It’s no secret that the cable industry has been slowly crawling toward death. The convoluted cable packages, which are somehow becoming more expensive than ever, are losing a war with streaming services.
You’d think that the well-documented death of TV would lead cable companies to try something new and radical. You’d think that they’d send their best and brightest to work things out in a top-secret hotel lobby. Maybe they would even agree to lower their prices or to push for a new era of digital television that can compete with streaming services. But that’s not what cable companies are doing.
No, cable companies are doing something even more radical. They’re publicly arguing over free channels. The Spectrum cable company and the Tribune broadcasting company have begun a war over TV channels that anyone can access with an old-fashioned antenna.
Tribune owns most major over-the-air networks, like CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC. These are locally broadcasted channels that you can pick up with an antenna. They’re not exclusive to cable networks. But Tribune holds licensing contracts with most major cable companies, and these contracts allow the cable companies to include Tribune channels in their lineup.
One of these cable companies, the Charter-owned service called Spectrum, was set to renew their contract with Tribune on New Year’s Eve. But the contract hasn’t been signed, and all Tribune networks have been removed from Spectrum’s cable service.
Why wasn’t the contract signed? Well, Spectrum built an oddly aggressive webpage to tell their cable subscribers that they can’t afford to renew Tribune’s contract. They claim that Tribune is “driven by greed,” and that they’re demanding “over 50% more” cash than what they used to.
But Tribune has posted a press release on their website, detailing how “extremely disappointed” they are that Spectrum won’t agree to renew the contract. Using the NFL playoffs as leverage, Tribune details how the “NFL playoffs are in jeopardy,” and how they “don’t want Spectrum subscribers to miss these games.” Of course, they could just watch the games for free online or over the air.
You may be wondering why Tribune won’t cut a reasonable deal with the Spectrum cable company. Here’s the thing: Tribune doesn’t need to broadcast their channels over cable services anymore. Cable television is falling out of favor with most consumers. Tribune has always offered their content to people for free, and it’s easy to watch their properties (like ABC) online.
Tribune will eventually make most of their money on the Internet, so they might as well squeeze an unreasonable amount of money out of a cable company. After all, the cable companies are a lot more desperate than Tribune. Football fans that miss out on the playoffs aren’t going to get mad at Tribune for taking away their game; they’re going to get mad at their $100 per month cable company.
This could be a sign that Tribune and other television companies are turning their attention away from traditional television formats. It could also be a sign that cable companies, like Spectrum, don’t understand why their subscribers are still paying more than $1000 a year to watch TV. All we can say for sure is that it sucks to pay for cable in 2019.