Q. I was thinking of getting DIRECTV because they are offering the Sunday Ticket for free for the rest of this season and the entire 2019 season. But the offer requires a two-year agreement. What do you think of that? Is that a risk? — Connie, Baltimore.
Connie, you’re right. DIRECTV is now offering the ever-popular NFL Sunday Ticket package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games for free for the next two years (2018 and 2019) if you subscribe to its ‘Choice’ package or above.
Considering that the Ticket’s current regular season price is $293.94, that sounds like a irresistible offer.
But here’s the problem.
If you sign that two-year agreement, you’re stuck. If you want to switch TV providers during that time, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee.
And sometimes that can be hundreds of dollars.
You se, DIRECTV charges $20 for every month left in your two-year agreement from the point of cancellation. For instance, if you decided to cancel six months in, you would have to pay $360 in penalties. (18 months multiplied by 20.)
And this is not just DIRECTV. It’s every pay TV provider who offers ‘special’ two-year agreement deals. They all require termination fees. (This is one reason why some people are signing up for the new live streaming services such as DIRECTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue; they permit you to cancel anytime without penalty.)
Now you may say, hey, I plan to stay with DIRECTV for two years or more anyway.
Well, that’s cool, but what if DIRECTV has a fee fight with your favorite channel — say, MASN, the regional sports channel that airs the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles in your market — and is forced to take the channel off the air? Indefinitely.
Hopefully, that won’t occur, but if it does — and you want to switch to Comcast so you can watch the Nats and/or the O’s — you’ll have to pay that early termination fee.
And there’s another catch: If you read the small print of that $45 a month offer for the Choice plan, DIRECTV will raise your monthly bill to $105 a month in months 13-24 of the two-year agreement. Plus, you will have to pay an extra $7.49 a month in regional sports fees. (More expensive plans will set you back even more in months 13-24.)
And if you want to cancel after your bill goes up in month 13, you’ll have to pay the early termination fee.
Finally, if you’re not in a two-year agreement, you’ll have more power to negotiate with your TV provider for deals while you’re a customer. If your TV provider knows you can switch anytime you want without a financial penalty, it will be much more receptive to offering you something to stay on board, such as three free months of a premium channel — or who knows what. If you call them and say you’re thinking of switching, it will get creative, trust me. (Just don’t do this too often; your TV provider will catch on and be happy to see you leave.)
So avoid the contracts, Connie, and keep watching the Nats and O’s no matter what happens.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann
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