HDTV Puts The Squeeze On Cable Companies

from the still-nothing-on dept

This year, consumers will buy more high-definition television sets than standard-definition one for the first time — but cable operators are having a hard time finding the bandwidth to deliver HD channels to their users. With the push for new video-on-demand and other TV services alongside the popularity of cable modems and VoIP, they’re simply running out of room on their networks, and won’t be able to keep up with satellite companies, which are aggressively working to support large numbers of HD channels. The resulting effect of this is that it’s delaying the entry of many content providers to begin offering content in HD. They’ve been waiting for a decent number of viewers to be able to get the signals, and while they may now have capable TVs, their cable companies can’t get the channels to them. There are a couple of solutions that cable providers are looking at: the first is to basically turn their whole networks into video-on-demand systems by delivering most channels only to those viewers currently watching them, instead of pushing everything to everyone. The other, more contentious solution, is to quit broadcasting analog channels, since three HDTV channels or 10 standard digital ones can be broadcast in the space of a single analog one. Still, the ultimate solution here is one we’ve talked about before — to unbundle the shows from the channels. Think of all the content that cable networks broadcast that people don’t watch, with 499 channels of the proverbial 500 just representing overhead on the one channel a viewer is watching. So not only would simply offering people the shows they want to watch, rather than all the channels, make more commercial sense than the current system, it could make more technical sense as well.

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Comments on “HDTV Puts The Squeeze On Cable Companies”

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Ben says:

Tricky business

I’m all for saving bandwidth but the whole “a la carte” thing would work tho, I mean, yeah if i wanna watch a certain show click and watch, but would i have to pay for cable AND every show i d/l? and what about emergencies where live progams like the news are people’s main source of info?

i agree that they need a new way of doing things, god knows bringing down the cost would make things great, but maybe im just confused.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Easy solution

Ever scroll through the 500+ channels that you get with basic cable?

Ever notice how they just repeat 3 times?

I understand that some are east coast and west coast times, such as HBO and HBOE…but ESPN is on my basic cable plan 3 times, with the same content on all 3. Why?

Is that incase I was watching something on 456, I could just scroll to 397 instead of typing in 32????

I have 3 exact channels of ESPN, FSN, HIST, DISC, TLC,Travel, TBS, FX, news channels and more. Sounds like I could get about 100 HD channels if they would just remove wasted channels.

Maybe that’s too easy for them.

Cable Guy says:

Re: Re: Easy solution

I know in my cable system there are 3 of some channels because the company selling that channel to us (ie ESPN) wants us to pay for every subscriber in our system. Therefore, we offer the channel on basic cable, digital cable, and in HD so that people without a HDTV can watch it, and people without digital cable can watch it. Most of the things that cause people to complain about the cable companies is because of how the company has to pay for the channels offered. I can remember when the Yes network came into my area, and raped the cable company by making us offer it to anyone on Basic cable or higher (and for a huge amount of money), therefore causing the rates to go up, even though many people don’t care about the Yankees. That was the only way to get the channel in our system. We were just gonna offer it on digital cable, but the Yankees said no deal.

Name Withheld says:

This really isn’t all that hard. It’s just a matter of redefining “basic cable” to mean the news channels, public access, weather, etc. Anything with entertainment value is ala carte. This will have the added benefit of letting all those pitiful networks that do nothing but fill space die a quick death. There’s no value to having 30 channels worth of infomercials. Not when the viewer is paying for them.

I’ve never subscribed to cable. I don’t watch enough television to make it worth the 50 bucks a month just to see 10 episodes of the sopranos a year and Aqua Teen Hunger Force reruns. I get my television via BitTorrent anyway.

But, if all the junk was eliminated, so all I had to pay for are the shows that I’m actually interested in, I would certainly take another look at subscribing. It’s not that I’m against paying for the TV I consume, it’s just that I’m not willing to pay for 250 channels when I only watch 4.

Of course, I’d also have to get over my unwillingness to support anything that puts money in the pocket of Fox News, so until I can pay to get the shows I want in Hidef without getting Fox or Infomercials, I’ll stick with BitTorrent.

NGUVU says:

blasted cable companies...

I think it’s good that pressure is being put on the cable companies. I tried to order Comcast in my new house, and I was told that they can’t service my area because Adelphia services that area. So I can choose from any Satellite Co. I want, but I am forced to choose only 1 cable provider…blasted cable.

I dream of a wireless world with Cisco’s wireless technology built right in the TV…how much longer?

Anonymous Coward says:

With what your suggesting, they would have to determine what they’re going to cut so they’re not piping people so much content they aren’t using. Some of it would be easy, but i actually know somone who stays up to watch the girls gone wild infomercials, my mom watches some of those cooking and quilting do-it-along-side-the-tv shows, and my friend watches soaps all day, being the summer.

Christopher Allen (user link) says:

HD content

I have a BUD, Big Ugly Dish, the wonderful 10 ft. C/Ku band kind.

I love the “a la carte” selection on it. And as far as my HD i can set two of my DLP televisions which are exactly the same side by side and the HD off of the BUD is far clearer the my Directv system. The reason my BUD’s HD signials are better is that they are coming from mutiple transponders and different satellites. Cable is trying to do the same thing Directv and Dish are doing forcing too much signal in not enough bandwidth. I presonally NEVER watch Lifetime or WE. Their should be a different system HD is the future and there is no going back.

Frank Oz says:


I live in Sacramento CA and I have roughly 60 channels of non english channels. This is where I feel the a la carte programming would be beneficial. I don’t mind watching some of the hot women they have in the hispanic soap opera shows but I can get that on the internet. get rid of the crap that only a small portion of the population uses anyways and there you go.

Anyways, isn’t English supposed to be the official language of this country.

Cable Freak says:


People…They should force the folks that do not have a digital signal to use a box. Just like the old days when it first came out. People will complain, but like the dumb animals we are, we’ll pay in the begining. This would convert all the signals to digital, and then as the population of older sets wear out, they will be replaced by newer ones and the problem is moot. We can then have some higher bandwidth on the cable modem maybe…10 meg, or 20…man that would be sweet.

Mark says:

Those companies that are able to upgrade their infrastructure to fiber will have the best chance of competing successfully with satellite. My local provider, Comcast, has, and the only limit on what they can provide seems to be what the subscribers are willing to pay for. The more obscure offerings will probably not be part of my usual selection, but I have quite a selection as it is. I have yet to make the leap to HDTV, but will do so when my 42incher wears out.

Tim says:

Carlo's suggestion won't fix the problem

You TD guys are pretty sharp, so I’m suprised by your proposed solution of unbundling the shows form the channels.

If the problem for the cable companies is not enough bandwidth for so many simultaneous streams, then for god’s sake don’t let anyone watch whatever they want whenever they want. If you did that you’d have to supply each show (presumably on demand) to any person at any time all the way down the long tail.

If 500 cahnnels plus a few (ppv, to keep the numbers down) on demand offerings are saturating your pipe, then there’s no way you could support hundreds of thousands of customers watching any old episode of whatever they want simultaneously.

Xanthir says:

Re: Carlo's suggestion won't fix the problem

Ah, see, you don’t have any idea what the cable companies currently do.

Right now, the cable companies send you *all* the channels at once. If they offer you 500 channels, they send you 500 channels. When you are watching a particular channel you’re simply selecting which stream of the information torrent to tune into, and ignoring the other 499 that you receive.

So, what Carlo was saying was that they’re already having problems sending you all the channels that they currently offer, and they can’t scrounge up enough bandwidth to convert all of those into HD. By doing it a la carte, they only send *one* channel at a time, and keep open a small data stream alongside it. Bam, bandwidth issues solved instantly.

At least, until they introduce UltraDef(c), where one channel has enough data for 500 regular channels…

Tim says:

Re: Re: Carlo's suggestion won't fix the problem

Yes I understand that, and it’s beside the point. My point is that they are sending everyone those same 500 channels.

So even if for each particular household is wasting 495 to 500 of those channels depending on how many tv’s they’ve got running, they only ever have to send at most 500 streams to their entire subscriber base.

If you allow anyone to watch any content, then every single tv will need its own stream. You have to offer thousand and thousands of individual streams.

Captain Underpants says:

Anything is possible...

Assuming that anything is possible from a Tech standpoint, the local Borg- er – service providers should switch to an on demand/micro payment format (HD, of course). The boxes should have Etharweb ports in the back so that you can put it on your private LAN and redistribute the content (You just sent a micropayment for) to your PC, slingbox, CDR/DVDr/BluRay devices for archive/mobility purposes. No DRM, maybe just a reciept data tag or something similar. The Borg device should also have its own HDD and/or Media Burner Du Jour.

I’m sure that others have stated similar ideas, but I didn’t have time to read it all

lcaamano says:


I agree that content should be unbundled from channels and it will eventually, but this post has a few really big factual errors. For example:

“With the push for new video-on-demand and other TV services alongside the popularity of cable modems and VoIP, they’re simply running out of room on their networks,”

This is true bu this is not:

” and won’t be able to keep up with satellite companies, which are aggressively working to support large numbers of HD channels.”

Uh? Where did you get this idea? Reference please? Satellite companies are compressing HD channels left and right because **it’s harder to get bandwidth on satellite than on cable.**

This is probably true:

“The other, more contentious solution, is to quit broadcasting analog channels,”

but this is not true at all:

“since three HDTV channels or 10 standard digital ones can be broadcast in the space of a single analog one. ”

A single analog channel takes 6mhz of bandwidth, which is the exact bandwidth required by a full 19mbps HDTV channel. Where did that three come from?

Sounds to me you’ve been fed a bunch of satellite TV propaganda.

Permanent4 (profile) says:

Just a thought...

Why don’t the cable companies just start offering digital cable packages that cost less than basic/standard cable? DISH Network offers tiers of service — America’s Top 60, Top 120, Top 180, etc. Why can’t cable companies do that? Why does every digital cable package have to include all 180 channels?

Time Warner Cable charges about $47 for standard cable. If they offered a digital cable package with just those same channels for $39.99 — or even $34.99 for the first six months, which would be enough for most people to switch — they might move a lot more people off analog cable and be able to offer more HD channels down the road.

Or does that make too much sense?

William C Bonner (profile) says:

Get rid of cable altogether!

With the conversion of “over the air” to the new ATSC standards, I can watch 100% free tv (ad supported, what a concept) that looks better than the analog stuff my cable company is sending me.

I came home from a trip recently, and one of the stations had started broadcasting a second stream, it seemed to be http://www.thetubetv.com/

All this got me thinking further about how the government granted monopoly of the cable companies may get weaker when OTA hdtv is actually good quality. Why do I want to pay $50 / month for extended basic cable when I can get hdtv for free?

Anthony says:


I am a HDTV fiend. I cannot remeber the last time I watched an analog channel. I do not want to seem selfish but, I prefer HD… I really think that the cable companies need to drop some of the analog channels and distribute more HD channels. The satellite compnies are offering more channels everyday, and it seems like the cable companies are spinning their wheels. The cable companies need to find a way to satisfy the customer and company ambitions at the same time. I have a 50″ plasma and a 42″ LCD tv that I just recently purchased. I want the maximum in HD offerings in the near future. I love my cable service but Dish network is becoming more appealing as the months pass. I hope that the cable companies have something more to offer than just the minimum in HD channels SOON. The good thing is that more consumers are buying more HD sets, and that has to be good news for the content providers out there, although I have to face the reality that, all networks will not be able to restructure their networks to HD. Maybe finding a happy medium between the two. Maybe reducing the number of analog channels to the most popular in the region (20-30) channels, and offer more SD an definately HD channels. Just a suggestion that I have heard kicked around here and at other sites. Thanks

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