Cable TV has ads, so why isn't it free?

It seems when cable tv was first starting around 1980, the idea was that customers would pay a monthly fee but there would be no commercials. However, as long as I have had cable tv, it has had commercials and the monthly fee keeps rising. Why do customers put up with this?

Broadcast TV (NBC, ABC, CBS) is free because it has ads. PBS is free and has no ads, but it is government supported. I think cable tv companies are making out like bandits by getting user fees AND advertising revenue. Storm the bastille!

The one that torques my cork is NPR. I’m tired of listening to this “non-commercial” radio station and hearing about “today’s day sponsor” and “made possible by a grant from” the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, or whatever. (Well, I actually like that announcement, but you know what I mean.)

So either lose the pledge breaks or the “non-commercials”.

There. I feel better.

“After all, she was not very much older…and a plump widowhood has its appeal.”
Dorothy L. Sayers
Murder Must Advertise

Cable TV did not start up in the 1980s. I had cable back in 1964, and probably earlier (I know we had it the night of the great Northeast blackout – we were the only place on the east coast that still had power that night).

Originally, cable was set up so that people in poor reception areas could get stations they couldn’t get before (We went from three broadcast stations – if you had a UHF tuner, which wasn’t standard equipment – to twelve). Later, it was sold to metropolitan areas as a way to get better reception and out-of-town stations. Later, HBO came along and people were asked to pay for content.

Now it’s more complicated. In my area, you have basic cable (the stations you could get if you had an antenna), expanded basic (out-of-town broadcast stations), and premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.). Your cable bill for basic and expanded basic cover the broadcast stations and cable-only stations that broadcast ads (TNT, ESPN, Comedy Central, etc.). Your cable bills for these pay the cable company for its expenses and profits. The stations and cable networks have to get money to pay their expenses, so they sell ads. The cable companies may also be allowed to sell ads as part of the deal they have with the stations, but that’s only a small part of their revenues. For the most part, your cable bill goes to the cable company and the ad revenues goes to the broadcaster. Premium networks like HBO get all their money fom user fees.

The best answer to cutting your cable bill is to do what I do: don’t have cable. I haven’t had it for about 20 years. There are more important things lin life than TV.

The cable channels use the money from the commercials to pay for their shows and make a profit.

Cable companies use subscriber money, and in some areas inserted commericials, to pay the cable companies to carry their programming. The more popular the station (i.e. ESPN) the more expensive the subscription fee.

Also, if NPR got rid of one or the other of their form of sponsership, they would have to have uch more of the other. I don’t think you can win, pluto.

As long as my bottle opener is Y2K compliant, I’ll be okay.

The short answer is that cable cable companies charge for their programming because they can, and our free market economy allows them to charge what ever the market will bear; supply and demand, and all that.

Actually, it’s the other way around; broadcast TV has ads because it is free; and it is free because of the Communications Act of 1934, which established that the airwaves are a public domain. No one can prevent me from owning (or building) a TV or radio receiver that can pick up any broadcast signal.

However, cable is different because it does not use the public airwaves; their system of cables is private, therefore they can legally prevent you from using an illegal cable decoder box, or from hooking up to their system without paying. The only alternative is to pay for their decoder or cable connection; if you don’t like it, well, you can just go back to the rabbit ears.


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

Sorry, never heard that one before. You have to pay for cable channels with commercials because they, unlike broadcast channels, have to pay for pricey things like satellite time.

You can’t really blame public TV and radio - they had to really go after private sector money when the govt. slashed their funding. If we voted to get them more money, do you think they’d get rid of the commercials?

Public Broadcasting channels in this country are caught in a cash crunch - they cannot get by on private donations. They had to court the big corporate sponsors and believe me, they started inserting these brief references to their big donors only with the greatest of reluctance.

Give them a break. If the cheap shits in this country would pony up all the dough they need without being nagged every six months, we could do without the pledge drives and the “commercials.” As it is, it’s a small price to pay for the quality fare we get - at least the programs themselves are free from intrusion, and are frequently the only thing on TV worth watching. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Preach mode/off.

Stations aren’t doing as much business these days. So they have to add more commercials. Right now during the day there are slightly more minutes of commericals, about 22 min/ hour, to make more money, which is a horrendous amount of time.

But then I have a commercial skip vcr. & don’t watch most of them anyway.

Sorry to zoom off at a tangent, but i heard about vcr’s which don’t record the adverts a few years ago. I didn’t know they were widely available…i imagined the big controlling interests in marketing would have bought the design and quitely consigned it to the dustbin. In the UK i have NEVER seen an ad-skipping vcr.

And hey, my new issue of Newsweek is full of ads too! My subscription should be free!

“Sorry to zoom off at a tangent, but i heard about vcr’s which don’t record the adverts a few years ago. I didn’t know they were widely available”

from what i hear, they worked for a bit, then “the man”, or actually the tv entities decided to change the format of what came across the air in terms of lines of resolution (instead of 525, it was 520 or something). so it turned the technology that the vcr used to determine when a commercial started against the vcr it self. it either never recorded, or it recorded everything.
if yer interested in non commercial tv taping, look into vivo or replay, 2 hard disc recorders out there on the market. you can watch tv through them, ‘pause’ when you get interrupted, and start watching again. you can fast forward through the commercials then.

To continue on the line of commercial skip VCR’s, I have a new style one from Panasonic. The older style ones used to stop recording when the commercial came on and then started up again when the show started. Whether or not the TV stations started changing their transition signals, sometimes these VCRs would not start recording when the should. The new style that I have records the whole program with commercials and then rewinds and marks where the commercials are. When you play the program back, it fast forwards as soon as the commercial blocks start and then slows down when to start when the program starts. I don’t know how it does it, but it’s cool as hell.

BTW, I’ve got the Dish Network with M2, the MTV channel that just plays videos (does anyone recall when that’s what MTV was before it decided to become the voice of the slacker generation with poorly done series) and it doesn’t have any commercials. It is also cool as hell.

As long as my bottle opener is Y2K compliant, I’ll be okay.

      • I do remember when they said that cable TV wouldn’t need to have any commercials. I never saw it, but I did hear about it.
      • I also remember when MTV played only music videos. I refer to that time period as “back when I watched MTV”. - MC
  • Martha is still cute as a button -

There are cable channels with no commercials. Think HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and the other “movie” channels.

When cable first started taking off, there were very few of what we now think of as “cable channels”. Back in the late '70s when I first saw cable it carried the local broadcast channels, HBO and Showtime, and only one or two “other” channels. (I think USA Network and ESPN.) USA and ESPN had commercials, HBO and Showtime did not. I suspect the marketers thought there would be a much bigger market for the movie channels than for the others.

“Drink your coffee! Remember, there are people sleeping in China.”

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, cable TV was imagined as a medium for pay-only service along the lines of HBO. But no one wanted to pay for what they could get for free.

Several things changed this.

CATV (Community Antenna TV) was used to get TV reception in bad areas. Naturally, someone had to pay for the cable.

With the collapse of the old Production Code, much more unbroadcastable material became available.

Once cable was in place, it became economically viable to set up small commercial-supported feeds. Thus the USA Network and the like.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Commercial advance & commercial skip are similar but not the same. Its correct, they do record all the program & FF thru them when you play it back.

I also have a kind of film advance feature that you put in a video & it finds the start of the film for ya.

Got so many features on the RCA vcr for $119.00 that I havent learned them all. For example, the search button can be pressed like one to three times to get a new feature for each press.

What you are saying that all this money goes to the cable company doesn’t make sense because:

  1. It’s way too expensive for what their expenses are. All they need is to connect your house with a cable to a relay or something?
  2. Why don’t the cable channels broadcast for free over the air and get more people to watch them so they can sell commercial times for higher price?
  3. There are cable channels without ads. How do they earn money then?

Fifteen years down the road and we’re still paying for cable TV. When will the madness end?

I realized this was a zombie thread when I saw all the references to VCRs.

I remember when cable TV in Des Moines was $8 a month, in the late 1970s, and an addition $8 if you wanted HBO. Most cable subscribers wanted it for the HBO, and honestly, the lineup is STILL worth about $8 a month, and yes, I do mean in 2016 dollars. :o

In the meantime, PBS has basically been bought out by the Kochs. I, and some people on another website, have wondered if it was done so PBS would not air this movie.

And run cable lines all over the area, and pay the phone company or the electric company or whoever’s right-of-way they use for the right to run cable over the other guy’s property; and pay for the satellite dishes and switching equipment and relays and amplifiers, etc.; and pay for the ongoing maintenance you have when you have lots of expensive electronic equipment in people’s back yards. Not to mention that they have to pay for the channels they carry.

Because there are a limited number of over the air channels in any given area. If you try to squeeze in more over the air stations, then you end up interfering with the ones in the next area.

They charge the cable companies a fee for each subscriber, which gets folded into that cable bill that’s too high. This is a little out of date, but you’ll get the idea.