Why satellite TV has an edge over cable

Are you thinking about switching from cable to satellite TV? To help you make an informed decision, here are some pros and cons of satellite TV.

Pros and cons of satellite (Photo: Thinkstock)

Think cable TV is your only option to catch your favorite TV shows and sports games? Try again.

Since satellite TV launched 25 years ago, it has gained more than 30 million customers in the urban and rural areas of the United States and millions more in Latin America, says Joseph Widoff, executive director of the Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association (SBCA) in Washington, D.C.

So, should you consider making the switch to satellite TV? Keep reading to learn about the benefits of satellite TV - as well as the cons.

The Pros of Satellite TV


“Satellite TV is a more tangible service that a consumer can see that harnesses the power of a satellite,” says Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association.

Cooper says that satellite is available in virtually every major market and even in developing countries. It is the delivery method to reach consumers across unwired and hard-to-reach terrains, she says.

“Satellite TV is available to 100 percent of the U.S. population,” Widoff says. “Unlike cable, where the cost of laying cable in sparse population areas can be prohibited, there is no place in America that can’t access satellite video and broadband.”

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“The greatest pro [of satellite] is the price,” says technology writer, Dan Gillmore.

But, Gilmore warns that prices will vary depending on the tier of programming you choose.

According to SBCA's website, satellite TV offers different tiers of programming that are priced the same all over the U.S., but cable TV rates differ widely from market to market.

“Comparing prices of satellite and cable TV is like comparing prices among cell phone companies. This can be a daunting task,” Widoff says. “However, a comparison of programming packages for satellite TV compared to cable will consistently show that satellite service is cheaper, even with equipment costs added in.”

More Channels

As a former college football player and a self-proclaimed football fanatic, Scott Nelson, 24, of DeWitt, Iowa, loves being able to watch NFL Sunday Ticket, which is available only on DirecTV.

“With cable television, I didn’t get to see the games I wanted. It’s amazing what channels are available [on satellite]. And it’s not like they have just one Disney Channel or one ESPN channel. They have four or five to choose from, and international channels,” he says.

Dave Shropshire and his two sons, who live in Davenport, Iowa, also love the channel selection.

“The boys, ages 27 and 19, both have DirecTV boxes in their bedrooms plus we have the one in the living room. The channel selection, sound and picture are much better than cable,” he says.

Compare your local cable and satellite providers to see what channels they offer.

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Picture Quality

Satellite TV has a distinct technological advantage over cable TV, according to the SBCA. Cable networks receive programming through a satellite but re-transmit the signals through the cable companies’ trunk lines, the association’s website says. On the other hand, satellite TV provides a direct link from the satellite to the customer’s home, the SBCA website and Widoff say.

“It’s basic physics,” Widoff says. “The picture is beamed by satellite directly to your home dish and travels only a few feet by cable to your receiver and TV.

The cable signal has to travel from the cable head end, where many of the programs are received - and then sent via cable for several miles until it gets to the customer's house and then to the cable box and TV, he says.

As a result of the travel time, “There is signal loss and degradation," says Widoff.

Gillmor agrees. “Satellite’s picture is superior to cable.”

The Cons of Satellite TV

Weather Interruptions

“Friends warned us about losing satellite connection during storms,” Shropshire says. “That hasn’t happened very often.”

Widoff said there is a possibility of weather problems interfering with the broadcast - but it rarely happens.

“People ask me all the time if they will lose service in bad weather. I tell them that the service is 99.9999 percent reliable,” he says. “I myself have watched TV through snowstorms and thunderstorms on satellite TV. It depends on the conditions and location of the dish. Will there be rare occasions when there might be service failure for a few minutes? Yes. But it’s just that - rare and brief.”

He notes that weather interruptions can also occur with cable.

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Missing Channels Because of Programming Disputes

Some channels are no longer available for satellite TV customers because of disputes with programming companies, says Clark Howard, a consumer expert and author of the personal finance book, "Living Large for the Long Haul."

“While you’re overpaying for subscription TV, your channels are going dark left and right, particularly if you’re a satellite customer,” Howard says. “Programmers typically push through costs on the cable and satellite companies that are four times the rate of inflation. They just expect the pay TV operators to push the increase through onto the consumer. For a long time that was how it worked.”

But subscribers are dropping, particularly among those who are 30 or younger, because technology has changed the equation, he says. People are watching television through the Internet.

“More and more people are saying, ‘Why do I need to pay between $80 and $150 a month for pay TV when I can get some content for free on my laptop, tablet or smart phone?’ ” Howard says.

Certain Entities Don’t Allow Dishes

Unfortunately, some folks who want satellite service have been denied the opportunity, Widoff says.

“Homeowners associations, local governments, and some property managers of multi-unit dwellings as well as some individual landlords have prohibited installation of satellite antennas for a variety of reasons,” he says.

For instance, some condominium associations ban satellite dishes because they say they are unsightly on the side of a building, Widoff says.

However, unless it relates directly to a health or safety concern, it’s illegal to ban satellite dishes by federal law, he says. His association works with consumers as well as other interested parties to overcome those obstacles. In the vast majority of cases, people can get satellite video and broadband if they want it.

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