It's interesting to read these discussions here; I've been reading these topics, hotly debated, on the Satellite TV forums (like DBS Talk) for a long time.
Everyone wants a la carte programming. We have Directv, and I counted once and the number of channels we watch/record from are probably about 20 or so from the package of 200 we sub to. But you can't get those 20 without the 200 package. As others have said, everyone subsidizes everyone else. On the DBS Talk forums you hear the same old same old back and forth, "I never watch sports and I would be perfectly happy with a lower bill and no ESPN" and others saying "If ESPN wasn't offered on Directv, I'd immediately switch over to Dish." These guys compete hard with each other for subscribers and have done the math on how much it would hurt them if they didn't carry ESPN and the other providers did.
Which leads to the thorn in so many subscribers's sides: contract disputes. It seems like once every 3 months you see the banners: "Directv has refused to negotiate in good faith and thus they will be pulling your Fox channel at midnight tomorrow night. No more NFL, no more (insert popular show here) etc. At midnight this channel will go black - call Directv at 1-800-xxx-xxxx and show your outrage. For details go to www.directvhatesAmericaandkillspuppies.com" Of course, Directv has counter ads: "Your local affiliate refuses to accept a 100% increase in fees and thus THEY will be refusing to allow us to show their programming at midnight tonight" with the phone numbers and www.yourlocalaffiliatekicksorphansoutonthestreet.com.
We had that yesterday on our screens: the local ABC affiliate was in a fight with a cable company, so they had their banners going all week and phone numbers of Directv and Dish and another cable company. Supposed to go black at midnight last night. I assume it was resolved; they usually are at the last second, but it is not uncommon for people in an area to have their channels go black for a while. AMC had a major dispute with Dish a few years ago and was off their lineup for a while. This seems to be a common occurance these days. Local affilate owners demand large increases from the satellite and cable guys. And adding to the issue, more and more you see business owners who have purchased huge blocks of television affliates across the country, so they threaten to pull a huge number of network channels across multiple states off of a provider unless the provider provides pretty huge increases. (Different topic, but I am strongly against the FCC giving individuals ownership of such a huge number of network channels.)
In all cases, the viewers are held hostage.
Also - I'm as guilty as anyone at recording shows and watching while skipping over commercials. It is very rare for us to watch commercials as a result. Sometimes at Christmas time we'll watch the commercials (there actually are some clever, funny commercials out there!) But I fear the day is coming in which we'll get ads splashed across the bottom of a show during a show as a way to get around this. They already bug the crap out of me, to be watching, say, an episode of Law and Order:SVU and the bottom third is covered up, in the middle of an episode, with an ad for Despicable Me or Dr. Ken,etc. I hate that. Hell, I hated it when networks started putting watermarks on every show. But I'm sure advertisers are putting pressure on the networks, saying hey, why should we pay so much for advertising when so many people never see it? Heck, Dish's Hopper has a feature where it automatically skips the commercials on all the Primetime network programming. So next thing you know we are going to have an episode of American Crime in an intense moment, and the bottom third of the screen will pop up an ad for Viagra or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I don't mind in show commercials, and I even enjoy how some shows kinda poke inside fun at them - Royal Pains on USA is a good example of this, they have a car "ad" most shows where someone jumps in a car, and they say something like "Where do we need to go?" and then they speak the address and their Toyota or whatever it is blatantly pops up its voice control GPS. And they have wink-wink moments with it, which is fun. And actually, sometimes the ad is effective in showing a feature that makes you say, hey, that's actually cool, next car I'd like to have that. I MUCH MUCH prefer that over ANYTHING spashed over the bottom 1/3 of the screen during the show.
OK - rambling as I sit too late being lazy watching college football on New Years Day. ;) I have more to say on commercials but I'll stop here. ;)