Why Pay-TV subscription keeps running when you are not watching

Satellite Dish


Satellite Dish

You wish, very earnestly, that your pay-TV subscription would not run while you are not watching. You are not alone. Almost every pay-TV subscriber would want it that way. That would make us use our subscription in a way similar to how we use the airtime on our phones when we are on the pay-as-you-go platform.

It would be terrific to subscribe for one month and have the subscription stretched over three or four months by being billed only when we watch. If we do not watch for a cumulative of 10 days in a month, perhaps because we leave for work very early to return very late, attend many social engagements or travel out of town, we would have gained 10 days in the next month because we would not have been billed for the time we were not watching.

In very simple terms, you would want to be billed only when you watch-for an hour, two hours or more.

It is just terrific. No other way to describe it. But it is an eminently unrealisable wish. It is also technologically unworkable.

First and foremost, the technology used in satellite television broadcast is one that works by the satellite feeding the decoder with signals that are converted into the audio-visual content on your screen. The technology is not such that the decoder sends feedback to the satellite, making the communication a one-way affair. It is called satellite downlink (DL). It strictly sends the link from the satellite to the ground station.

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With the way it works, the television service provider has no way of knowing whether or not you are watching and what you are watching.
This means that in the event of a protracted power outage or long absence from home, the pay-TV provider cannot and will not know if you are watching. It is a situation imposed by technology, nothing else.

Apart from the technological impracticability of having your subscription frozen while not watching, pay-TV providers are also restrained by contractual obligations to content owners.

Permission for content distribution (pay-TV companies are usually distributors) are only granted after certain contractual agreements have been reached.

Television content is sold and bought as an aggregate and contracts for such usually specify that it be broadcast over a monthly cycle. This condition makes it impossible for a distributor (pay-TV company) to distribute content on any basis other than what the contract stipulates. The alternative, albeit injurious, is litigation and/or a ruptured relationship with the content owner.

Even the freezing of subscription was a technological possibility, what about its business viability? A distributor has made full payment for a certain content, say a movie, which it hopes to sell for a profit. A subscriber watches for 30 minutes, decides to visit a friend or there is power outage. Would the pay-TV company get a refund from the content owner, which must have been fully paid, on the excuse that power outage or some other situation forced the subscriber to discontinue watching? Of course, not. When we pay to watch a movie at a cinema, we do not get refunded if we find it uninteresting or we are distracted after 40 minutes. Same goes for a football match that goes against our team after 20 minutes. Can we leave the arena, stop by the ticket office and ask for a part refund?

Contracts are contracts and must be honoured. Monthly or weekly Blackberry and internet contracts do not extend beyond the period for which they are valid whether or not we use them. We do not get refunds for not using or carry a subscription over. That is the way it goes.

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