Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Broadcasters and cable/satellite providers, don't forget that the consumers may take action against you

I've been talking about this for years.

Let's say that you're a customer of Super Cable Satellite Company, a cable/satellite provider that offers a number of channels, including the Watching Paint Dry Channel. One day you're watching your favorite channel, and the following message appears:

Do you love the Watching Paint Dry Channel? After September 30, the Super Cable Satellite Company may refuse to air the Watching Paint Dry Channel! Tell SCSC that you want them to keep paint programming on the air!

A little while later, the Super Cable Satellite Company airs its own message:

We at the Super Cable Satellite Company strive to provide entertainment services at an affordable price. However, the Watching Paint Dry Channel is asking us to pay exorbitant fees - fees that we would be forced to pass on to you. Tell the WPDC that they should be reasonable!

And they fight and fight and fight...until they reach a secret agreement that they don't discuss. And who loses? The customer.

I haven't talked about these battles recently, just because I've gotten so tired of them. The latest incident that I discussed occurred back in February, when DirecTV actually removed the Weather Channel from its channel lineup. By April, the two entities kissed and made up.

A brief item in Courthouse News Service, however, reminds everyone that consumers have power also. Although details are not provided, a class action suit has been filed against Dish Network for its month-long refusal to provide Turner Broadcasting channels to its subscribers.

The Washington Examiner provides additional information:

Plaintiff Craig Felzien is seeking class action status for all DISH Network customers between Oct. 21 and Nov. 20. During this period of time, the satellite company blacked out broadcasts on some stations, including CNN, Headline News, the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Boomerang, The Hub and CNN en Espanol.

Felzien had two problems with Dish, according to the Washington Examiner.

First, despite the fact that Dish had effectively reduced its service offering, it continued to charge Felzien the same price.

Second, during the month in question, "DISH Network continued to advertise that it carried the channels in its TV packages available to customers despite the programs being blacked out."

Dish will presumably argue that Felzien signed a contract that allowed Dish to reduce service without compensating subscribers, and will presumably come up with some legal argument against Felzien's other contention.

But this introduces an interesting wrinkle to future disputes between content providers and cable/satellite companies - if programming actually gets pulled for a day, or a month, or three months, will a consumer class action lawsuit follow?
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