Yet Another Report On Why Forcing A La Carte Cable Is A Bad Idea

from the think-it-through dept

If there's one topic that we regularly discuss that many of our readers (even those who agree with us on most other things) disagree with us on, it would be mandatory a la carte cable. We've explained repeatedly why forcing cable companies to offer a la carte cable is a bad idea that would likely lead to higher prices and less choice. Yet people still argue against it, claiming (incorrectly) that they would just order a few channels and prices would decrease. Instead, those fewer channels would inevitably cost a lot more (if they were still available at all) because a la carte pricing for channels reduces demand for individual channels, resulting in higher (not lower) prices per channel. Jeff Eisenach and Adam Thierer have put together a short report looking at the problems of a la carte cable, and noting that even if the intentions of those supporting mandatory a la carte cable are strong, the end result isn't likely to be what they'd expect.

On top of that, it's probably worth pointing out that this debate may soon be moot anyway. As we move increasingly to a world where most TV programs are available online, the entire concept of the channel will go away. It won't matter what channel a particular program is on, because you'll just subscribe to that program, and it will get delivered over the internet. In the meantime, though, there's simply no reason to force cable companies into providing a la carte channel selections.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    some old guy, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:22am

    I still hate bundling

    I see your points Mike, but I still hate the bundling that the cable co's have gotten themselves in to, and it would seem that so does everyone else. (except of course, those minority channels that think they have some sort of inherent right to be broadcast at the expense of everyone else)

    I don't think we should need to have a forced a la carte system, but I do think that we DO need to have one. Why? 'cause the cable co's were idiots in signing their contracts, to the greater detriment of all (except the minority channels, of course). Since they made their beds (and have right of way), now eeveryone must sleep in it. So either we dispose of their right of way, or we step in and disrupt their lose-lose business model.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      some old gy, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:27am

      Re: I still hate bundling

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that I got rid of cable long ago cause it was way overpriced for the two channels I watched (usa network and cartoon network). I had to get "extended basic" just to watch two channels. That was over 60$/month. That's over 30$/channel.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Jeff Rife, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

      Re: I still hate bundling

      I see your points Mike, but I still hate the bundling that the cable co's have gotten themselves in to, and it would seem that so does everyone else.

      It's not really the fault of the cable company...it's caused by the fact that the content (i.e., the channels) is owned by a handful of companies.

      The reason Time Warner (or Comcast, or Aldelphia, or DirecTV, etc.) forces you to have "ABC Family" on your cable lineup is because ABC/Disney tells them that in order to get the very desired "Disney Channel", they must also take "ABC Family".

      ABC would charge the cable company $2/month/subscriber for Disney Channel, but if the cable company takes ABC Family, Toon Disney, etc., the price for the whole bundle is $2.50/month/subscriber. And, if all those channels are part of the most non-basic cable package, then the price drops to $1.75/month/subscriber. ABC can do this because then they can charge advertisers more for all those channels, and the cable company likes it because it costs them less and they can appeal to a wider variety of subscribers.

      NOTE: I use ABC as an example, but every content owner (Fox, Time Warner, Discovery Networks, GE Universal, etc.) does exactly the same thing. Also, the prices are completely made up, but other than that it is exactly what happens.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Big Bad Cable Co., Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:51pm

        Re: Re: I still hate bundling

        "It's not really the fault of the cable company...it's caused by the fact that the content (i.e., the channels) is owned by a handful of companies."

        Exactly, finally someone else that understands it!! And for those that think that the cable providers can just boycott all those channels until the content providers give in, that is just unreal!! How many complaints do you think we'll get when we take those channels off the air to boycott a provider. It wouldn't work. It's like that mass email that goes around saying if everyone stops buying gas from ExxonMobil the gas prices will come back down....Not gonna happen!!

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Dr. Klahn, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:23am

    There's no excluded middle

    I don't think this is an either-or proposition, i.e. the cable companies offer either packages or individual channels, but not both. They'd probably offer packages, individual channels, and pick-5-for-$25 deals (with six you get eggroll.)

    Overpriced is relative. If I could get just CNN, Discovery and SciFi for $15 a month, it might be overpriced but I'd gladly take it over the 62-channels-of-krappe @ $60/month I'm paying now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    eBlack, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:43am

    Understanding but hating it

    Man, this will soon be reality and I hate it... as the above person stated 62 channels for 60.00 is way worst if you only want 2 channels.... and 15.00 sounds like a great deal... but lets be realistic people... after say.... 10 years those 2 channels will be 60.00 and 62 channels will cost 100.00 because of some magical number the cable company will create... Much like internet is now going down the drain... imagine getting charged 60.00 for your favorite channels online to find that if you want to actually watch those channels you will have to pay 39.99 for premium internet... not to forget the modem/cable box rental charges... This is going to suck big time... cable companies acts like they are going so broke and the internet is getting so clogged up... BS!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Overcast, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:47am

    Seems to me, if the customer got to choose just what they wanted - crappy channels would end up getting eliminated and lessening the overhead for the cable company.

    I agree with Klahn - it's relative to what the customer wants - they could continue to offer 'packages' as well.

    And I agree with 'some old gy' too - I pay for channels that I have to go and block, just because I don't want to deal with passing them up each time I change channels, if I didn't at all - I'd flip through 15 channels of junk to check one I like - then 15 more channels of junk until the next one.

    Just this week I was talking about dropping way back down to regular cable with the 'HD package' - because it's too much paying for all these extra channels, and I only watch two in that whole package - I'll just live without those 2 channels... heck, thing is, that's 50% of my already narrow time watching TV - if they go, I may start to see even less reason to have cable altogether.

    With choice in media now - it seems to me, the cable companies best start giving more choice - if not, maybe it's a good idea for Telco companies to start offering channels on an 'a la carte' basis.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    James, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:54am

    Unpredictable effect

    I'm generally not one to force companies to do this or that, however... the cable companies are the devil (I rank them around car dealerships on the todem pole of evil).

    Bundling is a bunch of crap... why must I pay for 20 sports channels I'll never watch to get one or two channels I do? Thats total bulls**t. And yes, I know ordering ONE channel will cost more but my guess is they'll find an opportunity and offer custom groups and other options (too).

    I'm honestly torn on the issue but since I hate the monopolies that ARE the cable companies... I'm siding w/ala carte.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:27am

      Re: Unpredictable effect

      What's a "todem"?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:28am

        Re: Re: Unpredictable effect

        A common misspelling of totem?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Dr. Klahn, Jul 18th, 2008 @ 8:46pm

        Re: "todem"

        Well, you take these two toads, one at your PC, the other one in line-of-sight (line-of-hearing actually) at the remote site.

        Now you give each toad an ear trumpet, and then connect their little toad ******s to the Toadnet port ...

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Leroy, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:55am

    by the same logic...

    By the same logic that the coming availability of programming over the internet makes the need for a la carte cable unnecessary, then why oppose it since the same market forces would eventually have the same economic effect on cable channel viability regardless. I say bring a la carte programming now, make the entire video industry deal with the eventual change in markets slowly and now.

    the only ones that benefit from programming packages is the cable industry.

    "L"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    mark smith, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:55am

    I don't want to subsidize...

    A la carte is the way to go because I don't to subsidize the crap channels on TV nor be forced to subsidize stuff I don't want.

    The claim that bundling can lead to lower prices might have merit. However, there is no way to know because even though cable is a government granted monopoly, the cable companies will not state the cost of carrying a particular channel.

    So, given I only want to watch at most 4 channels and in every city in which I have lived in the last 10 years those channels have always been in different tiers, packages or groups or specials, I don't give the "increased costs" mantra much credence.

    If my favorite channels fail because of insufficient viewership, then that is decision of the marketplace shoulod make and not some incompetent cable executive who has decided what is best for me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Dave, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 6:59am

    I agree with the other posters, my value may go down but I gaurentee that simply by dropping ESPN I will save money on my bill. Let the sports nuts pay for ESPN,ESPN2, ESPN news, Golf Channel, Big Ten Network, Fox Sports etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    I hate bundling too, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:07am

    Here is why there should be bundles

    I see what you're saying. However, to quote the posting:

    "those fewer channels would inevitably cost a lot more (if they were still available at all) because a la carte pricing for channels reduces demand for individual channels"

    I do disagree, There are channels I DO want but don't get because of the way they have them bundled with other channels. Marketing people doing this no doubt.

    You see, I'd love to get some of the other family channels, like noggin or sprout but they've bundled them together with a ton of other channels that not only do I not want, but I don't want to have in my home. Additionally the extra $30 a month to end up getting the channels... I mean PACKAGE that contains the channels... isn't worth it to me.

    As for reducing demand for those channels. I don't believe that is true either. If the subscription rates for the channel go down then the demand at most was only induced by it being bundled with a package or the pricing is to high.

    Personally, I remember a day when you paid for cable and there weren't commercials on most of the channels. Why? Because you were PAYING for it and it wasn't free.

    I also remember a day a long time ago where Music Television (MTV) actually played music and there was only one channel. Now they have 3 and I never see music on any of them. I rememebr a day when VH1 came out and it played music as well, now I rarely see videos on them either. The current state of affairs has allowed these channels to change and not suffer any loss of subscribers because they are bundled together.

    Like others have said, especially with digital cable boxes, there is no reason the cable companies can't offer both a bundle and a subscription package for channels. Sure, if you want several a la carte channels it may end up costing more per channel, but at least we'd be able to send a message to the cable companies (and stations) what our choices and tastes were in the programming we brought into our home.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Dave, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:18am

      Re: Here is why there should be bundles

      This is an arguement that is not heard enough. We need to have more power over voicing what we want from cable channels. There are some I like so I don't want ot cancel cable, but these is also junk, a lot of junk. And now that cable companies are crying over limited bandwidth I am happy to give some back to them.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Jack S., Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:17am

    Forced socialism

    Let's see, the government created a monopoly.
    The monopoly with a wink and nod from the government gives us choices of various bundles.
    The bundles are to support alternative tastes and increase variety, and spread costs.

    Translation:
    1. Government screwed up by granting a monopoly.
    2. The monopoly takes advantage of government's refusal to admit error or correct same.
    3. Monopoly (effectively) forces customers to subsidize losers by forcing everybody to pay their "fair share" to ensure those "less fortunate" have access to "quality programming."
    4. I am forced to pay more than I want to (that is key) to access programming that I am discovering is available under various torrents online.
    5. Hmmm, I think I just convinced myself to kill my cable account. Torrent my favorite shows and avoid both the cable costs and the advertising annoyances.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:31am

      Re: Forced socialism

      Yeah, but who pays the production costs for those "favorite shows" which you're torrenting if there is no cable?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:37am

        Re: Re: Forced socialism

        Hey, as long as it's not coming out of his pocket, who cares?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Jack S., Jul 15th, 2008 @ 2:57pm

        Re: Re: Forced socialism

        Per anonymous coward (that guy from slashdot): "Yeah, but who pays the production costs for those "favorite shows" which you're torrenting if there is no cable?"

        Well, that would be the advertisers.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Thom, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:50am

    Bad logic

    I have Dish Network's "Everything" package. $100 per month for 280+ channels. I have locked out over 230 of them because they are wastes of channel space. Of the less than fifty remaining I watch seven of them on a regular basis and probably fifteen of them at least once a week. The remainder I only keep in the guide because once in a blue moon they'll have a show I'll stop and watch. Most don't get watched more than a couple times a year.

    What you miss Mike is that if I have to pay $50 per month for fewer than ten percent of the channels I get now then I've still cut my bill by half and gotten all I want. Paying for cable now is like having to buy a two liter of soda every time you want a can. It may be a lot cheaper by the ounce but it costs far more out of my pocket.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      some old guy, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:04am

      Re: Bad logic

      Paying for cable now is like having to buy a two liter of soda every time you want a can. It may be a lot cheaper by the ounce but it costs far more out of my pocket.

      That is one of the best analogies for cable bundling I have seen so far!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Overcast, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 7:52am

    Paying for cable now is like having to buy a two liter of soda every time you want a can. It may be a lot cheaper by the ounce but it costs far more out of my pocket.

    Yeah, very good Analogy.

    The other option is - I can dump cable altogether and go with rentals/netflix, etc.

    Considering Blockbuster and Netflix, and perhaps some others are like 20 a month for all I can watch - heck even paying for *both* might make better sense than cable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:02am

    Huge holes in the "Those few channels would cost more" argument. This seems to be based on the idea that the cable company needs a certain amount of money (Overall, or per subscriber, or per geographic area, your choice). This is true... so fund that cash flow with the channels people WANT, not the "bundles" or "packages".

    Result: Overall revenue for cable companies is the same (they'll adjust prices until this is true), and some channels die. Survival of the fittest, on a channel by channel basis.

    Perfect! And, as many have pointed out, that's what is coming via other distribution methods anyway: Granularity of choice. Survival by success, not bundling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    DS78, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:06am

    I'm in...

    I think I could get by with about 10 channels (including local channels).

    I'd like to have this option of a la carte. I think one thing we'd see is that certain shows on channels that failed would get picked up by a better channel and hopefully replace the crappy shows on those channels.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Jennifer, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:14am

    That's a lot of channels!

    10 channels? Wow. I had no idea there was that much good content out there. Seriously, I think I go between 5 channels. Local programming (especially news) just depresses me. In fact, My doctor and I narrowed down the cause of my depression and said I needed Prozac if I wanted to continue watching local programming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Paul, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:16am

    I got an idea for the cable companies

    Look at statistics for every channel to see how many people view them and how much they view them. Base the pricing for that channel so that if you had the same average viewing, it would be paid for. The more popular channels will be cheaper while the more niche channels will be more expensive. To allow niche channels to be cheaper, they can offer a 'specialty package' that offers all or most of the niche channels, that way they can spread the cost over each other and make it slightly cheaper. Even if they tag on a $5 base charge just to pay for whatever channels that didn't mean their quota or something. They can also keep those package deals if they want to as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Here is why there should be bundles, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:30am

      Re: I got an idea for the cable companies

      I'm sure they do that already, then move the channels into higher priced tiers to increase profits. It's happened to me a couple times... a channel I watched gets moved out of the tier I purchased and they tell me you can subscribe to MORE and still get it.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    jason m vale, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:27am

    it's no monopoly

    I'm not sure how people claim this is a monopoly. I realize that some locations only have one choice, but many places, such as the Denver metro area, you have 3 or 4 choices of cable/satellite companies. While it is a pain, you can save lots of money by jumping to the other company each time your contract expire.
    Pure A La Carte would NEVER work unless it was a hybrid based average user interest in a channel. For instance, the company could say pick 5 channels from this lesser watched group, and pick 5 channels from this actively watched group, and so on... You have to think about all the advertising that is being aired, even on the unwatched channels. That equals $$$ to the cable/satellite companies and would be gone when those channels go away with a la carte due to lack of interest. What company wants to pay for advertising on a channel that nobody picks in their a la carte package?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      I hate bundles too, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:28am

      Re: it's no monopoly

      Lucky you. Many citys and towns make EXCLUSIVE arrangements with cable companies that in essence makes them a monopoly in the area. My city is one example, plus my house is far anough away from the closest telco office that I can't get DSL so I'm stuck with cable internet (which is better, except COMCAST sucks).

      So there are many people that can ONLY get cable from one company, unless they get a dish of some sort.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    comboman, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:30am

    and your point is?

    Yet people still argue against it, claiming (incorrectly) that they would just order a few channels and prices would decrease. Instead, those fewer channels would inevitably cost a lot more (if they were still available at all) because a la carte pricing for channels reduces demand for individual channels, resulting in higher (not lower) prices per channel.

    That's the free market in action. If "The Paint Drying Channel" is only financially viable because it gets bundled ESPN, then it deserves to die. The amount of content available has not kept pace with the number a channels available. Fewer channels will not result in less content. The winners will have more/better content and make more money, the losers will disappear. This is the natural order of things that has been distorted by bundling. By the way, I only read your web site because my ISP bundles it with Google. :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:37am

    Still worth it to for me. I hate the fact that Fox News Channel is in every bundle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Craig Riddle, Jun 16th, 2009 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      Second this with a real name attached. I signed up for Dish Network specifically because it had a package without Fox. Now that they added it I am forced to pay for their morally offensive b.s. Why not just add Porn and make the fundies pay for that as well?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:40am

    wrong thinking

    A la carte pricing for channels reduces demand for individual crappy channels and reduces revenue for them. Like I want a single dime going to "The Paint Drying Channel".

    The popular channels would be lower as more people would pay for them. If I had may choice it would be about 12 good channels and my top choice would most likely be the same for about 90% of the rest of the population. Those 12 channels would then be really cheap. If you are the 10 people in the world that really must have "The Paint Drying Channel" then you pay for it not me. It is these 'add' on filler channels that are driving the price up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Dave, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:53am

    Why are people referencing the number of viewers to determine the cost. These channels are given from the content provider t oyour cable company at a given rate. From what I have heard before despite it being one the most watched(with higher advertising rates) ESPN charges the cable company more than any other network. The small time channels are very cheap to provide are are often thrown in the contract negotiation of the big channels.

    My current revenge is to demand a credit on my account every time any channel has a service disruption. I tell them if I have to pay for 200 simultaneous channels going 24 hours a day, then I should get credit back when they are not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Twinrova, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:29am

    Bundling shouldn't cost more.

    Paying for cable now is like having to buy a two liter of soda every time you want a can. It may be a lot cheaper by the ounce but it costs far more out of my pocket.
    What you fail to realize with this analogy is you'll be paying much more for one can. If a two liter is $1.50 and a can is .50, you're instantly limited to 3 cans to maintain the same price. Who wants a limit of 3 cans?

    I'm not impressed this discussion continues to omit the biggest scam in the cable industry: tiered programming. Consumers are forced to "one up" their tier just to get the one or two channels they want. From this, bundling is only efficient to the cable companies while consumers must shell out too much for a few additional stations.

    What needs to be done is a restructure of the tiered programming. By breaking down tiers into content type (music, news, sports, etc.), consumers can easily decide on what they want to pay for while cable companies still pay for bundling.

    Unfortunately, doing this borders a la carte programming because consumers will get pissed they're paying more for their sports tier than others do for their general tier.

    There are pros and cons to both sides, but bundling still remains the most cost-effective way for consumers to enjoy cable. It's not going to change for a very, very long time.

    It just pisses me off my cable bill continues to rise while the cable company now pushes ads in their on-screen menus.

    Mike, tell us again who benefits from bundles programming?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    steve jones, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:44am

    I would love a teared, tracked ppv only system, take the typical $50-whatever a month bill, figure out normal tv watcher watches x hours premium content, y hours of normal content. Divide it up come up with a price per minute of each type of content, and charge the customers for what they actually watch, and send the actual channels their cut. That way if you watch discovery, you pay discovery, you watch espn you pay espn, etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    A La Carte not really feasible, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:50am

    What most people don't understand is that alot of the popular channels (and prolly alot of the channels in general) are charged to the cable company as per subscriber. Not per subscriber that orders the channel, but per subscriber in the whole area. So if A cable co has 300,000 subscribers and x channel charges 3 bux a channel then it costs 900,000 for the company to offer said channel. If only 10,000 people watch that channel, then its 90 bux for each person just to cover that one channel.

    They try to have a broad offering to interest everyone. Just cause you don't care for a certain channel, doesn't mean that its not 1000 other customers favorite channel. I know everyone knows someone (usually a woman) who loves Lifetime, Hallmark, WE, and the like. I personally hate those channels, and block them so my girlfriend cannot watch them.

    Now I agree that alot of the channels are absolute garbage, and I only watch about 5 of them on a regular basis. The problem is, it could potentially cost me 100 bux a mo for just those 5 channels I like, when the whole package is 60bux. Tell me how that makes sense..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Beefcake, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:50am

    Just which are the "minority" or "junk" channels?

    And who decides? Some old guy? In what other sector do you intentionally pay more to diminish your choices?

    I watch the History Channel a lot because it has value and interest for me, but the Golf Channel and Noggin are flyover channels. So you've set up a world where I pay $30/month (roughly the cost of a premium movie channel, give or take) for my History Channel, and you pay $30/month for the Golf channel, and someone else pays $30/month for Noggin. Just that alone seems unreasonable, and is made even more so by the fact that I don't want to pay $30 per channel because if I want a meager 10 channels it'll be $300/month. Today I have $100/month. (And who knows, maybe I'll stumble across something compelling on Noggin one day and discover it really does have some value for me. For less than a buck a month I'm willing to take that gamble, but for $30 a month, no way.)

    Of course, very few people will pay $300/month for 10 channels, so the cable company will have to respond by offering me a price break for a 20 channel bundle that may include channels I don't want but others do. But this maintains the cable company's economy in a scale across it's viewer base that they are willing to pay for.

    Which is, of course, what they're doing now. So if you want to have your boutique channels you must subsidize others' boutique channels. And if it isn't worth it to you, you can do what some old guy did and say "no thanks".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 9:57am

    Lifetime Television

    A great example is "Lifetime, Television for Women"! I am a single male and NEVER watch this channel, but I have to pay for it. I only watch about 10 channels but I have to pay for over 300 channels.

    Another great example is all the international programming. I understand some people would like to watch TV in their native language, but I shouldn't have to pay for channels that I can't even understand.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    C, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:00am

    Why bother

    Frankly, why bother having cable at all? Between netflix/blockbuster and the internet, you really don't need cable. The only thing I can think of is maybe to watch live sports. I've been living on internet since March and haven't had any problems getting the shows I like to watch. You can watch most shows on Hulu.com. I might not get my football games, but then again, I'm not going to sign up to pay premium prices so I can get access to NFL network...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Big Bad Cable Co., Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:04am

    Missing something big

    I can't see I completely disagree with the A La Carte idea, but I think everyone is missing something here. Maybe instead of going after the cable companies, you should go after the broadcasters and content providers. They many times put restrictions and clauses in our contracts. For example, in order for us to carry CNN, we have to take the 7 other junk channels that CNN owns. AND, they also could make us put it in our basic tier package. To use your soda analogy, what would happen if in order for that store to carry a 2 liter bottle of coke, coca cola made them buy a can of sprite with each bottle, and they had to sell that can of sprite with each 2 liter bottle of soda. And if they don't agree to those terms, the store can't buy any coke. And yes, I believe most times the cost to the cable co. is based on a per subscriber rate. I think if the broadcast/content providers were forced to change their contracts, then cable companies could provide A La Carte programming.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      James, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:57am

      Re: Missing something big

      Simple.. tell you tell Coke (aka CNN, or whoever) to shove it up their pothole.

      Yes.. you'll get some bitching, but being a monopoly you can do this, AND, is CNN really willing to lose a large portion of viewers to further their point? This would be especially effective if more than one cable provider in large markets did this.

      The content providers might be a-holes, but guess who's letting them get away with it? Not the consumer.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    PRMan, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:05am

    Not really...

    Paying for cable now is like having to buy a two liter of soda every time you want a can. It may be a lot cheaper by the ounce but it costs far more out of my pocket.

    That is one of the best analogies for cable bundling I have seen so far!


    It's more like a diabetic having to buy an assorted 12-pack of sodas every time he wants a Diet Coke, even though he doesn't want the other 11 sugary options.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Thom, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:12am

    Re: Bundling shouldn't cost more

    >What you fail to realize with this analogy is you'll be paying much more for one can.

    Actually, I don't fail to realize anything with this analogy - it's spot on. I'm waving my magic wand... POOF!... cans of soda no longer exist and all soda machines dispense 2-liters for a cost of $2. Consider the public at large and the implications of this on their wallets and argue your point.

    Yes, I get your point. You WANT the huge bundle and you don't want your price to go up for that freedom to not watch most of the channels that you have available. Unfortunately, you want us to subsidize your package.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Twinrova, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 11:59am

      Re: Re: Bundling shouldn't cost more

      Actually, I don't fail to realize anything with this analogy - it's spot on.
      ONLY if you want x cans where x is LESS THAN the cost of the 2 liter.
      Given the scope of the number of channels one has to offer, there's no way a la carte will give people choices to spend less when there's a limit and they want more than the limit offers.

      Proof: A six pack of those same cans costs MORE than a 2 liter bottle and asking a company to break down the six pack into 3 isn't feasible and will cost them more to make, passing that increase on to you.

      Yes, I get your point. You WANT the huge bundle and you don't want your price to go up for that freedom to not watch most of the channels that you have available. Unfortunately, you want us to subsidize your package.
      No, I don't want the whole bundle. I want a subset of the bundle which I can then pay less for, but still keep it reasonably priced for everyone. Let those who want the additional bundles pay for them without passing the cost to other consumers.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Medbob, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    I pay $80 a month...

    .. and most of what I watch either stars or is narrated by Mike Rowe. I think that he should get a bigger chunk of my $80. I also think that I would rather pay $15 per channel to each of 4 channels than $2 each to thirty channels, 20 of which I never watch.

    "But what of the poor special interest channels..." Let'em compete. If they are popular enough, they will survive. If not, it's the law of the jungle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Carl, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 10:50am

    Still wrong

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Ian, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 11:37am

    See the thing is I don't necessarily want a la carte cable so that I can lower my prices. It's so that I don't have to go with a super high priced plan just so I can get access to that one channel I want. When you look at it that way I may still be paying a bit more than the basic cable package, but I'll have channels that if I were to buy today with the current packages would cost a lot more.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Why Pay, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:00pm

    Where the money goes

    Why pay for commercial channels that are already paid for, other than some nominal amount for a connection. The programming is produced and paid for by advertising (usually more than broadcast TV). Or the programming is just recycled broadcast TV. The distribution is paid for (or free/money-shifted to the same semi-monopoly), unless the distributors are stupid. So there are no costs for connecting a 'consumer' and supposedly benefits the content and advertising. If cable provided more commercial limited or free content, I could see a point.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

    You know, the bundling that goes on with TV providers is actually very similar to the record companies, in certain ways. The biggest similarity is that it's all just a big protection racket. The reason people want a-la-carte is because most of the channels on TV have nothing worth watching, yet you're forced to pay for them. Yes, a good share of these channels would probably cease to exist because of lack of subscribers in an a-la-carte environment, but I think that's actually a necessary step to improving available content.

    I think cable TV channels have become far too comfortable because they get paid for their content regardless of whether people are actually watching the stuff. Of course they probably get paid more if they can get more people to watch, but that's beside the point. The very fact that some of the channels would cease to exist if people had to specifically subscribe to them just means that they had nothing worth watching in the first place. That seems to me like a good way to take lousy programming off the air, and replace it with something people actually want to watch.

    I myself am on a digital TV subscription through my local phone provider (along with DSL internet), and they give me all the channels I could possibly want (short of movie channels) in one of their most basic packages, which without any discounts would cost about $50 a month. And it's all pure digital signal, unlike cable which typically uses poorer-quality analog signals for channels under 100 and charges more. I consider myself very fortunate, but others simply aren't that lucky. Too often you're forced to buy an entire add-on package of channels for just one or two you want.

    Maybe there could be a compromise here. Have a base set of channels that everybody has to take, and then offer either another tier of channels, or just so many dollars per channel for individual channels so a person can get just the extras they want and nothing more. Of course, you know the marketing people are immediately going to price the individual channels so high that after 2 or 3 extras you might as well have bought the whole extra package of 25 or so.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Carl, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:14pm

    Still wrong

    "because a la carte pricing for channels reduces demand for individual channels, resulting in higher (not lower) prices per channel."

    This is just nonsense, and I don't understand why you cling to it. The *demand* for the different channels doesn't exist just because the cable company *delivers* the unwanted channels. AT BEST you are arguing in favor of viewers of unpopular channels being cross-subsidized by those who don't watch!

    Is the problem that you are assuming that even if the customer is allowed to buy a la carte, the cable company still has to buy bundles from the content providers? If so, the cable company's costs would remain the same even though it can't pass on the cost of the unpopular channels to people who don't watch them. The answer to that, of course, is for the cable companies to exercise their economic power and refuse to pay bundled prices for channels they can only sell a la carte.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Hulser, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 12:44pm

    Anti-competative practices

    While I would like the option to select cable channels a la carte, I don't think the most effective way to do this is to mandate that the cable companies provide this service, but to instead go after the media companies that force the cable companies to buy bundles of channels.

    If the Department of Justice can make a case that Microsoft illegally forced OEMs to buy licenses of Windows for machines that didn't even have Windows installed, why can't they make a case that it's anticomptative to force cable companies to buy a bundle of channels just to get ESPN? It seems to me that it's the same principle.

    In general, I don't like it when the government tries to legislate the market, but in this case I think that it's warranted. You can argue whether or not the big media companies are collectively a monopoly, but it seems evident that they are using the same anti-competative practices that got Microsoft in trouble.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Hulser, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 1:47pm

    The definition of insanity

    If there's one topic that we regularly discuss that many of our readers (even those who agree with us on most other things) disagree with us on, it would be mandatory a la carte cable. We've explained repeatedly why forcing cable companies to offer a la carte cable is a bad idea that would likely lead to higher prices and less choice. Yet people still argue against it, claiming (incorrectly) that they would just order a few channels and prices would decrease.

    Mike, I would have to say that I'm one of those readers who agree with TD on most things, but disagree on a la carte pricing. One of the most frustrating things about this topic is that you "repeatedly" explain why forcing a la carte pricing is a bad idea, but you don't seem to respond or counter what I think are well-reasoned arguments for a la carte pricing which appear in the comments sections. It's quite possible that I've just missed where you've replied to many of these arguments, but I don't think you should be surprised that people repeatedly bring up the same counterarguments when you don't reply to them in your repeated posts.

    Other people have done a great job in the comments of pointing out some of these counterarguments, but here are some examples that come to mind...

    1)
    The common explanation of why the average person's cable bill would go up uses the current model where media companies force the cable companies to buy bundles of channels. But if part of the legislation to promote a la carte pricing addressed this root cause, then the formula could very well change to get the "expected" result of lower per monthly costs with an a la carte model.

    2)
    Another argument against a la carte pricing is that it would decrease choice and diversity. But this assumes that more channels equates to real diversity. For example, do you really have diversity if on separate channels you can watch Flip This House, Flip That House, Flip My House, Flip Your House, Flip Those Houses, or Flip Some Random House? Even if the dire warnings of the people who are against a la carte pricing would come to pass, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as they make it out to be. I think you'd just have less fat and more lean. As in, maybe you wouldn't have a choice of so many clones of the same show, but you'd still have access to the general show.

    3)
    And what about the people who would be willing to pay a bit more per channel if it meant that they could control (at least partially) where the money was going? I don't see anything wrong with someone not wanting to subsidize a particular channel for political, ethical, or whatever reason. To use another commenter's example, maybe you find people that watch paint dry revolting and don't want to give them any extra money by subsidizing The Paint Drying Channel. It's their right to have the channel and you should have the ability to have granular control over whether part of your cable bill is going towards their activity.

    The point of my post is not so much these counter argument examples, but that you shouldn't be surprised if people bring up the same counter arguments if you don't address them. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Mike (profile), Jul 15th, 2008 @ 3:35pm

      Re: The definition of insanity

      The common explanation of why the average person's cable bill would go up uses the current model where media companies force the cable companies to buy bundles of channels. But if part of the legislation to promote a la carte pricing addressed this root cause, then the formula could very well change to get the "expected" result of lower per monthly costs with an a la carte model.

      I don't believe that's the most common explanation of why the average bill goes up, actually. There have been a few different reports on the subject, but the main point seems to be that it's a combination of factors that lead to the greater price: including changes to backend and administrative systems that would lead to the higher prices.

      Another argument against a la carte pricing is that it would decrease choice and diversity. But this assumes that more channels equates to real diversity. For example, do you really have diversity if on separate channels you can watch Flip This House, Flip That House, Flip My House, Flip Your House, Flip Those Houses, or Flip Some Random House? Even if the dire warnings of the people who are against a la carte pricing would come to pass, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as they make it out to be. I think you'd just have less fat and more lean. As in, maybe you wouldn't have a choice of so many clones of the same show, but you'd still have access to the general show.


      Well, I don't have much of a response to that one, since I don't make the "diversity of programming" argument. :)

      And what about the people who would be willing to pay a bit more per channel if it meant that they could control (at least partially) where the money was going? I don't see anything wrong with someone not wanting to subsidize a particular channel for political, ethical, or whatever reason.

      Sure, but should that be *mandated* by the gov't? I think not.

      My point is merely that the evidence in various studies have suggested the pricing would almost certainly increase for most users -- while most users think it would go down. I believe they're wrong based on these reports.

      I think Tim's analysis from a little while ago was the most accurate: basically it costs a certain amount for a company to offer a basic package of services. And that's true whether you have 1 channel or 10,000 channels. So, even if you were only getting 1 channel, the real cost to the cable company remains quite high, and you'd end up paying nearly the same amount as you're paying for your current bundle of 200 channels -- perhaps even more because of the additional administrative overhead.

      If you really think of the price of the bundle as being the price of just the channels you want -- and all the other channels are basically freebies, that's perhaps more accurate.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Hulser, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 8:15pm

        Re: Re: The definition of insanity

        First off, thanks for your reply. A couple of follow up points...

        I don't believe that's the most common explanation of why the average bill goes up, actually.

        The premise that if you forced cable companies to use a la carte pricing, they'd have to charge you exceptionally high prices for the channels you selected (because they themselves have to buy bundles of channels from the media companies) seemed to me to be the main reason given in the following article, which was linked to in a TD post.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/business/media/24nocera.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&ref =media&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

        There have been a few different reports on the subject, but the main point seems to be that it's a combination of factors that lead to the greater price: including changes to backend and administrative systems that would lead to the higher prices.

        One of the commenters in a previous TD post about a la carte pricing mentioned that in his city, there were so many tiers and granular control over what channels that a particular customer gets, that moving to an a la carte model would be a rather small jump.

        In any case, the cost of the technology to implement a carte pricing is a red herring. If all of the disgruntled cable customers in the world could snap their fingers and the hardware and software was magically in place to allow for a la carte pricing, the cable companies still wouldn't implement it. Why? For the simple read that they'd make less money if people weren't forced into paying for channels they didn't want. No company is willingly going to do that if they don't have to.

        Sure, but should that be *mandated* by the gov't? I think not.

        As I mentioned in a previous post, my personal political opinions run towards the "keep the government out of it" variety. So, I don't think that cable companies should be forced into a particular pricing model. But, I do think that the level of control which the media companies have -- which allows them to effectively force cable companies to buy bundles of channels -- rises to the level of illegal anti-competative activity. What the government should do is move back in the supply channel and prevent the media companies from forcing the cable companies to buy the channels in a bundle. Then let the market work by itself and give the cable companies a chance to implement new pricing options for themselves. In short, don't tell the cable companies how to price their product; just step in and stop some anti-competative pricing by the media companies.

        If you really think of the price of the bundle as being the price of just the channels you want -- and all the other channels are basically freebies, that's perhaps more accurate.

        But why should the customer think of it this way when the cable companies don't? Specifically, whenever I see a an ad for cable service -- usually in the form of junk mail -- one of the main benefits that is touted is the variety and sheer number of channels. Time Warner doesn't advertise "Hey, we know that you think most of these channels are crap, but just think of your triple digit cable bill as the price you have to pay if you want to see the handfull of channels that you like."

        But even if it really is true that a la carte pricing would increase the average cable subscribers bill, there's the emotional impact as well. Is it really good business practice to implement a pricing structure that essentially guarantees that your company will inspire intense loathing? There's a reason that posts about a la carte pricing get so many comments; people hate cable companies. The cable companies are apparently used to being viewed somewhere between child molestors and car salesmen, so as long as they get their money, they're OK, but perhaps it's not such a great idea to be so hated when there are so many options on the horizon.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Steve R. (profile), Jul 15th, 2008 @ 1:58pm

    On the Fence with Bundling

    The problem with bundling is that it distorts free market operations. If you get a bundle, I can see how it could cost less. But I also wonder who is subsidizing whom????

    For example, I would never subscribe to the Home Shopping Network or ESPEN. Now if I am buying a bundle that includes these stations are they paying the cable company thereby helping me to lower my subscription cost or am I actually subsidizing these stations through my cable subscription????

    One of the ironies with this bundling concept, is that those who are advocating that it is alright for a corporation to bundle a service claiming that is a social good are also opposed to government providing the same type of "bundle" to its citizens claiming that it prevents a free market from operating. If one is truly committed to free markets, bundling would not be allowed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    John, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    Who decides what channel is cut?

    Seems to me, if the customer got to choose just what they wanted - crappy channels would end up getting eliminated and lessening the overhead for the cable company.
    Let's take this a step further: suppose the cable company did eliminate the "crappy" channels (meaning the channels that no one pays to watch).

    Now suppose you're a while male living in a largely Hispanic area like Miami or Los Angeles. Now suppose the vast majority of the viewers want 25 Spanish-speaking channels and no one watches the Discovery Channel except you.

    Guess what channel will be considered the "crappy" channel? It certainly won't be the 25 Spanish channels that everyone in the market is paying to see. In fact, if the cable company was smart, they would offer *more* Spanish channels since that's what YOUR market wants.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Lex, Jul 15th, 2008 @ 3:01pm

    Cable Sucks anyway.

    I love how the "voice" of this article makes it sound as if everyone who has been disagreeing with them is an ignorant child. "We've explained repeatedly ... Yet people still argue against it, claiming (incorrectly) ... there's simply no reason to force cable companies into providing a la carte channel selections." Bah! I do agree with the point becoming moot although. Show's on demand are (IMHO) the future. I don't even have a cable sub anymore. I watch the shows I want on my PC, Netflx, and on my Xbox 360. Pretty soon I can download my on demand shows from my Netflix onto my console as well! Suhweeet

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Happy TV viewer, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 1:28pm

    There is a great solution - I have it.

    If you live in the city like 70% of Americans do, you can use my solution. Linux PC with video card that has dvi-d for computer monitor and vga for 32" HDTV. It works great. You rent movies from the library (for free). Rip them to HD using thoggen for later viewing. Watch current shows on broadcast TV and HULU. Record OTA shows with timer on DVD-RW for later if you can't live by the schedule.

    I get 12 channel basic cable with my internet for about $10 which I buy because of poor local reception.

    With little ones in the house, I'm not too excited to pump "screw and kill TV" into my house 24 hours per day. I'd be happy to pay premium prices for the channels I would like, but I'm unwilling to spend an additional $40 so my 3 YO can learn a new way to rape or kill every time I turn my back.

    Bundling is just a BS scheme that increases revenue by allowing providers to collect on infomercials and unwanted subscriptions at the same time. Neither of which would be viable under al a carte.

    Why is it that the free market is always promoted by business until the very second it threatens their own market position?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This