All Viewers Lose In Viacom vs DirecTV Dispute

The war between DirecTV and Viacom is the latest example of how television viewers are used as pawns in the financial negotiations between content carriers and content providers. Each one tries to paint the other as the villain, but the point remains that we the home audience are the suckers stuck in the middle, losing access to channels for which we've paid (and often overpaid) and not having any viable power in the process.

This is a problem that will continue unless something is done, either within the industry itself or through legislative regulation to provide the consumer with more choices and more protection, otherwise the "channel blackout" will continue to be a negotiating tactic every time a content contract comes up for renewal.

I have expressed my frustration as I've lost favorite channels and as I've seen the same scenario played out over and over on Cablevision, TimeWarner, and now DirecTV.  To simply sit back and accept this will just give a greenlight to companies like Viacom to continue to ask for outrageously high fees and for satellite and cable companies to pass high licensing costs onto their already overpaying customers.

I wrote on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ if it was naive of me to assume that #DirecTV and #Viacom were still working throughout the weekend to settle their dispute? Sure, customer service and PR pros were hired to respond to viewer outrage, but I doubt any progress was made on Saturday and Sunday by the upper level management to reach a fair agreement and end the multi-channel blackout. Customers continue to pay the price.

Here are what some of my friends have said in response:

Peter commented: "Which is why we should only have to pay for and get the channels we want. Having my cable costs go up for channels I don't watch is BS."

JoEllen wrote:  "I have a bundled triple play w/ Comcast. Friday I called to drop my movie channels in order to cut costs b/c there is never anything I like on them anyway. My plan was to use On Demand to see the new releases when they come out. No dice...! If I drop them I'm going out of the triple play and therefore become a la carte. They were able to save me 4 bucks a month by cutting the price of my non-DVR box in half. Gee thanks, Comcast. They get you coming and going. I would change, but Verizon isn't set up in my area yet, and Comcast knows it, so they were less willing to make me an offfer."

A la cart pricing is good for people who only watch a few select channels, but for people like me who watch a lot of different shows on different networks, that could end up being even more prohibitively expensive. If it was a la cart pricing SHOW-by-SHOW rather than CHANNEL-by-CHANNEL, that might work, but they would never agree to that.

Debbie joined the debate and said: "Yeah, I agree, show by show might work. I'm totally out of the demographic for Spike TV, for instance, but I enjoy their show Auction Hunters. This seems to be the sign of the times--we lost our local FOX station for quite a while over a pricing dispute."
So what can we do?  The best model is to give everyone affordable access to everything and supplement the cost with non intrusive advertising based on accurate true measurement of the audience, not the antiquated Nielsen sampling crap.

Viewers might feel helpless and powerless, but the more this goes on the sooner the day will come when we will abandon "traditional" television altogether and fully embrace other platforms for our media consumption and ever-improving user-generated content as our more affordable and less restricted entertainment and news sources. Until then, my 3-year-old daughter wants her Nick Jr. back, my wife wants her MTV back, and I want my Comedy Central back. Let's see how long it takes.