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The Problem With Cable Is Television

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the give-me-hd-or-give-me-death dept.

Networking 334

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

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334 comments

Not the programming (5, Insightful)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807197)

I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

Re:Not the programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807203)

Come on now, I love watching Infomercials!

Re:Not the programming (3, Funny)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807249)

I think those "Dual Action Cleanse" guys have some unresolved psychological issues.

        Brett

Re:Not the programming (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807601)

I think people who sign their name on posts with their name already on top of the post have severe issues.

Re:Not the programming (-1, Offtopic)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808289)

Fascinating commentary that would carry more impact if you weren't an AC!

          Brett

Re:Not the programming (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807287)

I'm partial to the nymphomercials myself.

Gotta love spice.

Re:Not the programming (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807411)

Come on now, I love watching Infomercials!

Well, if that's the case then you're gonna love my nuts!

Re:Not the programming (1)

theJML (911853) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807501)

Well then, you'll be "Sayin' WOW Every Time!"

Re:Not the programming (5, Interesting)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807351)

I guess the problem is that majority of programming suck, or at least that the broad scope of programs available through a cable package is so diverse that many only enjoy a small handful while the rest that falls outside the individual field of interest is uninteresting.

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

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

Re:Not the programming (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807899)

in so far as something as new as cable can be said to have a tradition

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

Re:Not the programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807623)

I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

The sour economy seems to preserve the worst
commercials. They will not buy new ones.
It is the survival of the highest vacuum.

Re:Not the programming (5, Insightful)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807629)

I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

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

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

Re:Not the programming (0, Flamebait)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807881)

>>>I would love to pay $5/mo "directly" for FoodTV (directly

Then do it. I don't see why I should have to pay ~70 cents per channel for 40-something channels I never watch. Your lesser-viewed channels like FoodTV or GolfTV should be supported directly by those who want them, not be people like me who think they are shit. I apologize for being so blunt, but I am a strong supporter of A La Carte cable, which by my calculation would drop my bill from $65 a month to about $20 a month - an obvious boon for the average consumer.

In this time of recession, we need ways for people to cut costs, not socialistic anti-choice solutions that force people to buy junk they don't want.

Re:Not the programming (1)

LordKazan (558383) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808139)

learn the meaning of the term socialistic before using it ever again.

bundled programming is not socialistic, it has nothing to do with socialism.

Re:Not the programming (1)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808359)

which by my calculation would drop my bill from $65 a month to about $20 a month - an obvious boon for the average consumer.

(1) How do you know what your preferred channels will cost. Maybe they will be $10 each. No one has the slightest idea, including the cable companies, of how ala-carte pricing will come out in the end -- it will make for a hell of an interesting negotiation-time between the networks and the providers though!

(2) 40 channels? Seriously? The lowest tier plan here is like 250, proving only that "cost per channel" is a ridiculous metric that illuminates virtually nothing. The value of some channels (the ones with novel content that costs money, versus the syndication networks like Spike that are much cheaper to produce) can't be reduced like that.

Re:Not the programming (2, Interesting)

Tyr.1358 (1441099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808315)

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

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

Re:Not the programming (2, Interesting)

IntlHarvester (11985) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808365)

> Food Network, Golf Channel

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

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

The only technical advantage Cable has here is the convenience of dialing up channel 123 and watching some golf. As soon as web video portals appear for these niche interests, that advantage disappears.

Re:Not the programming (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807905)

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

Re:Not the programming (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808069)

I thought the problem was that the programming sucked.

The programming doesn't suck.

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

Looking Up-Market?

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

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

Forensic investigation?

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

standalone cable internet, please (4, Insightful)

mtrachtenberg (67780) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807213)

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

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

Re:standalone cable internet, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807299)

Because that would be less expensive.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807441)

Where are the insightful and informative mods?!?

Re:standalone cable internet, please (4, Informative)

iamhigh (1252742) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807573)

Where are the insightful and informative mods?!?

You must be new here... there are no insightful and informative moderators on /.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807651)

That's exactly what I do. I have 10Mb down and 2Mb up FIOS in NJ and I pay $50 because I don't watch their TV. I use an antenna for what I can get and everything else is watched online.

Sure, the Verizon guy knocks on the door every week or so asking if we want a package deal, but the boiling oil is becoming more effective.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807335)

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

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807397)

Most cable companies charge you $xx for internet access if you're a cable customer, or $xx + $yy if you're not. $yy is conveniently the same cost as the basic cable package.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807557)

True, but there may be a technical element to this. As in: I don't subscribe to any TV service, but I still get all the channels of "Basic Plus" cable. Try plugging your cable into the back of a TV sometime and see what you get. My understanding is that they have to put filters on your line to block the TV once they turn the line live with Internet service, and a lot of installers can't be bothered.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807679)

This is true but the filters also screw up the internet connection. So they have to have basic cable flowing thru in order to give internet. They figure everyone will go buy a splitter at Radio Shack and get cable so they charge. I used to install HSD service for a cable co in the Bay Area. Maybe this has changed but that was the deal back then. We had to remove all filters or no HSD. Anon because of mod points.....

Re:standalone cable internet, please (2, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807361)

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

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

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807383)

TimeWarner does that in my area. Who's the cable provider you're complaining about?

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

narfspoon (1376395) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807431)

Cox cable offered internet alone. But I had to pay $10 more than if I was a current cable TV subscriber. Something like $50 per month because I didn't bring a TV with me to my last apartment. Any other Cox user would pay $50 for cable TV and $40 more for internet.

They never gave me any explanation why I couldn't just be billed for $40 for standalone internet.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

jketch (1485815) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807569)

To be fair, there MAY be some kind of cost to them regardless of what services you consume (turning on/maintaining the cable to your house, paying people to do the behind the scenes administrative stuff on your account) that the people getting cable have already paid for. In other words, a $10/ overhead for each account plus $40 for cable and/or $40 for internet.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (2, Insightful)

tony1343 (910042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807587)

Wow!

Well, it's cheaper to bring multiple services into your home per service obviously than just one.

Also, have you ever heard of volume or bundle discounts? Of course it's cheaper for people who get both services.

You aren't a rocket scientist are you?

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1)

narfspoon (1376395) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807879)

I realize this.
But at the time, they had a clear pricepoint of $40 with no mention of added fees on their website. I only learned of the +$10 per month from the phone rep.

Would you be surprised if a menu listed a meal at "X price" but because you didn't order a dessert, they charge you $5 more? There is no mention of a sale or special going on, this just being their regular prices.

Needless to say, I bit the bullet and got internet anyways at full price. But I never got an explanation as to why they charged it in this style. None of the phone reps could explain why, and hearing it straight from the "horse's mouth" is what you'd hope to expect.

Re:standalone cable internet, please (2, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807583)

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

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

Re:standalone cable internet, please (3, Insightful)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807681)

Right, because everyone lives within the distance limits of DSL.

Oh, wait...

Re:standalone cable internet, please (1, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808067)

If you live within the range of CATV internet, surely you live within range of a DSL hookup.

If not, then I suggest you call all 535 representatives and start lobbying for a bill to make DSL mandatory for any customer who requests it (just like phone service is now).

There's a few channels I might buy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807219)

... but not many. I'm not that into TV, and get by with the minimum necessary to satisfy the rest of the family. Being able to pick and choose a la carte might get the cable companies more $$ from my pocket. Having to purchase them in great blocks guarantees my wallet stays shut.

Smaller Bundles (1)

Puff of Logic (895805) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807247)

I've been saying for years that if they offered a sort of Science/Technology/Learning bundle (i.e. Discovery channels, Learning channels, History, Military), I'd sign up in a heartbeat. What I don't want to do is pay for MTV, ESPN, and a couple of hundred other channels in which I have no interest. Perhaps the cable industry will have to change a lifelong habit and start giving a damn about what their customers want?

Re:Smaller Bundles (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807377)

Personally I would be happy to pay Discovery money to be able to download or stream various programs they provide through the internet. But I will never pay for a lot of cable channels I am never going to use, or that requires me to buy recording devices to be able to watch said programming when I got the time and inclination to do so.

Re:Smaller Bundles (2, Insightful)

metamatic (202216) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807597)

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

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

Re:Smaller Bundles (4, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807921)

...Except for the fact that the videos are DRM-ed and doesn't really work. If I remember correctly you can't play HD content on "non-authorized" monitors, and forget about putting it on anything other then an iPod/iPhone/Windows or OS X machine/Apple TV. This basically means that it is much better to buy the DVD version of the shows so you can do what you want with your purchased content.

Re:Smaller Bundles (3, Interesting)

Narpak (961733) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807933)

iTunes Norge have a severely limited selection of movies and series. In part because of the Norwegian Movie and Music industry, and in part because they refuse to follow Norwegian Law. Which is also why Apple/iTunes have threatened to boycott Norway several times. So iTunes is not a viable option since it does not provide what I want, and even if it did I couldn't be certain I would be able to access what I had purchased a few months, or years, down the line.

Re:Smaller Bundles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27808207)

Apple is not the end all solution to everything.

I'd rather pour acid in my eyes then buy and watch a video stream from Apple.

Re:Smaller Bundles (2, Insightful)

edalytical (671270) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807399)

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

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

Re:Smaller Bundles (4, Insightful)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807413)

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

Re:Smaller Bundles (3, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807729)

The reason we have the larger bundles is that advertising and programming on the more popular channels covers the deficits run by the less popular ones. Programming on Discovery, History or whatnot may be great, but it's the pap like MTV that brings in the lucrative advertising and eyeballs. Breaking the packages up just makes it easier for the stockholders to demand that under-performers get axed... and that's a category more likely to include the ones that we want to see, rather than the ones that the broader public do.

Re:Smaller Bundles (1, Offtopic)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808121)

I don't know if you noticed, but Discovery and History stopped showing Discovery and History about 5 years ago. If there's a market for that sort of thing, no one is selling it.

(That said, I, like most of the reasonably affluent computer technicians in the room, would pay.)

tv began to die when appointment television died (2, Insightful)

ifeelswine (1546221) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807279)

back in the day we'd schedule our lives around television. an hour of your life was set aside to find out who shot JR. everything is on demand now. with the exception of American Idle, we'll get to it when we get to it. The viral nature of youtube clip popularity and the popularity of tivo'ing should put producers on notice -- consumers will come to you, not the other way around.

Re:tv began to die when appointment television die (1)

Swave An deBwoner (907414) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808015)

There were VCRs back then also. I think that the difference in what you describe was more likely due to wide interest and excitement about the series. Fans (and there were a lot of them) wanted to know ASAP what happened, not wait to view the video tape after all their friends had discussed it already. Which comes back down to the question of whether programming content has become just too crappy for anybody to give a damn.

Sour economy? (2, Insightful)

The Man (684) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807315)

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

Re:Sour economy? (3, Informative)

teknomage1 (854522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807495)

Maybe the baby boomers, but I don't know anyone in the 20-35 age group that pays for cable unless they want to watch sports. We all have internet access, hulu, and netflix.

Re:Sour economy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807667)

You need a friend that isn't a nerd or hippy.

Re:Sour economy? (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807529)

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

Online TV Rocks!

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

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

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

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

If they broke up the channels a la carte (4, Interesting)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807337)

I would actually pay for cable.

What I want:

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

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

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

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

RS

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807419)

I agree, but so much of the stuff on History and Discovery anymore is just more reality shows.
Ideally, you could subscribe and pay per program, and I could watch "How It's Made" during prime-time whether advertisers like it or not.

And I demand a pro-rated refund for "shark week".

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (2, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807633)

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

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

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808147)

Pay attention now:

He will not pay $23.

He wants to pay $13.

He's willing to pay that much, so long as he knows he isn't subsidizing channels he won't watch.

Dish is not worthwhile.

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808285)

In other words, he's a pissy twat who wants to pay an unrealistically low amount (totally ignoring infrastructure costs, etc.) rather than pay the already-stupidly-cheap rate.

Awesome.

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

s-orbital (598727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807669)

I do not have Cable right now, and probably won't for many years to come. I would if I could subscribe to your lineup for $13 a month.

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807689)

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

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

You should be able to get PBS over the air.

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808009)

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

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808135)

You should be able to get PBS over the air.

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

RS

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (4, Insightful)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807851)

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

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

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

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

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

And on and on.

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

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

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

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27808005)

You won't get good stuff for your $1/month. For me, à la carte channels aren't unbundled enough. Try unbundling to the show level.

I agree with this notion of resolution at the show level being more worthwhile to the casual viewer. Pay for what you want rather than what someone's idea of what you want.

However, this per show pricing model breaks down with the current distribution mechanism, i.e. cable companies. To cover their costs, they assume all subscribers are watching all channels 24 hours a day. By dividing out what's actually watched from the total billable/viewable content available and charging based on use doesn't cover costs.

In other words, and more simply, regardless of what content you receive (via pay per view, pay per channel, pay per package), for the venture to be self sustaining, income must remain the same and, therefore, subscribers (assuming the same subscribers remain with the service and there is no churn) will always pay the same (modulo premium services).

In the ala carte model, this equates to less content for the same price. The consumer still loses if the cable companies costs don't go down with the change in billing practices.

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808255)

what you write is interesting.

The only problem I see is this:

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

TV is in a similar place Music was in the later 90s - 2000 with the dawn of Napster. video files are still much larger, and it will take the next gen of bandwidth increases to make SD (standard Def) video easily transmissible through the interweb thingie. The generation after that will make HD doable. as it is, "HD" over the web is hideous.

We're not quite to where a movie can be DL'd in a few minutes. But add a few zeros to the bandwidth and we will.

Then ubiquity decimates your business model. So, how do you pay your actors, your crew, yourself?

A decent TV drama is going to cost at least $3 million an hour, minimum. 10 episodes is $30 million. A 20 episode year is $60 million. If you get 1 million people to watch it, that's $60 a head...

And that's for something trivial and mindless like TV drama. Something that is necessary to the functioning of society, like a working journalism community, the costs are pretty intense - hundreds of people getting paid every day, day after day.

So, how do you charge for that, outside of a network system?

RS

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

hydromike2 (1457879) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808083)

I feel the same you do but lets take it one step further and just stream it online and do away with cable television, for most of what I watch I can watch the episode that night or the next day on the channel's website for free(with commericials) so perhaps we could pay the 1$/month to watch our tv commercial free? i mean if it was all online the cableCo's wouldnt have to spend the money broadcasting everything all the time, more of an on demand structure, but even this would require them isps/cableCo's to upgrade their infrastructure

Re:If they broke up the channels a la carte (1)

hedge49 (147092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808117)

"Shoes for Industry. Shoes for the Dead."
Did you have the vinyl of that?...I would have worn mine out, but had it memorized before then.

Yeah, right (1)

spammeister (586331) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807349)

"As the sour economy and the Web start putting more pressure on the cable companies, they may be forced to consider breaking up the big bundles of channels they now insist that consumers buy and instead offer individual channels or smaller groups of channels on an à la carte basis."

What kind of dream world do you live in? I give this about as much chance as happening as anything else that the cable companies would do to "improve" service (ie. giving a crap). Anything short of a federal mandate filtering down from the White House through the FTC wouldn't change their current practices of price gouging and various ongoing false claims of bandwidth throttling and whatnot.

DTV and cable (3, Interesting)

quickOnTheUptake (1450889) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807355)

Possibly OT, but when I installed a little outdoor DTV antenna the other day, I was amazed by how many stations I got. I'm wondering: as stations start taking advantage of the extra stations (you know, running more programs rather than running HD and SD stations with the same programming plus a weather channel) will large numbers of casual TV users decide the monthly cable fee isn't worth it?

Re:DTV and cable (2, Insightful)

linebackn (131821) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807451)

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

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

(* None)

Re:DTV and cable (2, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807693)

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

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

Re:DTV and cable (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808171)

In my area, the NBC station is going to broadcast ABC on a subchannel and the CBS station is going to broadcast FOX on a subchannel (the pairs are each have a single owner; the ABC and FOX transmitters, that I don't receive well, will do the same, increasing the footprint of all 4 stations). PBS added Create, so I predict that I will receive a total of 6 OTA channels after the switch, and there is really only room for 2 or 3 more.

I can often get another ABC station from further away, but they are probably going to continue to broadcast weather on one subchannel (limiting the amount of additional programming), and it entails significant antenna fiddling.

For people in big markets, more than 8 or 10 channels is probably pretty likely, but not for everybody (I'm in a market that is on the large side of medium).

2 words - Rabbit Ears (3, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807381)

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

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

mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27808099)

lol

Give me my $4 back then! (1)

ipX (197591) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807403)

The money the cable operators pay for the rights to channels like MTV, CNN and ESPN eats up just under $4 of every $10 they take in selling video service.

I could easily do without any of these channels. If they make up the bulk of the cost, it's a sham because there is so little value in anything these channels offer. It's not that the problem with cable is television (as a medium), it's that there's too much crappy programming and it costs too much to license.

Re:Give me my $4 back then! (2, Insightful)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807915)

The value in these channel is not for you, it's for the advertisers.

Re:Give me my $4 back then! (2, Insightful)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808309)

You do know that MTV/CNN/ESPN are generating the money that pays for many of the lesser-watched channels that you probably enjoy, right...?

The grouping is from the content providers (5, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807415)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re:The grouping is from the content providers (4, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807615)

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

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

          Brett

There's no technological reason... (2, Insightful)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807975)

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

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

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

Re:The grouping is from the content providers (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808371)

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

If you remember, it took several years ... (5, Funny)

six025 (714064) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807525)

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

Fixed that for ya!

television channels are so last century (4, Interesting)

viralMeme (1461143) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807535)

They just don't get it, we don't want to subscribe to a hundred channels. What we do want is watch what we want when we want and not have to subscribe to half a dozen services on top of our ISP fees.

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

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

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

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

See also:

Regular columnist Bill Thompson wants it all. And he wants it now. [bbc.co.uk]

Re:television channels are so last century (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807745)

While discerning viewers are moving away from the traditional viewing model, what evidence is there that the undiscerning, passive masses are? These must be the people TV is targeting because nobody I know can find a damn thing worth watching.

I don't think TV channels are done just yet. I do think that increasingly, anything with a level of sophistication above navel gazing reality show is going to be distributed online.

Re:television channels are so last century (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808213)

Latest movie, ok top dollar, old movie, $1:00 a time.

I am interested in your composite money-time concept and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

WMC gets the final nail in its coffin (2, Insightful)

fragMasterFlash (989911) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807593)

Lets face it: the Windows Media Center PC concept has been faltering for its entire existance, and even now in the Windows 7 Release Candidate it still fails to provide anything even remotely compelling. The fact that it will not tune ClearQAM cable channels even when equipped with a capable tuner makes it about as useful as mammories on a fish. Why there has been no anti-trust investigation into the obvious collusion between Microsoft and the cable companies over this issue is a mystery to me.

Re:WMC gets the final nail in its coffin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807697)

Mmmm.... fish mammories....

Re:WMC gets the final nail in its coffin (2, Informative)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807815)

Part of the problem is the paranoia Cable Labs has over licensing Cable Cards for use in HTPCs. You have to buy an OEM HTPC with Cable Card tuner and a special BIOS so it only works on that machine. Until one can go onto Newegg and buy a Cable Card compatible ATSC/QAM tuner card that works in ANY PC, WMC isn't going anywhere fast in the DTV era (at least in the US, I hear WMC has decent DVB support).

Cable TV vs Internet (2, Interesting)

cyberbill79 (1268994) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807661)

My first issue with the cable company came when they took SpeedTV (before it became a NASCAR station, ugh.) and made it part of a 'sports package' back in 2001. I had no want of the other stations they wished to 'push' to me as a subscriber, so we didn't pay for the new package. Since then, I have stopped using cable, and have been using such services as hulu and others which are perfectly capable of providing adequate entertainment over my 'turtle-slow' DSL line (note not using cable internet). I am not a promoter of nor benefactor of hulu, but wish to say it might be a better business model for the cable industry than what it currently has in place.

To quote: (and you better know by who)
"We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it wasn't run by profiteering gluttons..."

I am sorry, but why should we pay a premium for what is already publicly available?
-cb

No free cable yet? (1)

hwyhobo (1420503) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807675)

Wait, does that mean the eXtenze hasn't paid for free cable delivery to all homes in the US yet?

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

Cable Company M.O. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27807691)

I highly doubt they would unbundle cable TV packages (what the customer wants)... their track record indicates they would attack the problem by throttling web video instead, perhaps adding a second tier of internet service for twice the price (the opposite of what the customer wants).

I'm not convinced ... (1)

gordguide (307383) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807733)

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

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

I'm going to suggest you thought they were the guys who brought you CDs from great bands who played great music and sometimes engaged in some out-of-control promotion where the main result was they got some butt-ugly DJs laid by way of backstage passes and free coke. Or you didn't buy CDs and had no opinion at all.

Now, look at the cable company. This year, 1994, 1984, whenever. You hate them, don't you? You hated them ten years ago, didn't you? Two decades ago? I know I did.

So, I think it's clear that the cable company is not threatened, and is happily engaged in making bucketfuls of cash of what they see are many future customers. Don't forget how they are considered essential services by the poor, who cannot afford babysitters and couldn't get one every day for 10 times the price of cable. Maybe you can, but the poor cannot, believe me, do without cable.

When the cable company indicates it's worried, by actually answering the phone, showing up, telling the truth, and giving you what you want, then you can say they are in trouble, because that would be a radical change in business model dictated by doomsday scenarios from the moderately clued-in staff, wherever they may be. Until then, it's business as usual, and although they probably won't be letting us in on the secret, trust me, they have a plan for this and every other foreseeable issue in the near future.

After 2019, maybe that changes.

analog cable is big block to à la carte basi (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807751)

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

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

Phenomenology (1)

buravirgil (137856) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807767)

What "I" want/would pay for...is anecdotal. The chasm between Broadcast and Distributed prevails. "You" don't watch such'n'such but advertisers have bet dollars others do. Circling the dial is indicative and instructive of what humanity you share inclusive of age, taste and intelligence. The math used to measure and maximize the behavior of a demographic is a battle of trade secret equal to military campaign.

The current business model cannot/won't hold up (4, Interesting)

surfingmarmot (858550) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807819)

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

Fat Chance (1)

Stan92057 (737634) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807937)

Do you people actually think that the cable companys will pass on the savings if they allow us to actually choose what we want to view?? LOL,not a chance. The prices will sky rocket to make up for the lost income from forced bundeling.

reverse that (3, Insightful)

Danzigism (881294) | more than 5 years ago | (#27807993)

the problem with television is cable. not the other way around. I remember growing up as a kid and always having cable television. flipping through tons of channels and only watching a few of them. even after living on my own for a while, moving in to new places and such, getting the cable setup was always at the top of my priorities as far as my utilities are concerned. then one day I said fuck it. I get off work at 5pm, drive 30 minutes back home, and I have a lot of shit to take care of when I get home. clean up a bit, take care of my plants, fish, cats, make dinner for my wife and I, then finally get some time to relax. after taking care of the things that need to be attended to, I can't justify spending $30, $40, $50+ on cable television. DTV has probably been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't watch TV enough to need cable, but the television I do watch is perfectly fine and entertaining. in particular, PBS broadcasting is something I think everyone should indulge into a little bit more. yes I thought it was boring and there were too many telethons at first, but then I realized that their primetime television is of very high quality, educational, and is enjoying to watch. it is just my opinion of course, and I'd never take away people's Family Guy, Lost, Prison Break, CSI, and all the other mindless television shows, but I figure if you're going to watch TV, you might as well learn something from it and it might as well be free.

No "groups"!!! (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808241)

I want à la carte. Period. Get rid of this "bundling", which is nothing but profiteering.

Not the issue - not at all (3, Interesting)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#27808251)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark my words.

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

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