English Language Programming Snubbed by Costa Rica Cable TV Operators posted by on May 21, 2012
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Anglophiles and English language learners in Costa Rica who are accustomed to getting their linguistic fix from the local cable operators have been noticing drastic changes in popular channels like Cinecanal and Cinemax.

As reported on the popular consumer protection blog “Quien Paga, Manda” (an adage similar to “the customer is always right”), those two movie channels on Cabletica recently switched off their original English programming and replaced it with films and series dubbed into Spanish. Subtitles are gone, as well as the Second Audio Program (SAP) feed.

The Cabletica subscriber who reported the change also wondered if he had any legal recourse in the matter, namely breach of contract or non-performance of an agreement. He sees the sudden change as arbitrary and points out the following concerns:
Many subscribers in Costa Rica signed up for cable TV because they are native English speakers, or they otherwise enjoy programming in the original language.
Even more subscribers signed up to improve their mastery of English as a Second Language (ESL), something that has become a driving factor of the labor economy in Costa Rica.
Subscribers with hearing difficulties or impairments enjoyed subtitles on channels that do not broadcast close captioning encoding.
Eliminating SAP is a harsh measure that leaves viewers without alternatives.

Cinecanal and Cinemax are apparently not the only channels to have suffered the above-described fate. Cable viewers have complained that channels that traditionally make up the basic programming package are being replaced by Latin American versions in which the shows are dubbed, no subtitles are offered, and SAP is absent.

According to Gabriel Zamora, an attorney at the Zamora Baudrit law firm, there is practically zero protection for consumers in this case, particularly since it is unlikely that the cable operators made any guarantees to prevent the vanishing of English language programs.

Blog readers at Quien Paga Manda offered their opinions and knowledge of the matter. Cabletica is not alone in this practice; Amnet, a cable operator that has been around longer, also engages in this practice, which also involves blaming the content providers while at the same time offering the original channels as part of their High Definition (HD) premium packages. Is it simply a matter of squeezing more money from the subscribers who want their channels in their full English glory by forcing them to pay for HD programming?

According to an explanation in newspaper La Nacion from Argentina, the change has a lot to do with demographics and socioeconomic transformation in Latin America.

English Language Programming in Costa Rica Started with Generation X

For those old enough to remember Costa Rica in the mid-to-late 1980s, cable television was only accessible to a select few who were not only able to afford it, but who also lived in ritzy neighborhoods of San Jose served by Cable Color (the precursor to Amnet). Back then English programming ruled cable channel lineups, but those who could not afford to live in Los Yoses and subscribe to Cable Color had a great alternative: Channel 19 on the UHF band.

Channel 19 one day appeared on the free airwaves of Costa Rica; it was essentially a WGN broadcast from Chicago during the daytime, and sometimes HBO or MTV at night. Just like Cable Color, it was 100 percent in English, and the channel introduced young Ticos to a world of programming that included GI Joe, the Transformers, Soul Train, and the Chicago Cubs with Ryan Sandberg on second base.

Tuning to channel 19 was a low-tech process that involved fashioning an antenna from broom sticks, chicken wire, aluminum foil, forks, etc. Channel 19 was probably responsible for boosting the interest of English among Generation X Ticos, although cable television would eventually cast aside channel 19 with virtually the same programming seen in the United States. Channel 19 is rumored to be making a comeback, and it could be timely considering the cold shoulder that some cable channels have given to original English programs.

Here is where socioeconomic and demographic change comes into play: basic cable television can now be afforded by many more subscribers in Costa Rica, not just those in the upper classes. Low-income basic cable subscribers are more interested in watching and listening to programs in Spanish. Viewers older than 50 years of age form part of the fastest-rising population in Costa Rica, and there is a generation gap between them and the Generation X Ticos raised on channel 19: they are not as interested in English language programming.

Should the snub trend of original English programming by cable companies in Costa Rica continue, Ticos and expats will always have options like Netflix and Crackle.

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