A TV remote with movies and steaming TV options on the screen

You know the feeling. Your favorite sports team or TV show is about to premiere. You have friends and family over, the snacks are out, and everyone has their favorite spot on the couch. Click the TV on to the right channel and – nothing.

Subscribers across the nation experienced a similar situation (give or take the snacks and guests) on July 3, when the biggest TV station operator in the U.S., Nexstar Media Group, pulled their contract with DirecTV and AT&T U-verse. With so many viewers left in the dark, some may be wondering if they can get a refund for the missing channels or if they can cancel their contracts without a penalty.

Looking For an ‘Out’ in Contracts

When there is a breach in contract, you may have various grounds for a legal claim. This blackout seems like a clear breach of the TV service promised to the users. However, the legal issues can get sticky when they regard an established service, such as a cable network or streaming service.

As an example, two subscribers tried to sue Dish Network for similar blackouts in 2015 by using various grounds for the claim, with varying results from the judge:

In this specific case, Dish Network’s legal agreement (the large stack of paperwork with small writing that you sign when you want the service) released the company from responsibility for any interruptions or delays of their services. And we really mean any of them. This fine print in contracts can be tiresome to read and hard to understand.

Signing Away Your Rights to a Refund

In a service agreement, you may unknowingly be signing away your right to a refund. This is a lesson many people learn the hard way, so it pays to read any agreements carefully and look for language that explicitly or subtly denies refunds for unhappy clients. These service agreements often have strict cancellation policies to look out for as well.

‘Illusory’ Services in a Contract

The same Dish Network lawsuit brought up a good point: users felt their contracts are flawed for being “illusory.” In the legal field, this term means the services promised are not defined enough to be a real promise of services – they are just the illusion of service. In this example, the courts ruled that the subscribers had used their subscription long enough to know that Dish Network regularly kept their contractual promises and the service is not illusory. It will be interesting to see if similar claims are made about the Nexstar blackout.

You May Be Out of Luck

Unfortunately, you likely will not have strong legal grounds to seek a refund, cancellation, or lawsuit for the recent blackouts. Missing the end of a beloved show is no laughing matter, so this can understandably be frustrating while the two companies renegotiate their contracts.

Careful contract reviews can help avoid issues like this, but really, who is going to say “no” to subscribing to a TV service instead of watching their favorite binge-worthy show? We say pass the popcorn.

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