Cable Tech

With no live sports, NY AG urges pay-TV providers to trim subscription fees

In addition to accelerating pay-TV cord-cutting, the COVID-19 pandemic might also carve into the monthly fees that consumers who have stuck around are paying to their cable and satellite TV providers.

With live televised sports shut down during the pandemic, New York Attorney General Letitia James has called on seven major cable and satellite TV providers in the state to temporarily reduce the fees they are charging consumers.

Sports networks with live sports cost a pretty penny, so the thinking here is that pay-TV subs deserve a break since they are being charged for programming they are not currently getting.

"At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing," James said in Wednesday's announcement. "These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief. This crisis has brought new economic anxiety for all New Yorkers, and I will continue to protect the wallets of working people at every turn."

James, who estimates that cable and satellite TV subs pay up to $20 a month in extra fees for sports programming, sent the letter/request to Altice USA, AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast, Dish Network, RCN and Verizon. Virtual multichannel video programming distributors that carry sports programming and provide service in New York, such as YouTube TV, Hulu and fuboTV, did not appear on James's letter list.

She wants those traditional MVPDs to provide a plan for "appropriate refunds, discounts and reductions of charges and fees, payment deferrals, and waiver of termination fees, at least until live sports programming is resumed."

Charter told WKBW that it is still being charged for that programming at full rate but would pass along to customers any rebates it receives. Verizon said it is in talks with sports leagues and others to "create a solution that provides relief to customers until live sports return to television."

According to the New York Post, Dish Network is trying to avoid paying millions to Disney/ESPN for April broadcasting rights that would've normally covered live sports programming. According to the paper, Dish is trying to invoke a force majeure clause that would free it from those obligations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and use that saved money to lower the bills of its pay-TV customers. But, the Post says, ESPN has so far rebuffed the request.

Rich Greenfield, analyst with LightShed Partners, suggested that sports-focused pay-TV rebates will be hard to get if programmers don't play ball while live sports are shut down:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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