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Sunday, October 13, 2019 12:48:19 PM

I understand the compulsion, but television isn't a white noise machine. If you're going to watch sports television, turn it on something you can't ignore.

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Link Copied Are sports on TV a good deal? Out-of-control sports TV costs are receiving a lot of attention these days, and much of the press coverage is misleading, miscalculated, or just plain wrong. Let's divide fact from fiction. A shocking share of your monthly cable bill goes to sports programming.

Here's how your cable bill works. Half of your cable-TV bill pays for sports channels. Somehow, this stat, or something like it, made its way into headlines and ledes at the Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Inquirer and Mother Jones and beyond.

It's not true. How did the newspapers get it wrong? First, they mistook programming costs for the entire cable bill.

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Big mistake. In short: Channels are bundles, too. It's all cable's fault. When we get mad at the price of a cable bill, we tend to blame the company name at the top of the bill. It's not that simple. Cable companies make deals to carry channels. Channels make deals to carry sports.

Big sports leagues, understanding their unique position in a fragmented media market to be a major audience driver, force channels to pay through the nose for new contracts.


Here are two examples. Last week, the LA Times reported a possible deal between the Dodgers and Fox that would be worth times more -- twenty!

Expensive new contracts means higher costs for channels, who pass the costs to the cable providers, who pass the costs to you. That's why deals like these make sports programming a leading source of your steadily rising cable bill, whether or not you watch sports.

Television's bundling model allows runaway price inflation in sports. If you pay for cable and hate sports, then Actually a better word would be grateful. You're subsidizing my ESPN addiction. Seriously, though, you have the worst of two worlds.

Channels competing over sports rights bid up the price of programming. The bundle pricing model means you have no choice but to pay what amounts to a mandatory sports tax. Some awesome tech company will come along and fix everything.

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Hopefully you see at this point why there is little that Google, or Apple, or Microsoft, or whoever, can do to make watching TV much cheaper. If tried to compete nation-wide with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, it would stuck with the same programming cost inflation crisis that scares TWC The evolution of TV is probably going to be much more boring.

Maybe DISH will decide it won't pay the high costs that ESPN and regional sports networks demand and will become synonymous will "cable for people who hate sports.

For now, maybe nothing changes. According to their press office, most of the people who started with cable-lite eventually upgraded to the full cable package, egregious sports programming and all. The only thing we love more than complaining about the cable bundle is We want to hear what you think about this article.

Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, technology, and the media.

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