Cable Execs Refuse To Offer Better TV Bundle Options Because Consumers Already Enjoy All The 'Value' They Can Handle

from the head-in-sand dept

Consumers have been clamoring for better cable TV pricing and more flexible channel options for the better part of the last decade, and for most of that time the broadcast and cable industry has been willfully -- almost gleefully -- ignoring them under the mistaken belief that the cable TV cash cow will live forever. With 2015 giving rise to a number of more flexible Internet video options, the conversation has heated up once again, leading to a very small number of companies (like Verizon) experimenting with modestly more flexible channel bundle packages where costly sports programming is broken out into its own tier.

However, the majority of cable TV executives remain with their heads planted squarely in the sand. When pressed on whether it would try to offer more consumer-friendly "skinny" channel bundles in response to consumer-driven industry trends, Time Warner Cable execs informed analysts recently that it would just be too confusing:
"There’s a lot of attraction in the press about skinny packages," echoed Dinesh C. Jain, chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable. “I think a lot of the times, customers don’t want to get bogged down in a lot of choices to make on those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now and it’s a simpler sale."
Yes, you wouldn't want to confuse the consumer by offering them something more competitive than you do now. And when calculating "value," surely Time Warner Cable is including its excellent customer service, ranked worse than any other U.S. company in any industry? Time Warner Cable has been paying lip service to more flexible options since 2010 or before, yet they never seem to materialize. That's in part thanks to broadcasters, whose programming rates continue to sail skyward utterly untethered from reason. But cable companies aren't faultless; they raise rates wherever and whenever they can as well, whether that's for DVR rentals, extra fees just to pay your bill in person, or sneaky below the line charges to covertly drive up the advertised rate.

At the cable industry's Internet & Television Expo last week, cable executives again proclaimed they didn't see the need for more flexible, cost-conscious cable lineups, because customers already get way more value than they can possibly handle:
"People have always had choice in what they buy in their subscription package,” declared Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge. "The vast majority of customers tend to take the larger bundle, and the reason is, it’s a damn good value,” said Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus after allowing that “More flexibility is better."
In other words, there's no need to offer greater choice or value because we're already really incredible at doing that. Except data across the board suggests that they aren't.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released concurrently with these execs' comments found that 77% of U.S. adults say they'd prefer a la carte cable programming, a shift the industry has fought off for years by arguing it would kill niche channels (something that's happening anyway) and raise rates (something that's happening anyway). But it's not just a la carte the cable industry has been resistant to; it's any shift toward more compelling programming tiers. That same poll also found that 54% of consumers would like to be able to buy a core cable bundle that doesn't include ESPN, and 47% don't want cable news networks.

The cable and broadcast industry could work together to get out ahead of Internet video, but they're absolutely terrified of offering any products that would cannibalize their traditional cable TV subscriber bases. They're comforted by the fact that so many subscribers continue to pay an arm and a leg for bloated, expensive cable bundles, and believe that the giant pay TV fortress they've built will survive indefinitely. So like so many legacy industries, instead of meaningful, pre-emptive adaptation, the cable sector stands in the middle of the highway with a glassy eyed stare, confident in its resilience against the eighteen wheeler that bears down upon it.

Filed Under: a la carte, bundles, cable, skinny bundles, tv
Companies: charter communications, comcast, time warner cable, verizon


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 7:17am

    lol really? You know what people are doing Mr Exec? Cutting the cord in favor of cheaper solutions that better fit their needs. So yeah, keep at it and you'll be delivering value to no one.

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

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 7:59am

    I'm going to defend cable here, but marginally.

    It needs to be addressed cable "packages" are sold as they are because distributors control the pricing, not the cable industry.

    This is important to understand, because ESPN will cost a fucking boatload compared to a station like Telemundo. Since the latter is "bundled" in current pricing schemes, this subsidizes the cost of having ESPN in the packages.

    Everyone complains cable companies are raising our prices, but that's further from the truth (in part). The showdown between distributors and cable operators (who must then "blackout" the signal(s)) is more proof than anyone needs this isn't a cable issue.

    Recently, Verizon started offering smaller bundles in its FioS offering, and it didn't take long for distributors to rush to court, including ESPN, which charges an outrage price for its content of many different stations.

    It's pretty damn impossible to offer customer choices when distributors are calling the shots.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      That's a great point. I spent some time the other evening chatting with a Comcast tech, who was repairing our local infrastructure for the Nth time (and commented on how awful previous repairs were) and his take on it was that most of us paying for bundles of channels never even bother looking at most of them: every household tends to watch a cluster of 10-30 depending on demographics.

      For example, households with young kids but no sports fans are all over Nick et.al. but not ESPN et.al. Childless households with sports fans show the opposite pattern. Comcast knows a great deal about this thanks to their smart set-top boxes which track channel-minutes, but doesn't want to unbundle channels because things like religious and shopping channels would be the first to go.

      But we'd opt for it. Give us ESPN-everything plus NBC sports and Fox sports, plus about a dozen other assorted channels, and we're good to go. (Don't need cable news, don't need the so-called "weather" channel, don't need HBO/SHO etc., don't need kid channels, don't need much.)

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      Then why are the cable companies lying and saying that they are offering a awesome packages that everyone's happy with? If they said something like "we'd love to change this, but we can't do that until we negotiate new contracts", then they could at least maintain a little bit of dignity.

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

    • icon
      WDS (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 9:02am

      Re: Defending

      There is plenty of blame to go around. While I think some (most? all?) of the disputes between content providers and the distributors are ridiculous, you don't have to do much digging to find a whole lot of bloat on the bill that is strictly from the cable company.

      For instance I can't watch things on my DVR on my other TV, because they wanted to not only charge me a per month fee to turn on the feature on my DVR, but wanted to charge me a monthly network fee, that was basically charging me to allow them to send signal across my wire in my home network that both receivers were already connected to.

      Both sides of the industry are trying their best to ignore the fact that the current method is going to change, it only remains to be seen who will be a part of it, and who will dry up and blow away, while crying the modern equivalent of "Why isn't anyone buying my buggy whips?"

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

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      >It needs to be addressed cable "packages" are sold as they are because distributors control the pricing, not the cable industry.

      I dedicate a paragraph to that point.

      Yes, broadcasters control programming prices, but don't fall into the trap of thinking cable operators are helpless little daisies when it comes to raising rates. Take a look at the fees that smack you with below the line, the fees imposed for paying your bill in person, or the steep per month hardware rental rates.

      There's plenty of blame to go around. None of them want the cash cow to die.

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

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 8:15am

    "value" again, huh?

    There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now and it’s a simpler sale.


    There's a lot of value for the cable companies. But for a lot of people (including myself), those triple-play packages have very little value. They cost a LOT and consist mostly of things that I don't want. That's the exact opposite of "a lot of value".

    Once again, companies, "value" is not a constant that can be computed. It's completely subjective. Only your customers, each individually, can make the call for how much "value" you are offering.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 8:47am

      Re: "value" again, huh?

      Yes. He left a couple of words off the end of his sentence:

      "...it's a simpler sale *for us*."

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 8:50am

    I wanna drive the 18-wheeler.

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

  • identicon
    HMTKSteve, 14 May 2015 @ 8:51am

    ala carte

    Ala carte already exists. It is called Hulu+ and Amazon. Whatever does not air next day on Hulu can be purchased on Amazon the next day. With the exception of sports and HBO there are very few reasons to buy cable TV. Kids are one exception but even there Netflix has plenty of back catalog for kid shows.

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

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 14 May 2015 @ 8:58am

    FTFY

    cable TV executives remain with their heads planted squarely in their bums.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:13am

    A la carte

    Just give me my local channels. I read recently that ESPN gets about $5 per subscriber per month, and the next highest channel (I forget what is was) is about $1.50 per subscriber, per month.

    So, I should be able to get my local channels, PBS HD/Kids/Create/World/ABC/CBS/NBC for about $7 a month. I don't care about any of the other channels, and I don't really care that much about the ABC/NBC/CBS either.

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

    • identicon
      PRMan, 14 May 2015 @ 10:15am

      Re: A la carte

      But that's $5 and $1.50 if they charge EVERY subscriber. By breaking them up, you're going to have to pay $5 for every network package. Your bill for just the channels you list would be about $30 a month.

      If all you care about are the networks, then you should get a TV antenna and a DVR for that like a Tablo.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:19am

    I switched over to a skinny bundle with SlingTV and there is one problem I noticed and it's the missing broadcast networks like FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS. I feel that these channels should be included with all skinny bundles. In my home, which is near SF, I can only get 2 of of the 30 channels that are over the airwaves due to the terrain. Don't these channels get government assistance with their legacy broadcast rights? If that is the case, then there should be a requirement that they provide the channels for a nominal charge.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:43am

      Re:

      I switched over to a skinny bundle with SlingTV and there is one problem I noticed and it's the missing broadcast networks like FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS.

      If you're using a Roku, search for the Livestream channel. It's got several network stations broadcast on it. Might not have stations local to you, but that would really only matter if you are trying to watch stuff like the local news.

      PBS also has their own Roku channel.

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

    • identicon
      PRMan, 14 May 2015 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      Lots of live local news broadcasts are available on Roku for free (I forget the Roku channel).

      Also, almost all episodic shows on those channels are available at the broadcasters' websites or Hulu.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:27am

    As long as there is an option for "no content," I'm happy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 9:40am

    Cord cutting? I really seriously doubt it.

    You want Hulu, HBO go, Netflix, any other service like that? Where does your Internet connection come from? Ummm, a cable company or Verizon. Cut all you like, but those guys still get your money. If everyone "cut cords" and their revenue dropped, they would just raise the price of Internet to maintain their revenue. Stream video through your phone service? Good luck with that.

    Face it, there isn't a whole lot that can be done in our current situation.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:05am

      Re:

      Umm.. thats the long term plan. Bust up the companies that are both supplying content and internet connections.

      Face it, there is a lot that can be done and it is happening now and will continue to happen.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 10:15am

      Re:

      I think that you misunderstand the term "cord cutting". It refers specifically to not subscribing to cable television. It has nothing to do with getting internet service from the same companies.

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

      • icon
        Karl Bode (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 11:31am

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, for some reason I see this semantic, overly literal point made every so often -- that it can't be "cord cutting" because there's still a cord for Internet.

        Maybe we need a new name. "Smart shoppers," perhaps.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 1:01pm

        Re: Re:

        I understand the term, but if you "cut the cord" and their broadcast revenue goes down, they will just raise the price of providing Internet service. All that will happen is that they will take money out of one pocket and put it back in the other pocket.

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

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 1:25pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I doubt it. They are already charging the maximum amount they can for internet service. If they thought for a second that they could charge more without reducing overall revenue, they'd be doing it right now.

          Also, even if they raised prices on internet service, they are extremely unlikely to raise them so much that you'd be paying what you paid for internet + cable TV.

          There's also the aspect of cable cutting that has nothing to do with money: trying to get away from doing business with cable companies to the greatest extent possible. If I had any internet option other than Comcast, for instance, I'd jump on it in a hot second.

          (Disclaimer: I do subscribe to basic cable, because Comcast charges me less for basic cable + internet than for internet alone. I haven't bothered to hook up the TV converter box, though.)

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

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 1:28pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Also, also, according to an industry report I read yesterday, providing internet service is already a bigger moneymaker for the cable companies than providing TV by a very comfortable margin anyway.

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

  • identicon
    Lord Binky, 14 May 2015 @ 11:45am

    Technically, the arm up it's back IS a puppet's spine.

    "The vast majority of customers tend to take the larger bundle, and the reason is, it’s a damn good value,”


    Well done Sir, I for one wouldn't be able to lie like that. The vast majority of customers may take the larger bundle, but none of them do it because of the price per channel value that you insinuate. It is because it is the only way to receive the select channels that are purposely kept tiered away, you and everyone else knows it. Just because they know they are getting screwed, don't pretend like they enjoy it. It really makes you come off as someone who'd place second to a piece of bread in an IQ test.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 11:52am

    Denying that cable cutting is happening for a reason won't help prolong it's life span. Jacking up the prices will not be an alternative that will continue to be the answer. Speeding up the run to show more commercials has it's end coming too.

    Know what? Unless PPV gets in touch with what it's customers want it doesn't have a future either. The young crowd are not buying TVs for watch shows, they are gaming with them without the cable.

    If PPV thinks it's serving it's customers well, the future isn't going to need wearing sunglasses to see.

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

  • icon
    Stan (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 12:58pm

    PRESS RELEASE from the Time Warner Burger Shack.

    The Time Warner BS (Burger Shack) has announced a menu featuring new item choices. Customers will be able to order either

    1) a basic burger (consisting of patty, bun and mayo) or

    2) the big package burger (which adds mustard, relish, bacon, cream cheese, fried egg, mushrooms, lettuce. jalapenos and chili sauce)
    and comes with fries, onion rings and a super-sized strawberry-rhubarb shake, or

    3) a whole side of beef flame roasted to very-well-done.

    Substitutions, additions or deletions are not allowed.

    Said Dinesh C. Jain, chief operating officer of Time Warner BS: “I think a lot of the times, customers don’t want to get
    bogged down in a lot of choices to make on those kinds of things. There’s a lot of value in our triple-play packaging right now
    and it’s a simpler sale."

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

  • icon
    gorehound (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 1:50pm

    Thew Internet is my Cable and if it weren't here my books and my many vinyl records would be.

    Fuck the MAFIAA !

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

  • identicon
    David, 14 May 2015 @ 6:58pm

    Despite the fact that it's still a scam, I'll still grant that the exec's comment about "too many choices" being a bad thing is a reasonable point. Look at the current Windows 10 SKU argument. With just 7 SKUs, each with a reasonably different target use, there are a ton of complaints about "why not just have 1 version and be done with it?"

    There's plenty of specific differences between the two situations that don't make it a perfect comparison, but people will certainly complain about "too much" choice just as easily as they will about too little.

    Consider the 'ideal' a la carte in cable: You have something like 200 channels, and when you sign up you need to select every individual one you want. How many people would be griping about going through all that hassle? Of not being aware that some obscure channel somewhere down the list is actually something they're interested in? That they're in a sort of "buy before you try" situation, where you don't actually know exactly what each channel provides, and which ones you really want.

    Even with the high-profile ones, out of a couple dozen ESPN channels, which ones actually carry the shows and sports that you, specifically, are interested in?

    So, yeah, the company execs may be sticking their head in the sand about some aspects, but their critics are also ignoring a lot of the practicalities of implementing that for the average user.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 10:51pm

      Re:

      but people will certainly complain about "too much" choice just as easily as they will about too little.

      So top the options with the current bundles, and offer a la carte as an option for those who are prepared to make the more detailed choices on what they want.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 15 May 2015 @ 7:48am

      Re:

      " I'll still grant that the exec's comment about "too many choices" being a bad thing is a reasonable point."

      It can be, depending. But right now, they offer far too few choices.

      "Look at the current Windows 10 SKU argument. With just 7 SKUs, each with a reasonably different target use, there are a ton of complaints about "why not just have 1 version and be done with it?""

      In the case of Windows, the 7 SKUs are not that different. They could capture the important differences with 3. Lots of choices when there's little difference between them is always a bad thing.

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

  • icon
    hopponit (profile), 24 May 2015 @ 8:01am

    Cable

    " and it’s a simpler sale." I think that cuts right to the main reason they like it.

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

  • identicon
    programvb.com/2017/03/dz-sport-tv, 31 Mar 2017 @ 5:20pm

    programvb.com

    So top the options with the current bundles, and offer a la carte as an option for those who are prepared to make the more detailed choices on what they want.
    http://www.programvb.com/2017/03/channel-frequency-al-hayat-sport.html
    http://www.programvb.com/ 2017/03/channel-frequency-2-mbc.html
    http://www.programvb.com/search/label/%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%AF%D8%AF%2 0%D9%82%D9%86%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AA

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


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