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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