period, not a pittance, but not a king's ransom either. So until we have contractless television and ala carte channel subscription, pay them, DirecTV, and let my daughter watch SpongeBob.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.

Comments

R 2 years, 4 months ago

pay them, DirecTV, and then MAKE us pay so we can then let our daughters watch SpongeBob.

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teelee 2 years, 4 months ago

Get rid of MTV and all of their smutt!

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Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

If DirecTV wants it's customers to be able to buy channels individually, then why do we have to buy service in a package arrangement? For example, DIY is part of the HGTV group of channels, but it is part of a more expensive package than HGTV. What is that all about?

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