Rich Warren: Satellite providers consider local channels bonus coverage

Rich Warren: Satellite providers consider local channels bonus coverage

Readers wonder why certain channels appear on satellite or cable, but not all of their favorites. For example, WICD now is carried by DISH, but a reader wanted to know, why not DirecTV? Or that Mediacom doesn't carry Fox Sports Midwest, which covers the St. Louis Cardinals.

What's free to watch over the air is not necessarily free to view on cable or satellite. Carrying local channels gave birth to cable, but satellite TV considers our local channels a value-added bonus. Bean counters run cable and satellite companies. Every program source carried by cable or satellite negotiates a carriage fee. The cable and satellite companies pay anywhere from pennies per viewer to dimes per viewer for each channel they carry.

Negotiations range from dealing with small local broadcasters to large national conglomerates. For example, WICD is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, a powerful and highly successful national chain. It carries a lot of clout. Similarly, Fox, a many-headed hydra, pretty much names its fees.

It becomes a tug of war between content providers and the cable/satellite companies. The content providers want their programming carried, but have a pretty good idea about how valuable it is to the cable and satellite companies. The cable/satellite executives calculate how many viewers each program channel attracts and whether it attracts enough extra viewers to justify the cost.Perversely, WILL-TV pays DirecTV to circumvent the inteference that plagued it on satellite. DirecTV could not find it in its corporate heart to help carry our public station without interference.

You might read about the spats that develop when a content provider demands as little as a penny more for a particular channel and the cable/satellite company drops the channel in response. Then they go back and forth shaving the copper off the penny. When you multiply that penny by a million or 10 million or 100 million subscribers, it's far more than pocket change.

To further complicate this, cable/satellite bandwidth limits the number of channels. So adding one channel might require dropping another.

Usually the executives who make the carriage decisions live far from the markets their companies serve. The smaller the cable company the more likely it is to be sensitive to local viewers. Those executives might be familiar with what viewers in New York and Los Angeles desire, but not Champaign-Urbana.

Americans pay more for cable television and Internet service than most developed countries in the world. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

While content grows ever more expensive, hardware becomes an increasing bargain. Recently I built a new PC for my radio station's database of nonclassical recordings. I ordered the parts online from Newegg, although you could do almost as well from a few local stores.

For $550, including the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system, I was able to build a fairly fast and powerful PC that is comparable to the $1,500 PC I assembled five years ago. The new PC even includes a solid state hard drive, which is much faster than a conventional spinning platter drive.

Hardware taxes your wallet once. Content, whether computer software or entertainment programming, picks your pocket repeatedly. Here lies the conundrum. You can buy a great TV for less than $1,000, but in three years spend more than that on a cable or satellite subscription.

You have a choice of several local retailers where to buy TVs and computers, and a few hundred sources on the Internet. You have four choices if you want to view the universe of programming choices: Comcast (or Mediacom), AT&T, DISH or DirecTV.

Some of this universe can be found on the Internet, but you'll still need some of the above players to access it. We need more and less expensive choices.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at

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cbrads334 wrote on October 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm
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The best thing we ever did was to cancel pay t.v. services.  We were subscribing to a "basic enhanced" service with the basic sports coverage (which, incidentally, did not provide all the baseball games we were interested in--  why we bought the package to begin with).  It was $76/month.

Most of the programming seemed to be sales-based.  The few channels we enjoyed carried repetitive programming.  Also, the subscriber channels did not carry locally enhanced programming, like 12-2 and 12-3.  We get everything we like over air, free, and it does seem the content is just as good or better than what we were paying for. 

Invest in a good antenna and perhaps a rotor and you'll make up the outlay in a few short months.  At this point, I wouldn't invest in any basic packages, even for $20/month.  Write a nice little check to your public t.v./radio stations at the end of the year instead.

p.s.  Quite a few of the shows you're "missing" can be downloaded and watched online as well, for free or minimal cost.  With the money we saved, we bought an internet-ready t.v. and stream shows from websites.