Q. I noticed at the DIRECTV web site that they are giving away the NFL Sunday Ticket if you get a Choice plan or better and a two-year agreement. I love football, but what do you think of that offer? Is it fair? DIRECTV says the Choice plan is $69 a month. — Mel, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Mel, I am very glad you asked that question. For the last few years, DIRECTV has offered the NFL Sunday Ticket for free if you subscribe to the satcaster’s ‘Choice’ plan or above, and yes, sign a two-year agreement.
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. 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 local CBS or NBC station, or maybe your favorite regional sports channel? It’s happening more frequently these days. In fact, DIRECTV subscribers in 97 markets recently lost at least one local network affiliate due to a dispute between the satcaster and the stations’ owner. DIRECTV just settled with the owner after a seven-week blackout.
Hopefully, that won’t occur in your market, but if it does — and you want to switch to another TV provider that carries the blacked-out channel — you’ll have to pay that early termination fee.
And there’s another catch: If you read the small print of that $69 a month offer for the Choice plan, DIRECTV will raise your monthly bill to $110 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, Mel, and keep watching your channels 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