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June 2020
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Cable Customers Have Paid $3.5 Billion For Sports They Can't Watch

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Despite the pandemic suspending most major league sports play, cable TV consumers continue to pay for programming they can't watch.For fifteen years or more, consumers have complained about the high cost of sports programming. That's particularly true for consumers who don't watch sports, but are often forced to pay the sky high prices for sports programming as part of a bloated cable bundle anyway. One survey, a few years ago, found that 56% of consumers would ditch ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant saving the $8 per month subscribers pay for the channel. The "regional sports fees" tacked on to subscriber bills have also long been a point of contention because they're often used to help falsely advertise a lower rate.NY Attorney General Letitia James recently fired a warning shot over the bow of the industry, calling on seven major cable TV providers to begin offering refunds for nonexistent programming:

"At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing. These companies must step up and immediately propose plans to cut charges and provide much needed financial relief. This crisis has brought new economic anxiety for all New Yorkers, and I will continue to protect the wallets of working people at every turn."
This being the cable TV industry, the requested refunds haven't happened. AT&T (DirecTV) has let some users get refunds for premiums sports subscriptions (MLB Extra Innings and MLS Direct Kick), but none of the seven cable providers singled out by James appear to have changed their policies in the slightest or offered any refunds whatsoever. In a statement, AT&T makes it pretty clear that because broadcasters aren't likely to give it a break, consumers won't be getting a break either:
"We continue to monitor the situation closely and are in contact with programmers and sports leagues as they plan their next steps. Any rebates we receive from programmers and sports leagues will be provided to our customers."
That's generally been the same line trotted out by cable providers like Spectrum, which are quick to point out that there are layers of complicated contracts at play and more than a lot of uncertainty as to what happens next. And while that's certainly true, we're not talking about pocket change here. One recent analysis estimated that pay-tv subscribers have paid almost $3.5 Billion in cable fees over the last two months for live sports that never happened:
"...there are around 86.5 pay-TV households in the United States. On average, each of these households pays around $20 per month in fees for sports programming. That means pay-TV subscribing households in the US pay about $1.73 billion per month in fees for sports programming. And with two months of no live sports thus far, that means pay-TV companies like Comcast and AT&T have received nearly $3.5 billion in fees for sports programming that features no live sports."
Somebody has to eat those costs, and congratulations, it's going to be you, the end consumer. How long this goes on is uncertain, but with the FCC asleep on consumer issues, it's unlikely the federal regulator will help. Fortunately (unlike the broadband sector), the rise in streaming competition means users have options. Cord cutting was already setting records in 2019, and with Sports being the only thing keeping users subscribed to traditional cable, cord cutting is expected to soar to even greater heights thanks to COVID-19.

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posted at: 12:00am on 11-Jun-2020
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Hacks Are Always Worse Than Reported: Nintendo's Breached Accounts Magically Double

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One of these days, we writers at Techdirt will put our collective and enormous heads together, and come up with an actual proposed mathematical formula that should be applied whenever a company first announces a security or account breach, so that the public can calculate what that breach count will eventually end up being. The reason the world needs such a formula is because you can pretty much set your watch when a company announces such a breach that in the following weeks or months it will grow significantly. This happened with Equifax, with TJX, and even with our own vaunted federal government. But if we ever really did want to try to put some kind of formula together for measuring the underplaying of a breach on initial response, the historical breach that would probably brake such an algorithm would have to be Yahoo's email breach, which, in 2013, was the breach of a few hundred thousand email accounts, but in 2017 magically became all of the accounts. As in, literally all of them.This severity progression is so routine that it should have a name for easy reference. I propose Geigner's Effect. I heard somewhere that if you write for this site long enough you get an effect named after you.The most recent example of, ahem, Geigner's Effect (actually first proposed on this site by Mike Masnick, but he already has an Effect) is Nintendo, which near the start of the year announced that roughly 160k of its Nintendo Accounts had potentially been breached. In an update this week, Nintendo revised that number to nearly double the original amount.

Today, Nintendo announced another 140,000 or so more accounts may have been accessed. That means a total of around 300,000 accounts may have been breached. Nintendo pointed out in an update today that that’s less than one percent of all Nintendo Network ID users.
While that's true, it's also 200% of the amount that Nintendo originally said had been breached. And who knows what that number is going to be in another couple of weeks or months? It could stay the same, or it could be more Yahoo-esque and balloon significantly. Remember again, Yahoo revised its breach numbers on a nearly annual basis until it finally settled on "all the accounts." The public has no reason to trust companies on these numbers and every reason to dismiss the casual trotting out of seemingly comforting math by some PR goon.So, we reiterate: when you see a report of a breach, know that it's always more severe than first reported. Until we have our formula ready for prime time, that's the best you can do.

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posted at: 12:00am on 11-Jun-2020
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