Consumer advice: More cable blackouts to come

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I’ve received several calls and emails from readers annoyed that their favorite TV channels are being dropped by their providers. Cable and satellite companies are struggling to reach deals with some TV channels. At issue: The rates the channels charge for their content.

Providers typically pay a fee based on their subscribers. But the traditional TV market is shrinking as consumers opt for other content packages — choosing Hulu or Netflix in lieu of cable or satellite — which hits providers’ pocketbooks and is leading to more programming blackouts for consumers. Why? Because, the argument goes, the prices channels charge providers aren’t in line with the value the channel brings in.

Pay attention to the bundles your provider offers. These popular packages give subscribers an array of channels, and people tend to have their favorites. Sometimes these niche channels can’t deliver results commensurate with their cost to your TV provider and they’re dropped — sometimes leaving the consumer to wonder what happened.

The fine print certainly is no help.

The contract has no provision that says your TV provider is obligated to continue offering a particular channel if it can’t make a deal with the channel — or if the channel’s broadcast is disrupted while negotiations continue.

One suggestion: Call your provider directly and the channel directly and let them both know you would really like the channel to continue to be offered through your provider.

If that doens’t work, do a little research. See if the channel you like is offered as part of a streaming service.

Is the Nielsen rating company legitimate?

A Coeur d’Alene reader called to find out whether a Nielsen mailer he received was legitimate. Turns out the company still does randomly mail out about a million “invitations” to join the Nielsen family each year. The company’s surveys have been measuring what people watch and listen to on TV and radio since the 1920s.

The mailers usually contain $1 to $5 in crisp U.S. currency as a reward for taking the survey. If you agree, you will be mailed a larger envelope with either a digital set box that transmits your viewing data to the company or a paper diary to fill out instead.

The information gathered helps Nielsen understand consumers’ shopping and media habits and to determine the cost of programming and whether a show has an actual audience. The compensation is minimal; some reviewers have complained that after they respond they’re inundated with spam calls.

Nielsen is vague on the criteria used to select participants, but it says everyone in the United States has an equal shot at being selected. It uses a combination of phone numbers, addresses and public Census information to choose participants. You can’t volunteer.

Since Nielsen claims they only want certain households with certain demographics to participate in their studies, you would expect the mailer to be addressed using the current owner’s specific name.

If you receive a mailer addressed to “Household” and not your name, be skeptical. Also, if someone knocks on your door claiming to be with Nielsen, ask for an ID and photo badge. If you still aren’t sure, contact the company at 1-800-237-8611 to verify the legitimacy of any contact.

Time to rescan

If you use a digital antenna to watch television, you should periodically rescan your channels to make sure you’re getting all of the programming available. TV stations that broadcast over-the-air will periodically change their frequencies, which is what happened to hundreds of channels nationwide last week.

Unfortunately, our TV may not automatically perform updates, so it’s up to us to take the proper action to make sure we can tune the new frequencies. If you have cable or satellite, you don’t have to do anything: These updates are performed automatically.

To see what stations are affected in our area check out this website at TV answers


If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at or call me at 208-274-4458.

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