Cable TV prices keep going up as more people cut the cord

Cable and satellite TV providers are ringing in the new year with an unwelcome gift: higher cable bills.

Comcast, for instance, says customer bills will rise 2.2 percent, on average, in 2018. AT&T is raising DirecTV’s prices by up to $8 a month in mid-January. Smaller providers are planning increases, too.

Over the past decade, prices for TV service have risen almost twice as fast as inflation, according to an analysis of government data. Data provider S&P Global Market Intelligence says customers’ cable and satellite TV bills have soared 53 percent since 2007, to $100.98 in 2017.

Annual rate hikes are as guaranteed as death and taxes. But you can push back and trim your bill.

Why prices rise

The NFL is the big winner when cable and satellite TV prices increase.Getty Images

Cable companies point to rising fees they pay to carry TV networks. The networks, in turn, have their own rising costs – particularly sports, as they willingly pay more to sports leagues for what they consider must-have programming. But the networks also know they can pass those costs back to cable companies and ultimately their subscribers.

It’s industry convention that a cable bundle needs live sports. Otherwise, cable companies risk losing subscribers to Netflix and other sports-less alternatives.

The consulting firm PwC estimates that sports leagues in North America raked in $18.4 billion in 2016 from TV, radio and tech companies that stream games, up from $11.6 billion in 2012. That’s expected to keep growing as tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook become more interested in sports, meaning more competition for rights to televise games.

The big winner in the TV ecosystem? “If anyone’s the beneficiary it’s NFL players,” Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser said.

Meanwhile, to get the biggest audience possible, many entertainment companies like Disney require cable companies to include expensive channels in the most popular bundles. Verizon tried to offer a cheaper package by dropping Disney’s ESPN from a basic package, making it an optional add-on. ESPN sued, and now Verizon offers a sports-focused basic package with ESPN alongside ones that doesn’t have sports.

Beyond sports, networks pay for high-quality TV series to compete with hits on Amazon, Netflix and other services. Those costs are passed along, too.

In all, S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates that network fees that cable companies are paying are nearly 2.5 times what they…

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