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"Dishing out the dirt about DirecTV"


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  • "Dishing out the dirt about DirecTV"

    Dishing out the dirt about DirecTV
    By Gregg Easterbrook
    Page 2 columnist

    Wow, look at the card for Sunday afternoon -- San Francisco at Oakland, Pittsburgh at the Cleveland Oranges, Tom Brady's Patriots at Drew Bledsoe's Bills. Too bad most of the country won't see these monster games. On a weekly basis, much of the country cannot tune in the best NFL contests; even people willing to be charged for the privilege often find that a monopoly prevents them from paying to watch the games they want. Therein lies a tale that ought to be of interest to lawmakers in Washington.

    While the NBA, college football and other sports allow fans to pay extra to watch the games of their choice via cable, "NFL Sunday Ticket," which charges household viewers $199 annually to tune in any game, is available solely via DirecTV, the satellite service. DirecTV is really terrific -- if you can get it, which most Americans cannot. Only homes with an unobstructed view of the sky above the southwest, where the DirecTV satellite hangs, can access this service. If you live in a city with tall buildings, a suburb with trees or in the countryside around rolling hills, you're out of luck.

    Fewer than 10 percent of American households receive DirecTV. Officially, DirecTV contends that almost anyone can get its signal, but the reality is that the majority of U.S. homes can't or don't. (Speed reading note: if you perused TMQ's recent Wall Street Journal article on this subject, skip to "in other NFL news.") TMQ personally knows seven people in four states who have tried to sign up for DirecTV, and only two were able to receive it. In my own case, of four antenna companies that came to the Official House of TMQ, three said no way and the fourth quoted $1,300 to install an elaborate pole-mounted receiver that would not be guaranteed to work. Greenhouse-gas-absorbing trees is TMQ's problem, as it is for millions who wish they could get NFL Sunday Ticket. DirecTV's advice? Cut down the trees. Sure, Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, so you might get away with this. But even if you actually wanted to cut down the trees around your home in order to watch television, this would cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

    Because DirecTV is so difficult to receive and often so expensive to have installed, NFL Sunday Ticket is restricted to a lucky few -- and is something of a rich man's toy. Cable, on the other hand, is already in the majority of American homes, already readily available to almost everyone else, and cable installation charges rarely exceed $100.

    If you're infuriated, as you should be, that NFL Sunday Ticket can be obtained only via a monopoly that most Americans don't or can't get, be aware that the league's monopoly arrangement with DirecTV is up for renewal at the end of the year -- which is why Congress should get interested.

    The DirecTV exclusive was a fluke. In the early 1990s, rumors circulated that the NFL would stop free, over-the-air broadcasts and move its product to cable pay-per-view. Congress threatened antitrust retaliation. The NFL responded by making a big public commitment to free broadcast, while granting a monopoly on residential pay-per-view to the brand-new service called DirecTV, then being promoted as something anyone easily could receive.

    The decision enabled the NFL to assure Congress that games shown on cable would remain free, and at the time was hailed as a consumer victory: free games preserved, while anyone who wanted more could opt for DirecTV. Now that the cost and unavailability of DirecTV have become clear, in retrospect was happened was a consumer disaster.

    Forbidden to sell Sunday Ticket, cable providers may on Sunday afternoons show only whatever game the local CBS or Fox affiliate chooses. (Note to conflict-of-interest fans: Because ESPN and ABC air NFL night games that do not compete with CBS and Fox afternoon offerings, the corporate parent of ESPN.com has no dog in this hunt.) Aside from home-team games, local affiliates tend with smart-bomb efficiency to lock in on the worst matchups of the week. Or they insist on showing what seems like "regional" matchups, when a much better national game is available. For example, reader Scott Krasner of Charlotte reports that a week ago Sunday, the Charlotte local affiliate aired the Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons-Green Bay matchup, a boring blowout, when the much-more-heralded Tampa at Philadelphia game was available on the same network in the same time slot.

    Local affiliates, as this column has dismally documented, also rarely switch away from a boring blowout to whichever game is going down to the wire, though they are allowed by the NFL to switch. The lucky elite with Sunday Ticket can decide for themselves which game seems hot, and switch to whatever is going down to the wire. The 90 percent of American homes that don't get DirecTV are stuck with the woofer matchups and boring blowouts.

    If your DirecTV dish won't pick up the satellite, you could always move.
    The situation is worst in the nation's largest city, New York, and in the nation's capital, Washington. Because New York has the Jets and Giants, these teams occupy most Sunday-afternoon slots, meaning the nation's largest city routinely does not see the top Sunday matchups. Washington local affiliates show all Persons and Baltimore Ravens dates, meaning rare is the Sunday afternoon game not involving these two teams.

    Sunday Ticket could be broadcast on digital cable, which is already in almost twice as many homes as DirecTV and, at current trends, will be in five times as many homes soon. Because the exclusive deal with DirecTV ends this year, the NFL would be expected to extend Sunday Ticket to digital cable, in order to expand the market and increase revenues. The fly in the ointment is that the NFL's master contract with CBS and Fox runs till 2006, and contains a clause allowing these networks to block Sunday Ticket from cable.

    Fox and CBS oppose moving Sunday Ticket to cable because they know it would be incredibly popular there, shifting more of the balance of power from networks toward cable carriers. (Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns Fox, is involved in a convoluted hostile takeover attempt against DirecTV; it's unsettled how this impacts the Sunday Ticket issue.) Fox and CBS also have a legitimate concern that at present, Sunday Ticket carries only national commercials; the more the current version of Sunday Ticket expands, the more this would harm local-affiliate income. Digital cable technology could splice local commercials into Sunday Ticket, solving the problem for Fox and CBS affiliates. But until cable carriers win rights to the games, they have no incentive to install the gizmos that do this.

    The NFL, CBS and Fox are discussing an agreement that would allow Sunday Ticket on digital cable in return for revenue-sharing payments from cable carriers to the networks. This would be the ideal, win-win resolution of the problem. But if CBS, Fox and the cable carriers cannot agree on revenue-sharing terms, the NFL is expected to renew the DirecTV monopoly through the 2006 season.

    So far these machinations have escaped the notice of lawmakers, and that should change. Congress ought to get involved and pressure for the end of this unnecessary monopoly and the expansion of viewer choice. NFL games are played in publicly subsidized stadiums; the over-air, cable and satellite spectra used to broadcast the games are publicly regulated. Congress should work to maximize choice for the voters who are taxed to make NFL profits possible. If the NFL is willing to sell viewing of any game for $199, this deal ought to be available to everyone. Sunday Ticket belongs on cable where anyone can see it, not on satellite where it is restricted to the favored few.

    Reference: http://espn.go.com/page2/s/tmq/021029.html

  • #2
    I just wish I could get UPN and 'the WB'..... I've written("We have no immediate plans to add your...yadda, yadda, yadda...."), called, etc, until I'm blue in the face. Nada. Every community AROUND me can receive those channels PLUS 'local channel access', but some [email protected]$$ at DirecTV is too LAZY to program MY community intot heir computer. I'm FURTHER away from Memphis than these other communities, yet THEY are ALLOWED local channel access.

    You'd think for $119/month, they'd WANT to keep me happy......
    "When you guys get home and face an anti-war protester, look him in the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she knows she's dating a *****."
    -Commanding General, 1st Marine Division


    • #3
      i didn't get the NFL pacakge this year, but in years past i have never had a game blacked out...and i'm right between pittsburgh pa and anus, uhhh i mean cleveland oh.

      and if i'm not mistaken, direct tv got an extension on exclusivity to the NFL package so i don't think you will see it on cable for a few more years.

      now the MLB package is another story. too many games blacked out on wednesday night (when ESPN has exclusive rights to MLB games), so even if the early game is over you STILL can't catch any west coast action despite the fact that NONE of the espn channels may not be broadcasting any games other games.

      plus if want to watch your team on another channel because your station isn't showing the game, it is usually blacked out. which is STUPID especially if the game ISN'T at home.

      and like a glutton i get the baseball package every year because i like my games in the summer.

      and no WB or UPN is available UNLESS it is part of your local package. unfortunately i can't get any local channels yet where i am located, but i do get east and west coast feeds of cbs, nbc, abc, and fox.

      despite certain shortcomings with direct tv, i will NEVER go back to the ****ty cable company we have here (adelphia).

      direct tv has far better video and audio than my cable company and i get more programming for my dollar than what i would get here with cable.

      plus at least when the sat goes out (due to "rain fade" -- big storm clouds overhead blocking the signal) the longest my sat has ever been out was about 10 minutes compared to hours and hours of outages due to cable problems.

      i've had sat tv for about 5 years now and have been quite happy with it. more than i can ever say about my (ex)cable company.
      I'll post, You argue.


      • #4
        i had DirecTV/DishNetwork. "HAD" being the key word. their customer service people treat you like a dumbs**t. they once billed me 7 times in one month and it was a mofo getting them to cover all the bounced checks i had because of it. you have to buy a converter box for every single TV you have. with cable you only buy the box for TVs where you want to get the digital channels, so i have 200+ channels on two TVs and 100 on the others.

        satellite is the absolute worst provider out there. when you really want to watch the weather channel you can't because the rain is causing a signal loss. if it's cloudy you can kiss good reception goodbye.

        i went back to cable. voila! no more problems and customer service people are super nice and helpful. as a bonus, i'm now on a cable internet modem...all for less than what i was paying for satellite.

         - DirecTV/DishNetwork  -


        • #5
          I really wish they would make NFL ticket available to Cable subscribers. I doubt I will ever get a dish but damn would I love to be able to watch every Steelers game. I would support a pay per view style subscription. I would easily fork over $10 bucks a game to watch the game I wanted to see.


          • #6
            "satellite is the absolute worst provider out there. when you really want to watch the weather channel you can't because the rain is causing a signal loss. if it's cloudy you can kiss good reception goodbye."

            everyone has their own pros and cons of sat vs. cable.

            like i said, any rain fade causes no more than 10 minutes (if that) of outage, and that is very few and far between. i've had cable out for hours...and i mean HOURS!!!

            direct tv's customer service has always been good whenever i needed to speak to someone.

            the main thing for me, like i mentioned, is the quality of video and audio. i mean, isn't that what you subscribe for....the PICTURE and the SOUND.

            even with the new "digital" package offered by the cable company here, it is still "analog" that is supposedly "converted" to a digital format. uhh uhh...sorry, it doesn't work that way. it's either a digital format or it's not. no matter what you do to an analog signal, it is STILL analog.

            and even with the "digital" cable package here most channels are STILL broadcast in mono. now why the hell would i want my home theater hooked up to a mono output?? kinda defeats the purpose of home theater surround sound doesn't it??

            at least with direct tv i know everything (video and audio) is all digital. but for someone who only sits around and watches reruns of "murder she wrote" and the 10 pm news because 11 is way too late i guess they could care less.

            i know there are some decent cable companies out there, but the one here isn't one of them.

            everyone has their own experiences good and bad. i just prefer not to give my money to adelphia. and i have never regretted getting sat, especially when there are sports packages available on sat that cable doesn't have, such as the NFL and MLB packages. even dish network doesn't have those...they are direct tv exclusives. so that's another reason why i prefer sat over cable.

            also direct tv now offers high speed internet connection. i really don't spend a whole lot of time on the computer at home so at this time i'm not considering getting it. who knows though...i just might get fed up with my dial up connection someday and go for it.
            I'll post, You argue.


            • #7
              Personally, I find it hard to believe that less than 10% of Americans can get DirectTV. I think the author bases too much of his opinion on NYC.

              And, like Nick, I experience some outage at the start of a storm, but it's usually like 5-10 mins. Cable, when I had it, was much less reliable. Nobody has cut my satellite while digging up a water line, installing a fence or by running into a pole......all of which happened when I had cable.

              And I think the columnist has a fair amount of nerve, considering his employer, ESPN has a number of channels on DirectTV, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic and others that are part of their parent company.


              • #8
                actually i think the figure of sat owners is something like 18-20%, but don't quote me on that. though the majority is definitely cable.

                if you want a good site for sat info go to:
                http://www.dbsfourms.com. i've been going to that site ever since i first got my sat. good information there.

                [ 11-01-2002, 01:14 PM: Message edited by: nickg ]
                I'll post, You argue.


                • #9
                  I have both DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket. I am thrilled with both. I have had no problems. The only drawback is that I do not get local channels. However, with a tv top antenna, local channels come in just fine.

                  Charter Cable charges $52.00 a month here. No digital cable, pay channels, or anything. $52.00 is their basic rate for about 75 channels. I am paying about $39.00 a month for over 90 channels with DirecTV. No beefs here.
                  "I assume you all have guns and crack."


                  • #10
                    Umm, M*M,

                    What, exactly, is your point?
                    "Speed is fine, but accuracy is final"--Bill Jordan


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by shooter1201:
                      I just wish I could get UPN and 'the WB'..... Every community AROUND me can receive those channels PLUS 'local channel access', but some [email protected]$$ at DirecTV is too LAZY to program MY community intot heir computer.


                      My brother has satellite and lives in the sticks so has no local access channels, either. But he went to a couple of forums and found out that you can have a separate billing address and service address. If you know someone in a zip code who CAN receive local access and they don't subscribe to satellite service, ask them if it's okay if you use their address (not their name) for your service address. Then call the company and tell them you want to change your service address.

                      The lady asked my bro several times "Have you moved?". His constant answer was no, I just want my service address changed. So she did it.

                      Then he called back the next day, and asked if he could get local access channels. The guy pulled up his account, saw his service address and said sure. It was switched on within 5 minutes. Of course, he's still paying for them, but at least he can get them!

                      I've "loaned" my address out to someone and it has not caused a problem for him or me!


                      • #12
                        We just bought a new house. It's in a different town than where we had been living and the cable provider for the new town is Adelphia. Well, Adelphia's top three execs recently received federal indictments. One of the realtors told me that Adelphia is not making any capital expenditures. They have two subdivisions inside the city limits underway that will not even have to opportunity to choose between cble and satellite.

                        All things being equal, I would have preferred cable, but with all of that going on we decided to do a one year deal with Dish.

                        I also got the personal video recorder (PVR) with my package. It will record up to 16 hours digitally, and the digital recordings can be sent out to a VCR or DVD recorder.

                        [ 11-01-2002, 08:11 PM: Message edited by: drunkhunter ]
                        "Integrity is like virginity. Once it's lost, you can't get it back." --drunkhunter


                        • #13

                          Just stirring the minds a bit...


                          • #14
                            I also have DirectTV and NFL Sunday Ticket. Absolutely no complaints here.


                            • #15
                              I have had Direct TV for 6 years. No complaints. It goes out only when snow builds up on the dish. That problem was solved by moving the dish under the eves of the house.


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