Should DirecTV Customers Get Refunds For Going Without Viacom Channels?

It’s one day into the standoff between DirecTV and Viacom and neither side is showing signs of backing down (though, the way these things go, they could be kissing and making up within the hour). In the meantime, millions of DirecTV customers have to go to their friends’ houses to watch Teen Mom reruns. So what’s the satellite company doing to make up for the 26 missing channels?

“We’re working with our customers on an individual basis to make sure they are satisfied and helping them find alternative ways to view their favorite shows,” a DirecTV rep tells Consumerist, “as well as providing suggestions on what other similar programming is available.”

And at least according to this page on a DirecTV-operated site about the dispute, customers will get access to all 8 Encore movie channels through July 31.

The rep has confirmed to Consumerist that the free Encore will continue until July 31 even if the Viacom blackout ends before that date.

Regardless, we wanted to get your opinion on whether or not DirecTV customers deserve some sort of refund/credit for the lack of Viacom stations:

Comments

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  1. samonela says:

    Contractually – no.

    Common Sensically – yes.

    In other words: Yes, but they won’t.

  2. Coffee says:

    Not sure whether we’ve been through this…would this little spat allow a subscriber to cancel service in the middle of a contract, or is “unilaterally reducing the channels you have to still pay the same amount for” something that they included in the contract?

    • nugatory says:

      Its in the contact. Changing the channel lineup gives no recourse for early termination.

      • castlecraver says:

        This may or may not be enforceable however. For example, if DirectTV or any other subscriber reduced their channel lineup down to only one channel and expected subscribers to continue paying their usual rates, a judge would probably find that unconscionable.

        I don’t know all the legal nuances that might come into play, but it may be relevant that some of these channels are (quoting from the previous post) “basic cable mainstays” that cable customers generally expect to receive, and that when channels have been dropped in the past, it’s been just a few and not 26 at a time

        I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to claim that eliminating these couple dozen channels may comprise an unconscionable or unfair change irrespective of what it says in the contract.

  3. Lombard Montague says:

    From DirecTVpromise.com:

    “You should be able to decide which Viacom channels you want and which you don’t”

    Remove “Viacom” from that sentence and I agree 100%.

  4. Difdi says:

    It’s a materially adverse change. They could simply escape the contract on that basis. Seems like a no-brainer to offer a partial refund to keep them onboard.

    • Lombard Montague says:

      That works for cell phone service providers, but satellite companies put in their TOS that they can change pricing and lineups at will.

      • Difdi says:

        So do cell phone companies. It doesn’t help them much.

      • Chuft-Captain says:

        They can reserve the right to change it, but that doesn’t affect your right to cancel due to a material change in the contract. When they change the provided service in some material way, they are, in essence, offering a revised agreement, you’re under no obligation to accept that agreement.

    • SabreDC says:

      Unfortunately, the customer agrees to paying the disconnection fee for this specific scenario in the customer agreement.

  5. Telekinesis123 says:

    If you bought anything and it’s missing a portion of what was advertized you will receive, you’re liable for a refund.

    It’s odd that this question needs to be asked as with just about any product that has clearly definable results like either received or not received this is a common sense thing. More nebulous things like quality of service relying on things like emotions are more hard to define.

  6. frank64 says:

    I think an announcement of an immediate discount pro-rated for the amount of time out would build goodwill. I know when Netflix had outages they gave immediate discounts and it was well received. At least for this instance subscribers need to be aware that they are on the same side as DirectTV, and the more they feel this way the less they will end up paying in the long run. Viacom is watching and subscriber sentiment is going to effect how strong they deal and how much they hold out for.

  7. who? says:

    Do any of the Encore channels show The Daily Show?

  8. cruiseyone says:

    We’re paying a premium price for all channels. It’s not our fault Directv can’t negotiate prices with each channel and are bundling channels.

    I want a prorated refund or adjustment.

    It’s only fair.

    • frank64 says:

      I agree with your conclusion that there should be an adjustment, but I disagree on it what you said about negotiating bundling.

      It is not DirectTV’s fault they can’t negotiate on bundling either, it is standard network practices and no provider has been able to break it. It is also our fault collectively as consumers because we do not stand buy the providers while they negotiates we threaten to cancel service and blame them for being greedy. This gives the networks the power to raise price.

      Some of this could change as providers are realizing that cutting the cord is going to accelerate with the high prices. Either way the consumers are going to damn them, either for the high prices or gall they have for not paying for their favorite channel.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        You know, if there was a mass boycotting of Viacom shows (by customers of all providers), that would go a long way toward sending a message that we aren’t all salivating dogs that have to have our stories and loosen the stranglehold these companies have on the cable and satellite providers.

        But unfortunately, we are salivating dogs, and Viacom knows it. (Time Warner customer here, just in the interest of disclosure.) Nobody is going to boycott a show they like when they’re not affected, but it would be a great thing,

    • HoJu says:

      Bottom line is that at the moment DirecTV is not paying Viacom, therefore we shouldn’t be expected to be paid for it.

    • stevenpdx says:

      And how would you like that 30 cents per month per channel delivered? Check or statement credit?

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        Statement credit. Just like the one they’re giving customers who call in to complain. That’s $7.80 per month, just to respond to your “it’s only 30 cents, you cheap jerks” argument.

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          And yes, I’m aware it’s not really that much. More like a couple bucks. Still, I would want a statement credit.

    • njack says:

      Dish is going through the same thing with AMC and it’s affiliates. I called to complain. They knocked $10/month of my bill and sent me a Roku.

  9. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Oh wow, Encore. I remember when that was included in our Comcast package. Yawn. I don’t think we watched one movie the whole time we had it. When I cut back the channels when the introductory period expired, I never missed it.

  10. SabreDC says:

    We need to find some way to put a stop to every company now using a terms/conditions agreement saying “we may or may not provide the service you subscribe to but you must continue to pay us.” At first, it was limited to force majeure. Now, almost every subscription agreement has a clause saying that “business conditions” may arise that cause the service to become unusable and the customer is still on the hook to pay. When did this become acceptable?

    • hammond egger says:

      Just because they put it in there doesn’t mean it is legally binding. I can put a sign in my yard that says “Beware of dog. Owner not responsible if you are bitten”, but that doesn’t make it so.

      • SabreDC says:

        True, but to challenge its enforceability, it will cost the buyer money in legal fees, added time, etc. If it was not permitted in the first place, it would protect the consumer without having to force him/her to go out of their way to challenge it.

  11. Southern says:

    . We proposed a fair deal that amounted to an increase of only a couple pennies per day, per subscriber

    and

    DirecTV claims that Viacom is asking for an additional $1 billion over what the satellite provider paid on the recently expired contract.

    Hmm.. a “couple of pennies per subscriber, per day”.. Even if we call a “couple” 3 (which would actually be a “few”), that’s an increase of 90¢ per month, per subscriber.

    Now lets see..

    1,000,000,000 / .90 = 1,111,111,111 subscribers.

    I doubt that DirectTV has more than 1 billion subscribers.

    I call Shenanigans!

    Fact is though, even if DirectTV *were* to give a refund to every customer, it probably7 wouldn’t amount to much (per subscriber). Most of these Viacom channels are in the lower tiers of service (the $29.95-$39.95 ones), so I can’t imagine that DtV is paying much for them. Combine that with a prorated outage (unless the dispute lasts an entire month) and I doubt a customer would see more than a quarter’s (25¢) worth of credit for it.

    They should just put all TV shows on something like Hulu, charge a flat rate for access, and let customers watch what they WANT to watch.

    (non)-related note: I was watching AMC on U-Verse last night, and they had a 15-second spot saying “AMC.. Only available on Cable & DirectTV.. If you’re on Dish Network, you can’t see this commercial”. lol.. I thought it was funny. :) I guess they really got their feelings hurt. :)

    • frank64 says:

      I saw elsewhere that it would be about $2.50

    • Hartwig says:

      You are assuming that each month it is costing 1 billion dollars more. It is spread over 5 years and direct tv has around 20 million subscribers.

      1000000000/20000000 = 50 dollars per subscriber.

      50 / 5 = 10 dollars per year per subscriber.

      10 / 365 = 2.7 cents per day per subscriber.

      Dish’s real issues is it is an almost 30% hike from 2.5 billion over 5 years to 3.5 billion over 5 years. 30% is a lot.

      • Hartwig says:

        Damn, DirectTV not Dish.

        • Anne Noise says:

          I do this constantly, and I’m a Dish customer. X_X I don’t know why they get mixed up in my head so often…

      • Southern says:

        Good point Hartwig, and you’re right, I totally spaced on taking the contract length into consideration. :)

        Still, a $1.00 per month increase, per subscriber, is unrealistic IMO. Especially for people like me, who don’t give a damn about ANY Viacom channel.. I don’t watch Comedy Central, MTV, CMT, VH1, Spike, Nick, BET, or any of the other Viacom channels — ever… but I can’t avoid them either, since they’re in the lower tier packages. Yet (if I had DirectTV and they agree to the increase), I’ll be paying that extra $1.00 every month, whether I watch the channels or not..

        I watch SyFy, Discovery, BBC, the networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX), CW, Disney, and maybe a couple of others with any regularity.. And for those, I have to have one of the higher tiers.

        For instance, I hate knowing I’m paying $5.00-$6.00 a month for *just* ESPN when not only do I NOT watch it, but have it blocked from my onscreen guide. :)

        I need to just bite the bullet and cut the damn cord.

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          Yeah, but there are people out there saying “I watch Comedy Central and Nick, why should I have to pay to subsidize the people watching BBC and SyFy, when I don’t watch them.” It’s how the game works.

    • JJFIII says:

      Fact, they did not say $1 BILLION over 1 year.
      Fact, DirectV has 20 million subs at 2 cents per day for 365 days per year means an increase of $146 MILLION. The last contract was for seven years. 7 years times 146 million is over $1 BILLION.
      Read before you speak, you make yourself look stupid

    • HoJu says:

      Any company that uses the term “Pennies per day” loses all credibility and trust from me.

    • Maximus0111 says:

      The amount that it comes out to is .61 cents per subscriber per month. Time magazine did an article about it yesterday and broke it down.

      This is the third dispute in the past year for DirecTV. I’m getting tired of it. I really want to switch but we are under contract. They will not let me out of it unless we pay the ETF. I wish there was a way to get out of it.

    • dpeters11 says:

      That couple of pennies could be for now. Most of these contracts have escalator clauses, so that the cost increases within the contract. I think this would have been a billion dollars over 5 years. So if there is a couple cents now, and a few increases within that 5 year period, it could come out to around a billion. Of course they could be rounding. Saying $1 Billion has more effect than say $900 million.

  12. evilpete says:

    Yes

  13. Extended-Warranty says:

    So basically, since DirecTV won’t pay Viacom more, raising their costs, which in turn raises the consumers costs, the consumer wants more money. Do you want the portion of your bill that is Viacom (a dollar or two) or do you just want to bitch?

    I can’t imagine why so many businesses are laying off thousands of employees. There seems to be so many parties willing to negotiate better terms for all.

  14. SilverBlade2k says:

    THIS is exactly why some customers end up pirating shows – because of stupid and pointless bickering between two entertainment entities and the customer ends up getting screwed at the end.

    Maybe if people dumped DirecTV *just* because of this, they would quickly work out a deal to stop the bleeding.

    • frank64 says:

      It isn’t that simple. What you say is largely what has happened, and this raised the cost of cable/satellite. It is getting to the point many can’t afford it. If DTV gets lost of customer pressure it will fold and everyone will pay more.

      I don’t care, I quite cable around a decade ago. I am fine without it. I have been sticking up for cable and satellite here, but largely I think they took advantage of their monopoly and didn’t care about costs because they could mark them up and pass them on. Now they care because what they can charge is hitting a ceiling. The best case is the higher prices that are going to be charged means people cancel and the whole industry changes. I think it may be too late and the industry is going to change anyway.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      It seems like everyone I talk to is just waiting for some excuse to pirate stuff. If there’s even the tiniest hurdle to content, it’s like “ohwellItriedguessI’llhavetopiratekthxbye!”

  15. Lyn Torden says:

    What about those of us who just don’t watch those channels? Why should we have to pay for them whether they are being delivered or not?

    • frank64 says:

      The networks force the cable cos to pay for all subscribers instead of a higher rate for those that want the station. They also force them to take a block of channels to get the good ones.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Why should other people who don’t watch the channels you like have to pay for them?

      I know, in a perfect world, we’d have ala carte TV. And then niche channels would probably cease to exist.

  16. Outrun1986 says:

    Really glad I don’t have DTV right now….

  17. incident_man says:

    I’d LOVE to hear a conversation between DirecTV and Viacom like this:

    Viacom: “We want $1 billion more from you for our programming that you carry, otherwise we’ll cut the signal off.”

    DirecTV: “Fine, then we want $500 million from you to help maintain our satellites so subscribers can GET your channels, otherwise we’ll NEVER carry your networks again.”

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    • frank64 says:

      DirectTV does provide an antenna service for Viacom so they can get their commercials out. Why did it develop this way instead of cable charging stations to not have to build an antenna or distribution system?

  18. Blueskylaw says:

    “We’re working with our customers on an individual basis”
    Translated: Unless you complain you won’t get anything let alone a refund

    “Helping them find alternative ways to view their favorite shows”
    Translated: Trying to sell you more channels or premium programming

    • whittfarm says:

      Even if you do complain, you don’t get much. My wife and I rarely watch TV so when the TV is on, about 90% of the time, it’s on one of the Nick channels, that the kids watch. Without the Nick channels, our DirectTV is pretty much useless. I called today and was offered $5 a month, off my bill for the next three months. So, I lose 26 channels and my bill goes down $5. Not much of a deal, if you ask me… I’ve been a subscriber for seven years so being a long time customer isn’t a plus, either.

      The guy did offer me HBO and Showtime at a special rate, it worked out to something like $3 a month for the next three months… Ummmm… no thanks.

      I’m thinking that if an agreement isn’t reached by Monday, I’ll be looking for an alternative.

    • njack says:

      This!

      I have Dish. I called to complain about the same exact issue they are entangled with AMC over. After they agreed to credit my account $10/month and send me a Roku for free, the representative had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to upgrade my service to a higher priced package. I told her if she tried to upsell me anything more before I could hang up, the next words out of my mouth would be ‘cancel my service’

  19. 808 says:

    I am in a market where Hearst (owner of e local ABC affiliate) and Time Warner Cable have come to an impasse. This is the second day of no feed on that channel — and a key debate for next month’s primary is airing tonight. I’d love a fee proration but what I would love even more is to see the debate … contours of our island being what they are, people in many communities cannot just bust out the bunny ears to catch over-the-air feed. Grrrr.

  20. MarkFL says:

    As far as substituting the Encore channels for the Viacom channels: This is effectively no different from when they drop any other channel and replace it with another (except that in this case, we might get both for a short period). Although based on the comments some have posted here, a lot of people might rather have the Encore channels.

  21. MarkFL says:

    By the way, does anyone else think the looping video of Mike White is more entertaining than anything on MTV?

  22. aleck says:

    There are threads on deal sites about people getting $100 credit. Usually it is spread over 10 months.

    • MarkFL says:

      And the new customers are still paying much less than I am. If I leave, it will be more because of this than the loss of Viacom — why should I subsidize the new customers?

  23. do-it-myself says:

    I believe the Encore channels is a fair exchange for the missing channels based on what the cost would be. However, since the terms of the contract have changed, it should mean that people should have the right to cancel their service without penalty (as in DirecTV’s penalty is losing the customer, vs. the customer paying an ETF for breaking the contract).

  24. rlmiller007 says:

    Free Encore? Encore sucks.

  25. esc27 says:

    If you go to Disney world and Splash Mountain is closed, you don’t get a refund.
    If you go to an all you can eat pizza buffet, and they don’t have any Hawaiian, you don’t get a refund.
    etc.

    DirectTV offers packages of channels, and as long as the overall value of the package remains about the same, they shouldn’t be obligated to refund for specific shows. Channels come and go, contracts change. It isn’t reasonable to expect a cable/sat provider to maintain the exact same lineup for years at a time.

    That said, Viacom represents enough channels that this is more than just Splash mountain being closed, this is all of Frontier Land. DirectTV needs to maintain the value of its offering. Extra channels and/or credit toward the next bill would be reasonable.

    -

    From a more selfish standpoint, it is in the customers best interest that DirectTV not have to shell out to many bonuses/refunds. Otherwise they will be forced to cave in to higher prices that will certainly be passed along.

  26. Vegetius says:

    I am a DirecTV subscriber, and I approve of their actions. I don’t want a refund. To Hell with Viacom.