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Networking Businesses Communications Media Television

The Problem With Cable Is Television 334

Posted by Soulskill
from the give-me-hd-or-give-me-death dept.
Saul Hansell writes in the NY Times about how various services offered by cable companies affect their spending and their revenue. As it turns out, a lot of the cost increases and investment needs are coming from television and video services rather than internet connectivity. The scramble for high-def and rising licensing fees for programming seem to be the biggest headaches for Comcast and Time Warner right now. Quoting: "By all accounts, Web video is not currently having any effect on the businesses of the cable companies. Market share is moving among cable, satellite and telephone companies, but the overall number of people subscribing to some sort of pay TV service is rising. (The government's switch to digital over-the-air broadcasts is providing a small stimulus to cable companies.) However, if you remember, it took several years before music labels started to feel any pain from downloads. As the sour economy and the Web start putting more pressure on the cable companies, they may be forced to consider breaking up the big bundles of channels they now insist that consumers buy and instead offer individual channels or smaller groups of channels on an à la carte basis."
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The Problem With Cable Is Television

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  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:09PM (#27807197)

    I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

    • by Narpak (961733) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:23PM (#27807351)
      I guess the problem is that majority of programming suck, or at least that the broad scope of programs available through a cable package is so diverse that many only enjoy a small handful while the rest that falls outside the individual field of interest is uninteresting.

      The tactic employed is to bundle "high quality" channels with "low quality" channels to ensure that if you want to buy the thing you are interesting you also have to buy a lot of crap that you don't are about. Selling individual channels, or smaller bundles, would mean you could probably ensure that what channels you get are those you actually want to watch; but it would also mean that a lot of marginal shows and channels would go out of business.

      Of course personally I believe that this is pretty much inevitable and that shows and programming enjoyed by a smaller minority will have to find other ways to reach their targeted audience (like say the Internet). And it probably wont stop there either. In fact I would go so far as to say that over the next two decades the traditional way (in so far as something as new as cable can be said to have a tradition) of watching TV will change in many different ways. Using myself as an example I don't watch TV. Not because there aren't shows I would be interested in, but because I simply can not tailor my day around a programming schedule (nor am I inclined to buy a cable package and a Tivo like device). For me the only option when it comes to watching shows is getting them online (and I am sad to say the options for doing that legal is severely limited in my Country); so for the most part I just have to do without until reality catches up with technology and gives me options suited to my lifestyle.
      • in so far as something as new as cable can be said to have a tradition

        According to this [about.com], "Cable television, formerly known as Community Antenna Television or CATV, was born in the mountains of Pennsylvania in 1948." You must be ancient!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Planesdragon (210349)

        3 points.

        I guess the problem is that majority of programming suck,

        What, you're not familiar with Sturgeon's Law [wikipedia.org]?

        Critic: "Hey, 90% of science fiction is crap!"
        Sturgon: "90% of everything is crap. What's your point?"

        Selling individual channels, or smaller bundles, would mean you could probably ensure that what channels you get are those you actually want to watch; but it would also mean that a lot of marginal shows and channels would go out of business.

        Channel-by-channel billing would increase the overhead for each channel, thus lowering the profit margin. With a slimmer margin, a channel needs more viewers to stay afloat. As a consequence, a lot of channels that you WANT to watch would go out of business, and we'd be stuck with a bigger share of that 90% and less of that 10%.

        To use a slightly wide

    • by Wrath0fb0b (302444) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:59PM (#27807629)

      I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

      Americans are a varied bunch -- a lot of us like a lot of very different things. For most people, the Food Network is a total waste of a channel, but I wouldn't trade it away. My old roommate loved the Golf Channel, about which I felt the kind of apathy that he probably felt for FoodTV. There is no /.ers seem overwhelmingly in favor of ala-carte pricing, but I'm quite skeptical that this will improve the quality of programming. Instead, I think it will move towards the same "top-10" mentality where money is poured into the small number of large earners while the bottom half is ignored, or worse. I would love to pay $5/mo "directly" for FoodTV (directly, in the sense that Verizon would see that cash flow and value FoodTV appropriately), but I fear the result.

      Plus, I'm generally not a fan of the kind of balkinization that I feel this will produce -- people that view only the things they already know they like are unlikely to branch out and view something different. There's quite a bit of interesting wheat (in there with the chaff, of course) flipping through that large middle block of digital channels.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tyr.1358 (1441099)

        I think you are right, people do have different preferences for cable programming.

        Myself, for example, only watch Discovery, History, Sci-fi, and Comedy Central. My SO likes to watch the other reality tv channels. So what ends up happening is we pay verizon $130/month for premium programming, even though she only watches 20 of the 800 channels. In order to get those 20 though, we have to buy a whole block of channels we don't need.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by IntlHarvester (11985) *

        > Food Network, Golf Channel

        IMO these sorts of niche channels will be the first to go under an internet video regime.

        They only have a couple hours a day of original programming, the rest of the time is endless reruns and infomercials. It should be very easy to package together advertising-supported cooking or golf shows on the internet in a much higher quality format than cable.

        The only technical advantage Cable has here is the convenience of dialing up channel 123 and watching some golf. As soon as web

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hackstraw (262471)

          IMO these sorts of niche channels will be the first to go under an internet video regime.

          Yes, no, maybe.

          First question. If I were to go to the "internet" for the Food Channel or GolfTV, who would I pay to watch these "channels"?

          In my area the internet channel would come from a) Verizon -- a television, internet, and phone provider or b) Cox Communications -- a television, internet, and phone provider. I cannot get these niche channels over the air. I could get them via satellite. So the only loser or outlier here are the satellite providers.

          Second question. Why in the world do people "watc

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        I dunno. I would like to suggest a "radical" idea.

        Channels like "Food" and "Golf" should take cable out of
        the equation. Since they already air commercials, they
        should put themselves on the satellites unecrypted so
        that anyone who wants to can tune in.

        They could even allow cable services to rebroadcast the
        signal so long as it's unmodified.

        Unless it's HBO, the only thing I should be paying my
        cable company for is the cost of repeating signal.

        There should be none of this nonsense where cable
        providers are forced

    • by Larryish (1215510)

      A choose-your-channels model would rock. Give me Nickelodeon (for our 5 year old girl) and The Weather Channel and you can keep the rest.

    • by westlake (615356)
      I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

      The programming doesn't suck.

      The geek simply projects his own tastes on the entire audience.

      Looking Up-Market?

      Watch for The Magnificent Seven and To Catch A Thief in rotation on MGM-HD.

      An elegantly mounted spaghetti western? It doesn't get any better than Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West on HDNet Movies.

      Forensic investigation?

      True-Crime done right? Nat Geo and Discovery I.D., A&E's Criminal Investigation. aka The CIN channel.

  • by mtrachtenberg (67780) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:11PM (#27807213) Homepage

    I have to pay for basic cable, and then pay an internet fee on top of that, even though I never watch TV.

    If internet is less expensive to deliver than TV, why oh why won't the cable companies just let me buy what I want and need, without paying for the "basic tier" of trash?

    • I once had Time Warner stand-alone cable. Don't they offer it any more, or do you have a different provider?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hedwards (940851)

      Because they're largely an unregulated monopoly. The reason why they require you to pay for the basic tier is so that they can make more money. There may also be a bit of money from cable TV being used to subsidize the cable internet, but it's mostly a matter of profit.

      The DSL here is a bit the same way, except that you get a $5 a month discount for having a phone line on top of the internet connection. That's a savings of ~$8.50 a month over having both. I'm guessing it has something to do with the way tha

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hackstraw (262471)

        Because they're largely an unregulated monopoly.

        Thats immediately a mod up here on slashdot, but this is simply not the truth.

        Television in the US typically has at least 2 or more means of acquiring content. Cable (Cox, Verizon, and ComCast come to mind). In areas where these services are not available there is usually satellite or over the air. Probably less than 1% of the population has fewer than 2 of these options. This is NOT a monopoly.

        Same goes with telephones. Why don't people complain that their phone service costs as much or more than inte

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      >>>I have to pay for basic cable, and then pay an internet fee on top of that, even though I never watch TV.

      No you don't. You could get DSL like I have. Only $15 a month.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Planesdragon (210349)

      If internet is less expensive to deliver than TV, why oh why won't the cable companies just let me buy what I want and need, without paying for the "basic tier" of trash?

      Because they need to plug you into said basic cable system anyway. They don't have the hardware to filter out their "basic" channels from any box with a live cable feed, so they just make it part of the basic connection.

      Time Warner, at least, has a "basic" package which is only the free-to-TW channels: the ones they get from the over-the-air broadcasters and things like C-SPAN which are intentionally free to all.

  • I've been saying for years that if they offered a sort of Science/Technology/Learning bundle (i.e. Discovery channels, Learning channels, History, Military), I'd sign up in a heartbeat. What I don't want to do is pay for MTV, ESPN, and a couple of hundred other channels in which I have no interest. Perhaps the cable industry will have to change a lifelong habit and start giving a damn about what their customers want?
    • by Narpak (961733)
      Personally I would be happy to pay Discovery money to be able to download or stream various programs they provide through the internet. But I will never pay for a lot of cable channels I am never going to use, or that requires me to buy recording devices to be able to watch said programming when I got the time and inclination to do so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by metamatic (202216)

        Personally I would be happy to pay Discovery money to be able to download or stream various programs they provide through the internet.

        Off you go, then [apple.com]. Put some money where your mouth is.

        • Re:Smaller Bundles (Score:5, Informative)

          by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:38PM (#27807921)
          ...Except for the fact that the videos are DRM-ed and doesn't really work. If I remember correctly you can't play HD content on "non-authorized" monitors, and forget about putting it on anything other then an iPod/iPhone/Windows or OS X machine/Apple TV. This basically means that it is much better to buy the DVD version of the shows so you can do what you want with your purchased content.
        • Re:Smaller Bundles (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Narpak (961733) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:40PM (#27807933)
          iTunes Norge have a severely limited selection of movies and series. In part because of the Norwegian Movie and Music industry, and in part because they refuse to follow Norwegian Law. Which is also why Apple/iTunes have threatened to boycott Norway several times. So iTunes is not a viable option since it does not provide what I want, and even if it did I couldn't be certain I would be able to access what I had purchased a few months, or years, down the line.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by earlymon (1116185)

        Personally I would be happy to pay Discovery money to be able to download or stream various programs they provide through the internet.

        Save your money, get almost everything you want right here - http://www.getmiro.com/ [getmiro.com] - now available for more than just Mac.

        I swear by it - I'm watching the Hubblecast HD right now (episode 27, in fact).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by edalytical (671270)

      If I'm paying then I don't want to see commercials. I don't want to pay for content I'll never view either. So no bundles, I just want to pick the channels I want. The channels must be cheap as in $(basic_bundle_cost/basic_bundle_channel_count).

      So far no one is providing a service like this. iTunes has two of the three requirements, but it is not cheap. I can't afford $1.99 for a single TV show.

    • Re:Smaller Bundles (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:30PM (#27807413) Homepage Journal

      Don't bother. They're turning to dumbed down dreck like everything else.

    • Re:Smaller Bundles (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bieeanda (961632) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:10PM (#27807729)
      The reason we have the larger bundles is that advertising and programming on the more popular channels covers the deficits run by the less popular ones. Programming on Discovery, History or whatnot may be great, but it's the pap like MTV that brings in the lucrative advertising and eyeballs. Breaking the packages up just makes it easier for the stockholders to demand that under-performers get axed... and that's a category more likely to include the ones that we want to see, rather than the ones that the broader public do.
  • Sour economy? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Man (684) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:19PM (#27807315) Homepage

    The "sour economy" is not putting any pressure on cable companies. None. Most people today consider TV as essential as a cell phone or natural gas. And given the escapism angle, I'd guess most Americans would pay the cable bill with their last $50.

    • Re:Sour economy? (Score:4, Informative)

      by teknomage1 (854522) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:46PM (#27807495) Homepage
      Maybe the baby boomers, but I don't know anyone in the 20-35 age group that pays for cable unless they want to watch sports. We all have internet access, hulu, and netflix.
      • I haven't watched TV in ages, not since living in an apartment building that had basic cable service for everyone as an amenity. And even then I seldom found the time to watch aside from when the San Jose Sharks were playing (hockey for those scratching their heads). Now, the "TV" as in "the display device" is hooked up to the Wii and the DVD player, but "TV" as in "programming some big media company beams to my tuner" is unknown in this house. Why bother? I have plenty else to keep me entertained.

        Che

    • Re:Sour economy? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcrbids (148650) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:48PM (#27807529) Journal

      I would NOT pay the $50 bill. I've pulled the plug, and started using Online + Netflix to cut my monthly bill by some $100. Got rid of the Dish DVR, the dual-tv plan. Now we (in my household) all use laptops and two workstations with big screens. We still have one of the old NTSC TVs for playing video games.

      Online TV Rocks!

      On-demand TV has an interesting quality - when you discover a show you like, you can immediately jump to see past episodes you missed. Case in point: Heroes. I just discovered this excellent fantasy show, but jumping in "mid-stream" leaves lots to be desired. I'm able to watch past episodes all the way back to season 1, in order, on my schedule.

      There is no combination of Cable/Satellite/DVR that will give you this.

      The result is that I suddenly have a desire to explore, try new shows for a few minutes, see if I like it. Sure, the chances of me liking some new show are relatively small, but the payoff is so high!

      It's a whole new way of doing TV made possible by a decent quality 3 Mb Internet connection, Hulu, Netflix, and Cast TV [casttv.com]

      • by IANAAC (692242)
        CastTV is great! Now if only there were a way to incorporate in into Boxee, I wouldn't have to use a keyboard at all, just my regular remote control.
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:22PM (#27807337) Journal
    I would actually pay for cable.

    What I want:

    HBO
    History Channel
    MSNBC
    CNN
    CBC
    BBC
    Comedy Central
    Showtime
    Science Channel
    PBS
    Animal Planet (for my daughter)
    Cartoon Network (for my daughter)
    VH1 (for the wife)

    That's it. I don't watch and don't care for the rest of it, because it's mindless brain drool, and a lot of what is on the stations I listed is also mindless brain drool, just less of it than elsewhere (like Oxygen, MTV, SPIKE, ABC/CBS/NBC, etc.). That's 13 channels I would watch, and watch at least once a week. I would pay a dollar a month for each. That would give them $13 a month they're not getting now. I would not pay more than $1 month, because frankly, TV is a big time suck and mind poison. but that's what I would do, and I am certain there are many people who agree with me.

    I don't want the Food Channel. I don't want ESPN. I don't want "Desperate Housewives" or "American Idol". It's crap. I don't want it in my house.

    But I am willing to pay for the good stuff, if I can be certain I will get GOOD STUFF.

    RS

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Your $13 a month estimate is unrealistic. Cable companies that do provide a la carte charge a $10 flat fee, plus $1 per channel, so you'd be paying $23 a month.

      By an interesting coincidence, that's how much Dish Satellite's cheapest service costs ($20). Maybe you should sign-on with them?

    • HBO costs money, it's probably about $12 a month, it's high because it doesn't have many ads. The same with Showtime.

      It's unfortunate that each of the other channels require payment though, it's not as if they don't stuff the channel with ads, they are bad ads and they are repeated to the max.

      You should be able to get PBS over the air.

      • Other channels have ads, but because the ads don't generate as much revenue as on over-the-air channels (with less eyeballs watching), they charge a franchise fee so they can afford to stay in business.

      • You should be able to get PBS over the air.

        Normally, that's true, but I live in Canada...

        RS

    • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:28PM (#27807851)

      ...may be forced to consider breaking up the big bundles of channels they now insist that consumers buy and instead offer individual channels or smaller groups of channels on an à la carte basis

      But I am willing to pay for the good stuff, if I can be certain I will get GOOD STUFF.

      That's just the thing. You won't get good stuff for your $1/month. For me, à la carte channels aren't unbundled enough. Try unbundling to the show level. Oh wait. We have that. It's called the Internet, and bittorrent.

      This is where their entire distribution model falls down. They have a channel called the SciFi channel (oops, SyFy, my bad^W wtfstupidmarketing) that is used to cablecast... horror movies and fantasy movies. There's precious little SciFi on SyFy. So if they were offering à la carte channels, SyFy might make my list, but in fact it wouldn't because there's too little content on it that is the kind I want. I have no interest in an endless stream of man-in-a-rubber-suit horror movies.

      USA network used to broadcast the Highlander series. I liked it, despite their minor obsession with the correct "formula" for characters leading them to introducing their own Wesley Crusher-esque guaranteed-to-accrue-far-more-power-than-he-ever-deserves character. But the Highlander series is long gone and does USA have anything else I want to watch? I don't know. Their odds are so low that I haven't bothered to find out. So scratch them off the list.

      And on and on.

      You see where this is going. I want to treat TV exactly the way I treat books. I want 100% of the offering free from the library, and I'll buy the individual works that I like well enough to read(watch) again, but I'm paying no more than $5 for it (for the decrease in entertainment hours vs a $7 paperback), and I want 98% of that money to go to the people directly involved in creating the entertainment ('cause that's where publishers are going to end up one day too). The studios are a giant parasitic growth on the back of the creative types capable of assembling a movie and I'm not interesting in feeding a parasite.

      I see the Internet as the death of television as we know it. We'll see more episodic content where the producers don't proudly trumpet the fact that they have no plan at all for the story arc and denigrate their predecessors who did (I'm looking at you Battlestar Galactica), because the networks that screwed with shows in a vain effort to please sponsors and audiences simultaneously will no longer exist. Maybe we can get a spiritual successor to Babylon 5 that doesn't get strangely squashed and stretched by the vagaries of networks, canceling and optioning on a whim.

      In short, the Network Age is passing and the Studio Age is upon us. The studio controlled by the creative types will create our entertainment and the distributors that have a stranglehold on the industry will evaporate, supplanted by a vastly more efficient distribution system.

      • what you write is interesting.

        The only problem I see is this:

        If the Networks can't make money, then how do the studios? You can only profit on scarcity. Ubiquity makes things free. Networks charge advertisers because of the scarcity of the viewer who is tuned in to that network. They can charge for their eyeballs. If the Studio goes directly to the web, how do you gate that any better than a network would?

        TV is in a similar place Music was in the later 90s - 2000 with the dawn of Napster. video files

        • The short answer is the $3 million pricetag is doomed.

          The long answer is that a substantial fraction of the $3 million pricetag gets eaten by the parasitic network. Another chunk of it goes for luxuries. The new distribution model will force the new studios to cut out the fat. The days of the bitchy star with three personal assistants who get their names in the credits are numbered. The star who commands a hundred million dollars is going to vanish. Stars will get paid about what the writer and dire

        • by Kabuthunk (972557)

          Perhaps famous actors shouldn't be paid tens of thousands of dollars per episode. Why should they be getting the equivelant to my yearly income to make a half-hour show (sorry, 20 minutes and advertising).

          And don't even get me started on movie stars or sports in general.

    • PS. The cable companies pay HBO more than $1 per subscriber. You'll have to up your offer if you want anyone to take you seriously.

      PPS. (Really should have reread my original before posting, oh well), American Idol and Desperate Housewives are both available for free OTA.

  • DTV and cable (Score:4, Interesting)

    by quickOnTheUptake (1450889) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:24PM (#27807355)
    Possibly OT, but when I installed a little outdoor DTV antenna the other day, I was amazed by how many stations I got. I'm wondering: as stations start taking advantage of the extra stations (you know, running more programs rather than running HD and SD stations with the same programming plus a weather channel) will large numbers of casual TV users decide the monthly cable fee isn't worth it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by linebackn (131821)

      I think there should be a "drop cable - switch to OTA" campaign.

      - Same or better crisp clear picture!
      - Same amount of quality programming! *
      - Unbeatable price of $0.00!

      (* None)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        My upgrade to over-the-air DTV has spoiled me. I watch it on a standard analog CRT, which is nothing special, but then when I go over to my brother's house I can't help noticing how "blurry" his cable television looks. DTV costs me nothing whereas he's paying $60/month for a blurred image.

        The one drawback of over-the-air is the finicky reception, which means sometimes you want to watch channel 6, but it isn't there. Oh well.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by slimjim8094 (941042)

          Jesus, try HDTV. They have a full 22Mbps bandwidth over broadcast for a super sexy HD picture (that they can fill to the max) but over cable it's much less (don't know where to look it up).

          So that means that they have to compress the hell out of HD Cable... if you ever get a chance to watch a sports game over antenna vs. cable, you'll notice a huge difference.

          To be fair, I don't know how they handle the HD OTA channels over cable (234 is Fox DTV in my area) - it might be the original compression, but I doub

  • Why should I pay cable companies for a badly compressed copy when I can get it over the air with that $40 antenna I bought 15 years ago?

    It't not like there's all that much worth watching on TV anyway - my dogs watch more TV in a day than I do in a month.

  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:30PM (#27807415)

    I'm not a fan of cable companies. Not in any way.

    But the problem with the groupings right now is that the content providers force certain groupings. For example, if you want to offer ESPN and ESPN2 (what cable company could afford not to), then Disney says "okay, if you want to offer ESPN and ESPN2, that'll $2.40 per month per subscriber". Which is $2.40 which goes straight to your cable bill. But then they say "well, but we have this new channel, ESPNU (or Classic or Disney Kids 5 or whatever), if you offer that channel IN THE SAME PACKAGE AS ESPN, we'll give you ESPN+ESPN2+ESPNU for only $1.40 per month per subscriber".

    So each year, the providers will basically force another channel into their bundle this way. So each year, each of these content providers is raising the amount of money they get from each subscriber. And the cable companies have to offer big bundles in order to meet the requirements from the content providers.

    Furthermore, it gives all the advantages to the big companies who already have lots of channels in your package. They can launch a new channel easily while the small guys are locked out since the bandwidth is already being chewed up by the big guys' new channels.

    The internet is definitely the disruptive technology that will stop this. That is, if the cable companies and content providers don't find a way to prevent you from streaming video directly.

    There's no technological reason why this bundling is necessary. It's just because the companies (cable and content providers) have found it to their advantage so far. I feel it would strongly benefit the customers to enforce an end to this bundling.

    • by Brett Buck (811747) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:58PM (#27807615)

      There's no technological reason why this bundling is necessary. It's just because the companies (cable and content providers) have found it to their advantage so far. I feel it would strongly benefit the customers to enforce an end to this bundling.

                Well, of course. And you got one of the more important points, i.e. forcing new channels into more homes, so the content providers can seel teh ads for more. But I think you missed one of the key points - that by including at least one thing in each package that *someone* wants, the cable companies get paid for ALL the content, which they can then use to pay off all the providers. That's why package include, say "Lifetime Movie Network", "Speed" and "Sprout" all in one. People who are seriously interested in getting the Speed channel are not the target demo for LMN! But you can sell the entire package for a high cost to everyone who wants Speed, everyone who wants LMN, and everyone who wants Sprout, for far more than you could sell the individual channels al la Carte. The providers get the same money from the cable providers, and the cable companies get more money from subscribers, 3. PROFIT

                Brett

    • There's no technological reason why this bundling is necessary.

      There is no technical reason for lots of things. That's why it is called marketing, in this case, and not technology.

      But if it weren't for marketing, a lot of our technological toys would not be economically feasible. I don't know the numbers but I suspect this is true for programming too.
    • by metamatic (202216)

      Yup. Specifically, ABC won't let the cable company provide you with ABC via cable, unless they stick the extremely expensive ESPN in the cheapest tier of channels above basic cable. Once all the other corporate behemoths pull the same demands, you end up with today's 50+ channels at $50+.

  • by six025 (714064) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:48PM (#27807525)

    However, if you remember, it took several years before music labels realised they had the perfect scapegoat on which to blame a failing business model that relied too heavily on back catalogue material as a prime revenue stream, and an extremely low level of quality regarding contemporary content.

    Fixed that for ya!

  • by viralMeme (1461143) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:49PM (#27807535)
    They just don't get it, we don't want to subscribe to a hundred channels. What we do want is watch what we want when we want and not have to subscribe to half a dozen services on top of our ISP fees.

    If the telecoms want to make real money out of IPTV they need to stop subscribing to rights to channels and instead buy up their own material and repackage it for their own subscribers, else all they are doing is relaying terrestrial TV to an audience that can already get on .. Television. I mean, for me, why pay extra to watch television on the Internet ?

    If may come as a surprise to the telecoms that IPTV is a bandwidth hog, but not the rest of us. What they need to do is provide a high definition broadcast grid for live video, the rest to be provided in a peering arraignment to the local ISP switching center. The consumer then selects from a list of older tv progs and movies and they are delivered overnight to a DVR [pvrweb.com] or set-top-box.

    You pay for what you watch when you watch. Latest movie, ok top dollar, old movie, $1:00 a time. You also pay for online game subscriptions, video telephone, research and reference like the Wolfram|Alpha [wolframalpha.com] project.

    Of course even 'passive viewing' is old century for the current wired generation, they're more into making and being in their own personal movie [youtube.com] .. :) It depresses me as to all the innovators can see as to the future of the Internet, television and adverts. Back to the sixties I guess :)

    See also:

    Regular columnist Bill Thompson wants it all. And he wants it now. [bbc.co.uk]
  • Lets face it: the Windows Media Center PC concept has been faltering for its entire existance, and even now in the Windows 7 Release Candidate it still fails to provide anything even remotely compelling. The fact that it will not tune ClearQAM cable channels even when equipped with a capable tuner makes it about as useful as mammories on a fish. Why there has been no anti-trust investigation into the obvious collusion between Microsoft and the cable companies over this issue is a mystery to me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by NJRoadfan (1254248)
      Part of the problem is the paranoia Cable Labs has over licensing Cable Cards for use in HTPCs. You have to buy an OEM HTPC with Cable Card tuner and a special BIOS so it only works on that machine. Until one can go onto Newegg and buy a Cable Card compatible ATSC/QAM tuner card that works in ANY PC, WMC isn't going anywhere fast in the DTV era (at least in the US, I hear WMC has decent DVB support).
  • My first issue with the cable company came when they took SpeedTV (before it became a NASCAR station, ugh.) and made it part of a 'sports package' back in 2001. I had no want of the other stations they wished to 'push' to me as a subscriber, so we didn't pay for the new package. Since then, I have stopped using cable, and have been using such services as hulu and others which are perfectly capable of providing adequate entertainment over my 'turtle-slow' DSL line (note not using cable internet). I am not a
  • Wait, does that mean the eXtenze hasn't paid for free cable delivery to all homes in the US yet?

    BTW, how can such an obvious, mind-numbing scam be allowed on TV? Oh, wait, we do broadcast political speeches, too.

  • ... that Cable is in trouble in any way, or at least not yet, and please, let's limit the conjecture to a decade, which is the entire railroad age in tech terms.

    Anyone remember 1994? Remember how you felt about Record Companies in 1994? Try to be honest, folks ... I know there's a 50/50 you hate them this morning, but let's keep in mind that this was the year a CD burner for your computer cost $2,000, down from last year's $10K.

    I'm going to suggest you thought they were the guys who brought you CDs from gre

  • analog cable is big block to à la carte basis and still even now most areas are still have 30-70 analog channels.

    so maybe when analog is cut down to just Locals + PSA and maybe stuff like the weather channels. Then we may see la carte. Sat tv can do it now if they want to.

  • by surfingmarmot (858550) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:21PM (#27807819)
    Of course this is a generalization, but in the main the paradox is that free content usually ends up not being worth paying for because quality producers won't make it for long leaving largely low cost/low quality content over the long run. Quality producers and distributors stick to channels where the business model provides a sufficient fee structure (ad revenue, subscribers fees, etc.) via channel control to provide them revenue and profit. But consumers will only pay for content they value--both in quality and speed. The problem right now is most US internet connections are mostly too slow to provide high quality and delivery speeds that will command cable TV-level fee structures for advertising and subscriber fees. The US is way behind the EU in this. So the cable companies and telcos have a huge investment in infrastructure ahead of them before they can profit in the general market. Which is why they want a tiered internet--to phase infrastructure in slowly and match costs and revenues better to stay profitable. Their greed early on has them no painted into a corner--but you can bet they are figuring out how to make to consumer fund their rescue.
  • reverse that (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Danzigism (881294) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:47PM (#27807993)
    the problem with television is cable. not the other way around. I remember growing up as a kid and always having cable television. flipping through tons of channels and only watching a few of them. even after living on my own for a while, moving in to new places and such, getting the cable setup was always at the top of my priorities as far as my utilities are concerned. then one day I said fuck it. I get off work at 5pm, drive 30 minutes back home, and I have a lot of shit to take care of when I get home. clean up a bit, take care of my plants, fish, cats, make dinner for my wife and I, then finally get some time to relax. after taking care of the things that need to be attended to, I can't justify spending $30, $40, $50+ on cable television. DTV has probably been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't watch TV enough to need cable, but the television I do watch is perfectly fine and entertaining. in particular, PBS broadcasting is something I think everyone should indulge into a little bit more. yes I thought it was boring and there were too many telethons at first, but then I realized that their primetime television is of very high quality, educational, and is enjoying to watch. it is just my opinion of course, and I'd never take away people's Family Guy, Lost, Prison Break, CSI, and all the other mindless television shows, but I figure if you're going to watch TV, you might as well learn something from it and it might as well be free.
  • I want à la carte. Period. Get rid of this "bundling", which is nothing but profiteering.
  • by earlymon (1116185) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:16PM (#27808251) Homepage Journal

    Welcome, once again, to another episode of cable operators complaining about internet delivery and content bundles. All together now - (sorry, I'm very snarky today) - cry me a river.

    The real issue is that all of the current non-OTA TV delivery systems have bitten off much more than they can chew.

    So far as I know, NO ONE in the USA is offering HD content as advertised:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HD_Lite [wikipedia.org]
    http://www.highdefforum.com/directv-forum/29158-hd-lite-directv-picture-quality.html [highdefforum.com]
    http://www.satelliteguys.us/dish-network-forum/51978-facts-about-hd-lite-e.html [satelliteguys.us]
    http://forums.joeuser.com/309174 [joeuser.com]
    http://www.tvnewsday.com/articles/2009/04/22/daily.4/ [tvnewsday.com]
    (I recognize that some of the above links seem to target satellite TV, but if you read through two things become apparent: users are equally slamming cable, and neither satellite nor cable has their arms around a solution.)

    Like it or not, the #1 driver for a cable subscription is TV - and they already cannot deliver on that.

    I'm not a big sports fan (but so what if I am or not?), but I can reliably report this: during a hockey and a basketball game, I DVR'd OTA and my so-called high-def service of same channels. Hockey results: OTA clear, puck actually disappeared with paid service. Round-ball results: OTA clear, paid service unable to distinguish if foot over line or ref was blind during slo-mo playback.

    And here's some technical anecdotes:
    1. Your channel package choice or size of bundle won't impact anything, it's backbone limited.
    2. When I upgraded to "HD" satellite, my house's RG-58 didn't cut it due to bandwidth limits on the RG-58. The '58 was ok for the short wall-to-TV pigtails, not otherwise.
    3. They can fiber this and cable that and MPEG-4 the other, but no one is supporting the infrastructure to get the job done.

    And a real big issue - once you've made the grade to premium cable or premium satellite, and you've replaced your TV - name your reasons, they're all valid: a) I want a new one, b) new TV standards and my set is getting old anyway, c) time to branch out and support my computer and Hulu, HTPC, et al, in the living room - you'll replace that TV with an HDTV and you'll go with the HD package from your for-pay provider (cable or satellite). The HDTV is an investment-grade purchase, just like your PC (any flavor), and the HD programming is too small an incremental price increase to pass up.

    Here's the invective we can now look forward to: if you're complaining about your TV quality, you'll be told the bandwidth suckers using torrents are to blame. If you're complaining about your internet service, you'll be told that the primary service is directed at TV quality. Either way, do not expect that the future holds a world where you're really going to get what you think you're paying for.

    Mark my words.

    (PS - No apologies to those not interested in HDTV, or TV - you're not the big market to these companies, and that's all I'm ragging on - I'm not dis'ing anyone's lifestyle or entertainment choices. HTH.)

  • TV over the internet is coming. Thanks to netflix, it's advancing faster than most people had thought. The biggest hurdle is going to be live broadcasts, but the way encoding is going those should be no problem in the near future. So the real problem is going to come from the government (surprise surprise) when they pass some form of "net neutrality." Like all government programs, this proposed "freedom" will end up simply locking in the current internet service providers and will close the door on any new
  • by cdrguru (88047) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:19PM (#27808767) Homepage

    The big problem with allowing individual channel selection is that there are plenty of channels out there that exist because of the way channels have beein funded, selected and supported.

    So you want a channel dedicated to science fiction shows, movies, etc. You need to sell it to the cable companies and if a significant number agree to carry it - and pay for it - your job is done. You can get financing based on that and it really doesn't matter what the individual customers think. Some of them will watch and it is a ratings game from there on.

    Switch to an ala carte model and this changes quite a bit. First off, any channel that exists today will be immediately taken down unless you have customers signing up for it. Probably within the first couple of months. This isn't like ratings where passive viewing is conidered "viewing" and done by sampling. This will be if you don't opt-in for the channel you don't support it. And without people paying for SciFi channel specifically and intentionally, it and many others will just disappear.

    Sounds fair, doesn't it. What about BET? Do you really believe there are enough viewers of the Black Entertainment Network channel to keep it afloat in an ala carte environment? What about the Golf Channel? How about the Food Network? Maybe these cable channels should never have existed in the first place because they don't have a dedicated viewer base. But you can assume that it would not be in Viacom's interest to continue BET when there isn't the revenue to support it - no matter how much Jesse Jackson threatens. SciFi channel is pretty much dead meat as well. Eternal Word TV Network (EWTN) is gone. Same with just about any other channel with a narrow demographic.

    Similarly, the rules of the game for starting a new channel will be completely different. Sure, a large media powerhouse might be able to subsidize a new offering for a while to see if it takes off. But nobody else will be able to, because it will take lots of money and a very uncertain future to do it. Lots of risk. Just the sort of thing VC money has been running away from lately.

    Absolutely, ala carte channel selection is a solution, but we need to understand what the problem is first. It doesn't solve any of the current problems and just creates a bunch more. It might reduce the average consumer cable bill - in fact it probably will. But it will certainly decrease the number of channels available and make it almost impossible to bring a new (really new) offering to cable networks.

    The one possibility would be that this wouldn't affect DirecTV and Dish Network - they could then introduce new channels based on selling it only to their management.

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