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FCC Head Supports Ala Carte Cable

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the a-little-of-this-a-little-of-that dept.

Television 295

MikeyTheK writes "PC Magazine Reports that Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC, supports ala carte cable. In a letter to several minority groups on Wednesday, Martin said "While I believe all consumers would benefit from channels being sold in a more a la carte manner, minority consumers, especially those living in Spanish speaking homes, might benefit most of all,". He goes on to argue "Cable companies act as gatekeepers into the programming allowed by the expanded basic cable package, preventing independent content producers from reaching viewers,", citing the example of Black Family Television, which was forced to go online-only because cable operators refused to carry it, even after it reached 16 million homes."

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Translation (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336561)

We think we can make a ton more cash by charging for each channel extra. Basically, what we're gonna do is reduce the nominal fee by a good 20 percent, cut channels in half and if you want anything but the propaganda, you'll pay extra.

We think that the average household will want about 80% of the channels they got today, generating about 120-130% of the revenue of today.

Re:Translation (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336613)

We think we can make a ton more cash by charging for each channel extra. Basically, what we're gonna do is reduce the nominal fee by a good 20 percent, cut channels in half and if you want anything but the propaganda, you'll pay extra.

Of course they'll make more cash this way. Why wouldn't you be expected to pay more to have a special setup different than everyone else?

I don't see what the necessity for cable/satellite is anyway. My wife is obsessed with TV and that's the only reason we have it in the house. I was perfectly happy, when I was living in MN waiting for her to finish college, w/o anything more than an antenna and DVDs.

If it were up to me, we'd be back to rabbit ears and reading books or watching a movie every night. Unfortunately we have one TV hooked up to the receiver and she's in control of it.

Re:Translation (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337181)

Sounds like you need a better wife.

Re:Translation (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337587)

hahahah, that made me actually laugh out loud. nicely done sir.

Re:Translation (3, Interesting)

ystar (898731) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336771)

Naturally, but this might also point to cable companies' desire to stop pushing everything over coaxial at once and move towards a TV over IP system. It's probably cheaper to gain bandwidth by pushing out new cable boxes to everyone than digging and laying new lines. For my parents, who only want one or two international channels, this would probably be a good move.

I hope that it cuts down on the number of folks around the country watching crappy tv once they have to shell out cash for it specifically. If moms and dads aren't willing to pay for MTV anymore, we might actually see the Viacom monopoly start to crumble, fingers crossed. Maybe folks will even start tuning into PBS more often! Yay! Quality entertainment, despite the terrible telethons.

Re:Translation (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337601)

The Daily Show, as produced by Viacom, is a lot more interesting than much of what plays on the local PBS station here.

Re:Translation (1)

ystar (898731) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337677)

Viacom shouldn't be destroyed. They do Discovery Channel stuff too - mythbusters is too fun to lose. But should they control every popular tv channel? Probably not. They certainly put WonderShowzen off the air, and the creators suggested it was more to do with them criticizing Viacom than with bad ratings (which means both reasons, if I had to guess).

Re:Translation (1)

zbend (827907) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336877)

I think the opposite is true. Haven't they tried to force them to do this many times before and had lobbyists squash it? I think last time it was touted as more of a control thing, like parents can choose not to have some channel they don't want. I think your looking at it from too small of a scope, the telecom company, I mean companies, also sell advertising the more TV you watch they more money they make. If they could make more money doing it, they already would be.

Re:Translation (5, Informative)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337147)

Yes, they'll make more... from the standpoint of lowering prices can induce more purchasing.

Take my situation for example:

I can spend $40/month for basic cable, which only gets me my already free over-the-air channels, 10 local public access channels, and 2 or 3 nation-wide basic cable channels (like WGN, CSPAN, and TNT).

I don't watch any of those additional channels, so what's the point?

In order to get the 3 or 4 extra channels I do want (Cartoon Network, Disney, Food, SciFi) I need to buy a $60/month package that gets me an extra 15-20 channels that I don't care for, simply because of how the pricing tiers are structured.

I would be more than willing to buy those 3-4 channels ala carte. I would pay $10/month for those channels as they are things I want to watch that I cannot get over the air. I am not going to pay $60/month (plus fees) to get those channels.

So, the cable company would get another customer, and make more money, by simply offering ala carte programming. I doubt I am the only person in a similar situation.

Alternatives? Satellite, but as a renter, I'm limited in what I can attach to the building, or buying programs individually on iTunes. Other than that, I don't have any legal options, so I just go without.

The same logic is used for music sales. Price an album at $16 and 10 people buy it, garnering you $160 in sales. Make the songs individually available for $1 and 200 people buy individual songs, garnering $200 in sales, simply by putting things in a different pricing scheme. Similarly, it's been noticed that people are more willing to spend $25/month on individual songs, than to spend $40 every 2 months on full albumns.

Re:Translation (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337573)

I can spend $40/month for basic cable, which only gets me my already free over-the-air channels, 10 local public access channels, and 2 or 3 nation-wide basic cable channels (like WGN, CSPAN, and TNT).

Wow. That's what I spend for a couple hundred channels from DirecTV. Of course, that's for one set, plus $5 per extra set, but still, that's bordering on insane.... I get basic cable with about your stated level of service for free where I live. Find yourself a better cable provider. Seriously, when their contract comes up for renewal with your town/city, show up and tear them a new one for price gouging. Suggest that your town would be better off with nearly any other company than theirs and that you should open up the town to a competing cable company. See how many seconds it takes before the cable company agrees to reevaluate their price structure. Make the renewal contingent upon their doing so.

Re:Translation (1)

jcdick1 (254644) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337683)

Call me cynical, but I can't imagine that they would price individual channels that low. I can see $10 per channel per month, but you aren't going to get them for $2.50 each. No way.

A la carte cable channels will pretty much destroy the new standard in quality that a lot of people see happening on channels like F/X and TNT. The revenue sharing that goes on - subscribers pay a flat fee, and TNT gets a chunk of every subscriber on every cable system that carries it, whether you watch or not - allows them to get quality, high-production-value work done with ratings that would get an over-the-air broadcaster into bankruptcy. Without this revenue sharing, most of the cable channels will go away, for better or worse.

If TNT had to stand on its own ad revenue and those people who subscribed specifically to it, "The Shield" would have been cancelled in three episodes.

With a la carte channel line ups, every channel - even Discovery History of Baby Shark Health Improvement Channel - will cost like subscribing to HBO.

Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337195)

I have like 200 channels.

I watch three.

The rest of you can pay for 197 channels of crap, as long as I get my discount rate for having CN, Spike (what? they play CSI and Trek :() and The History Channel. :P

This sounds like the best idea the FCC ever had.

Populist crap. (-1, Troll)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336575)

Cable companies should say "fine". First channel costs what cable currently costs, the rest are free. The biggest cost to the cable cos isn't carrying all those channels, it's the infrastructure. Does this idiot think that people should be able to buy 1/20th of the channels they have and pay 1/20th the price? It's ridiculous.

Re:Populist crap. (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336639)

WHy is the ridiculous?
If I get 1/20th the content, I should pay 1/20th the price.
The market would drive it there eventually.Assuming it applied to cable and sat satellite and fiber.

Re:Populist crap. (4, Insightful)

daeg (828071) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336743)

Not to mention that the public has paid for much of the infrastructure in the form of tax breaks and public infrastructure allotments. They use our public easements, too. You build on the easements you serve the people. Period. Want to fuck the people? Go find your own easements.

Re:Populist crap. (5, Insightful)

davetd02 (212006) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336883)

Except that's not how it would work. Right now you basically pay for the marquee channels in each package and get the rest of the channels free as a bonus. If channels were un-packaged you wouldn't get HBO for 1/20th the price of a premium package. Instead you'd get HBO for 1/2 the price of the premium package and all of the other channels for something more than 1/20th. The total cost of putting it back together would be higher than what you pay now.

Why? Simple economics.

Let's say there's a cable package that has 20 channels including G3, HBO, and ESPN. Slashdot readers are willing to pay $20 for G3 but only $1 for ESPN and $0 for any other channel. Sports nuts are willing to pay $20 for ESPN, but only $1 for G3 and $0 for any other channel. And families are willing to pay $20 for HBO, but $0 for any other channel.

Right now the cable company could charge $20 for that package and all 3 groups would buy it. Everybody pays $20 and gets 20 channels.

If forced to offer it a la carte the cable company wouldn't sell HBO for $1. They'd sell it for $20 in order to capture the family market, who is willing to pay that much for it. Same for ESPN -- they can sell it for $20 and capture the jock market. Same for G3 - they can sell it for $20 and capture the techie market. Now everyone is worse off. The families, techies, and jocks are still paying $20 for cable, but getting fewer channels for their troubles.

You can question the empirical assumptions -- maybe the pricing breakdown isn't that extreme -- but bundling of goods has long been a means to allow people who value different parts of a package differently to enjoy the package for one price.

Re:Populist crap. (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337087)

The total cost of putting it back together would be higher than what you pay now.

Because there's a lot of crap in there I don't want.

Re:Populist crap. (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337095)

Wouldn't it be fun if Verizon came along and got rights to offer channels a-la-carte over IP. You better believe cable would follow suit, and for less than $20/channel.

Re:Populist crap. (1)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337351)

Same for G3 - they can sell it for $20 and capture the techie market

Ye gads man, G3? That's SO last decade! Upgrade to G4 [] ! ;)

Re:Populist crap. (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337765)

What kind of crap-ass parents let their kids watch HBO?!?!?!?!?!?

Re:Populist crap. (1)

Bomarc (306716) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336667)

Watch just how fast the cost would drop by eliminating channels you don't watch. As a Nerd ("Slashdot, News for Nerds...") you wouldn't watch ESPN; which is one of the most "expensive" free channels out there. If I didn't pay for it, others (Jocks) would; as it would then be a 'premium channel'.
There is more to this than just hooking up one line. True basic cable is only $15 / month. Why is my basic cable bill $50 / month; in which I'm required to support (pay for) channels that I don't want -- and won't use?

Re:Populist crap. (2, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336931)

Too bad there's no in-between option, where to get the first channel it costs half of your current cable bill, and then each channel costs 7%-10% of your total now. That would mean that if you watch more than half your channels, stick with your current service. If you're getting cable for only 5 of the channels, then you'll save money and the cable company doesn't have to pay the channel for the subscriber.

Re:Populist crap. (2, Interesting)

spoco2 (322835) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337047)

Yeah, you could be a complete dick and look at it that way, or you could price structure it like:

Cable will cost you $XX servicing fee, that includes YOU CHOICE of Y channels, whatever ones you like (I guess they could have different pricing based on 'premium' channels so maybe you get X premium and Y not so premium channels... whatever)... then any extra channels you pay per channel some small amount.

How would that not work to everyone's advantage? I live in Australia and cable penetration is much, much lower than in the states... because we've got pretty a ok free to air really... but mostly because for the base cable package I get a couple of channels I like plus a WHOLE LOT I couldn't care less about, while missing out on others I would like, but I have to purchase a whole other package on top of the basic one to get them... also getting a whole slew of other crud channels that I don't want.

So, if I could instead pay the basic amount price and get the same number of channels, but the ones I actually WANT, I'd actually sign up to cable.

They'd get another customer

And there are many more like me.

Re:Populist crap. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337061)

Cable companies should say "fine". First channel costs what cable currently costs, the rest are free. The biggest cost to the cable cos isn't carrying all those channels, it's the infrastructure. Does this idiot think that people should be able to buy 1/20th of the channels they have and pay 1/20th the price? It's ridiculous.

Does this idiot think that people should be able to buy 1/8 of a gallon of milk for less than the price of a gallon? I'm cutting my wrists here, people!

If there was competition then someone selling 1/20 of the channels at *1/5* or the price would jump in, and make a profit. Or they'd bundle it with other services, eg - phone, broadband, and 8 channels of our choice; or for 10% extra - phone, broadband and 8 channels of your choice. Its certainly the case here (in the UK) that choice is largely fictional, for TV you get terrestrial, Virgin (cable) or Sky (Satellite) - since they don't compete via the same delivery system there is a cost to switching, which amounts to no choice at all - compared to telephony, where switching providers to switch your billing plan is much easier (to those with sob stories: I said easier, not easy)

It's pretty ludicrous anyway that most channels arent free. Flicking through the other day I found dozens of shopping and game channels that you had to upgrade to see (you *pay* to select the music; you *pay* to play the game. there is no difference between these and the basic channels of the same type, which I'd rather not have in my package anyway!)

The limitations in delivering a la carte can't be in bandwidth, since I can choose to have all the channels available if I want; and I can choose up to 500 PPV films individually. So, its just bad programming (a handful of bits for payment plans) or you just want me to pay for the depreciation costs of the network. Fine - lets do that. When you charge 1/20 of the basic, you're going to increase the number of people who will pay for it; these are now all potential PPV customers. Let them get the rest of the channels, a la carte, PPV for 1 month at a time, and charge them the cost of a PPV movie. At the prices I pay, getting 2 channels that way would cost *more* than a package upgrade - but of course its impossible to get a package upgrade to the set of channels I actually want. The downside for cable is only less regularity in the revenue stream, since it becomes easier for me to renew when Lost jumps the shark.

Re:Populist crap. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337193)

The biggest cost to the cable cos isn't carrying all those channels

Because of course the cable company goes to Pirate Bay and just downloads all those movies and tv shows, right?

Does this idiot think that people should be able to buy 1/20th of the channels they have and pay 1/20th the price?

He might think that, but he's ignorant of the various contracts the cable companies have with the content producers that tell them how they're going to use their channels. Want to resell Disney content? Then everyone has to get the shopping network they just happen to own, along with the rest of their networks. The list goes on and on. Want to carry Nickelodeon? That's got a metric ton of baggage to go with it too.

I know what I'd get (4, Funny)

twocoasttb (601290) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336597)

Spike TV and one 'o them 'God' channels. Just to keep some balance.

Re:I know what I'd get (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337093)

Spike TV and one 'o them 'God' channels. Just to keep some balance.

Speaking of 'God' channels, John Safran vs. God [] is quite good. Was that what you were thinking of?

Personally, I'm interested in more worldly matters. I have an extended cable subscription, but my regular viewing is limited to PBS (news and entertainment), C-SPAN and an occasional Dog Whisperer episode. My sojourns onto other channels mostly serve to remind me how much crap is out there, how often that same crap is repeated, and how much I hate my cable provider.

The funny thing is that I would be willing to pay the same amount of money to see only the stations I want. Provided, of course, that I could something like Al Jazeera, for example, without upsetting the general population.

And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (5, Insightful)

Bomarc (306716) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336601)

Why do I need to pay for others to have 50 sport channels? The SciFi (et al) channel works just fine for me, I don't want to have ESPN; which by talking to the cable companies is one of the most expenive "free" channels out there.

Re:And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337035)

I only wanted ONE channel: The anime channel ^_^

Re:And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337259)

I only wanted ONE channel: The anime channel ^_^

You can't get that in Seattle with Comcast. You can only get 120 sports channels.

Re:And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (1)

fbartho (840012) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337057)

A la carte sounds good to me. With only a few channels I could cover every channel I intentionally watch.
  • SciFi
  • Comedy Central
  • TNT
  • tbs
  • Cartoon Network
  • CNN just in case something big happens
  • and since I'm paying so little why not: Playboy Channel :D

I'm a big fan of those DVR's/cable boxes/decoders that let you save a custom preset list of channels. The directtv box I have and am trying to sell has that, and that was probably my most loved feature. Most of the time I'd just watch the preset list, and it was funny when I noticed about once a month DirectTV would automatically reinsert the shopping channel and an ondemand channel into my preset list. Blatant commercialism. With only 5 channels in the preset, any changes like that I would notice the moment I had to page down to see all of the channels I wanted in the tv guide. I'm annoyed that the comcast box we have doesn't have the favorites list or makes it impossible to find.

Re:And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (4, Interesting)

toejam13 (958243) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337107)


ESPN is a shining example of why bundled packages don't work. ESPN is one of the most expensive channels for cable and sat companies to offer. This is, in part, due to the huge costs associated with the acquisition of broadcasting rights for various sporting events by ESPN.

It is compounded by ESPN's growth model, which is to spawn more specialized sporting channels that they then shuffle semi-major sporting events to. This was done with ESPN-2 and is now being done with ESPN-U. (see here [] ) So if I want more of the specialized channels *I* want, I end up paying more for ESPN channels I could care less about.

The icing on the cake is this - about seven years ago, I paid over $600 for an ATSC/DVB-S receiver in order to pick up HD stations. The sat provider that I went with offered several HD channels for free. Several more channels were added to the HD package over the years, but the cost remained the same. This continued until ESPN-HD arrived. Suddenly, I was asked to pay a small fee to continue to watch all of these channels.

I subscribed to it for a while, but why? Most of the programming on ESPN-HD was simply upconvered NTSC analog programming. So I dumped it. Kept my sat service for a few more months then dumped it completely. Now all I get are local channels, TBS, WGN and Discovery that come free with my cable company's digital cable package.

Both my cable co and my former sat company bombard me with offers for HD PVRs and several months of free service. Why? All of it except for one or two channels is nothing but junk to me. The only way for me to pick and choose is to get a C-band sat, which my HOA would never approve.

So in the end, this cartoon [] from the CSMonitor sums it all up...

Re:And, as a nerd just why do I need 50..... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337635)

Do you have room for a fiberglass shed? HOA be damned.

Does that mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20336605)

As a Slashdotter does that mean we like the FCC now?

The problem with a-la-carte... (5, Insightful)

ral315 (741081) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336655)

The problem with a-la-carte pricing is that it makes it impossible for new networks to get enough subscribers to start up. Think about it - how many of us would personally watch LOGO, the Gay/Lesbian Network? Some, but not enough for it to survive without charging an insane amount per subscriber. How about a network like the old TechTV, or even G4? Most of us would, but most consumers wouldn't. Even networks that would appeal to everyone would have a tough time gaining ground once it went into effect. Would you call in to purchase a new network? Not unless it had a show you really, really wanted. You can make an argument that it should be based on who wants each network, and that you shouldn't pay for networks you won't watch, but I'd argue that package programming keeps the price down for all networks.

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20336753)

The problem with a-la-carte pricing is that it makes it impossible for new networks to get enough subscribers to start up.

Your business does not have a right to exist.

I have many great "web 2.0" ideas, but I don't pursue them because I don't have the cash to support them until they reach critical mass. Where's my government support in forcing people to buy my service?

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1, Insightful)

bagboy (630125) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336833)

Ummm... Thats called competition... If it can't survive.. it can't survive. Consumers should not be forced to subsidize programming that cannot survive on its own - it's called capitalism.... not socialism....

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

Egdiroh (1086111) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337041)

I'm not sure I buy that argument. Your argument is based on people deciding to watch a new network as a consequence of just having it. I argue that that is not the case. Often it is advertisement on other networks that makes one want to view programs on another network. And then advertisements on that network for their other programs might lead to one watching those.

Personally I there has not really been much of a time that I didn't wish I had one or two more channels then I do. That doesn't mean that I want 40 more channels.

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337403)

I'd like a channel that rotated the "odd", new, or low-subscriber channels, a new one every couple of days. Hell, make three or four of them like that.

Cable companies sell more channels to niche viewers, I find new channels that I like. Everyone wins, the little guy is saved.

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337525)

We cancelled cable a couple of years back (and I can't remember when I last watched broadcast TV anywhere other than in a hotel room), but back when we subscribed, we used to get a different guest channel each month. This would be one of the ones that was included with a premium package, and was meant to encourage us to get it permanently.

A la carte channels seems a step backwards though. I've been having a la carte shows since I started paying to rent DVDs instead of watching broadcast TV, and that seems a lot better. My cable company sells me enough Internet bandwidth to stream SD MPEG-4 shows, but I can't get them from anywhere (my main computer is a Mac, and I have no Windows PC, so any service that uses Windows DRM is not an option).

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (2, Insightful)

slashdotlurker (1113853) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337211)

What you describe is not a problem. It is a solution. Why should channels that struggle to attract viewers remain afloat in a competitive system ?

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337275)

They could offer their channel for free one or two months until they've got a good subscriber base. It would create a higher entry barrier, but definitely not insurmountable.

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

dave1g (680091) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337405)

you can start your tv network online for cheap using youtube or bittorrent. for a good example of making money with small time budget. imagine what a company with more diverse programming could do. once they have proven themselves they have more clout with a cable operators. and they could be offered on cable simultaneously. the marginal cost of adding a channel must eb extremely low for a cable operator, they might as well offer it for a few bucks a month to those that want it.

Also with ala carte more directed/more valuable advertising can be given since you know who is really watching and who isnt.

Re:The problem with a-la-carte... (1)

pokerdad (1124121) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337705)

The problem with a-la-carte pricing is that it makes it impossible for new networks to get enough subscribers to start up.

A couple of things. First of all, I don't know about the U.S., but in Canada in the last decade, it has become very common for specialty channels to advertise on other, more mainstream channels; I am sure that would work in this case. Second, the barrier you worry about already exists, all that's different is who's holding the keys; right now a new channel's life or death depends on convincing the cable companies to include it in an otherwise popular package. Third, as others have pointed out, even most specialty channels make their money off of advertising spots, not money from cable sales.

And a la carte solves the problem? (3, Interesting)

fireboy1919 (257783) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336663)

Television is still mostly paid for by commercials. Any channel not generating much viewership isn't generating much sales. Either that, or the target audience doesn't buy things as much.

Either way, a la carte would end up looking exactly the same...except probably with less variety, since channels that are currently not competing would start.

Of course, I'm with the majority, so it'd be great for me. USA, Cartoon Network, Sci-Fi Channel, and Comedy Central are my channels, and I know that they're all pretty popular. Then again...I wonder what's more popular. It could lead to more of that reality-tv crap infesting my channels. There are already full channels that run nothing else.

Re:And a la carte solves the problem? (2, Interesting)

Dracos (107777) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336989)

In a way, it would.

There are so many worthless niche channels out there that skate by because everyone pays for them, but no one watches them. Who in their right mind would specifically subscribe to the Game Show Channel, the Reality TV channel, or any home shopping channel?

Plus, it might have added benefits:

  • Putting G4 out of its misery
  • Teaching SciFi a lesson about canceling all their good series.

Seasonal subscriptions (ie, I would only want FX when Rescue ME is on) would probably throw cable into utter chaos. The cable companies know this, and it's probably why they'll fight it, unless they can convince the FCC to allow some outrageous fee structure for subscription changes, like you can only change once a year, in [random month that makes it not worth doing, based on previous viewing habits], otherwise there's a $5 fee per channel added or removed.

Re:And a la carte solves the problem? (1)

Princeofcups (150855) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337133)

> Who in their right mind would specifically subscribe to the
> Game Show Channel, the Reality TV channel, or any home shopping channel?

My Mom for one. She watches the Game Show Channel religiously. Last I checked she was in her right mind.


Re:And a la carte solves the problem? (1)

Atomic6 (1011895) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337663)

Clearly the problem is hereditary. I kid... actually, most of my family on my dad's side is into reality television, which I happen to hate with a fiery passion. Unfortunately, it is the consumers' interests that will influence what content will be shown, and if someone finds it alarming that a particular type of programming is replacing something superior (example: G4 brutally raping TechTV), then the problem is more fundamental then the pricing structure used by the providers. I for one am extremely concerned about educating teenagers on getting their vision checked; they clearly need strong prescription glasses if they find Morgan Webb attractive.

Re:And a la carte solves the problem? (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337639)

would probably throw cable into utter chaos

It could be easy to implement, just a bitmap that comes down the wire telling the system what channels it is allowed to show. Customer wants to change... call in on a touchtone phone, enter their subscriber number (or use caller ID and a PIN?), select their changes and receive a new bitmap.

Of course, the real problem isn't that there will be "chaos", the real problem is that people will subscribe to the channel they're watching for the duration of the show, then to change the channel they call in and drop that channel and add a new one so they never have to pay for more than one channel at a time.

Could be fixed by only issuing new bitmaps at the start of each billing cycle.

Black Family Channel (0, Troll)

rossz (67331) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336671)

If there was a "White Family Channel", the ACLU, the government, and the public in general would demand its removal.

Just because you ran sed "s/White/Black/g" does not make it ok.

Re:Black Family Channel (2, Funny)

darnoKonrad (1123209) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336797)

HELP! HELP! BROWN PEOPLE have their own TV network! OMG, I'm being persecuted!!!

Re:Black Family Channel (0, Troll)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336805)

There already is a White Family Channel, only it's called TBN and it's really more of a White Christian Fundamentalist Family Channel.

Do you feel BET should be forced to shutdown? I mean, even if it had watchable programs on it?

Re:Black Family Channel (4, Insightful)

IthnkImParanoid (410494) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336849)

I thought Fox [] , ABC [] , CBS [] , and NBC [] were the (mostly) White Family Channels.

The Black Family Channel just happens to reveal their target demographic in their name.

Re:Black Family Channel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337151)

Every single one of those networks feature a disproportionate amount of blacks.

Re:Black Family Channel (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337327)

Yes, I'm sure the executives for those studios sit down and say, "what programming can we schedule that will differentiate us from black television?"

Re:Black Family Channel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337531)

Rather, the executives for those studios sit down and say, "what programming can we schedule that will attract our demographic- constituents who spend money?"

Re:Black Family Channel (1)

IthnkImParanoid (410494) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337603)

I'm not entirely sure what your point is, but I do like your sig. :)

Re:Black Family Channel (1, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337687)

The difference is that it's fine for executives to be racist as long as it's favoring a minority, not the majority.

Re:Black Family Channel (4, Insightful)

netsavior (627338) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336867)

The ACLU defends Klansmen's rights to march protesting the "black vote" just as adamantly as it does African American people's right to vote.

Other than that, keep rocking the suburbs, the white american male is soooo discriminated against... boo hoo.

Cable are forced to package channels (3, Informative)

TechwoIf (1004763) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336707)

The programmers, like Viacom, force cable companies to carry channels they don't want and therefore forced into package deals of today. Remember the brewhaha a few years ago between a satellite provider and programmer, that resulted a crawl text to all subscribers that there faverate channels may be dropped before they came to a deal.

Sports Networks (2, Informative)

M0bius (26596) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336717)

I actually believe the cable companies would like to offer ala cart pricing. The problem is that the sports networks dictate that if they aren't included with every customer, they won't offer service at all. All or nothing. They also charge a ridiculous percentage of the total cable bill per month. Extortionists, it seems.

Re:Sports Networks (1)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336887)

I think the average consumer needs 187 combined hours of Sportscenter each day. And how could we call ourselves a civilized nation if we couldn't watch the Underwater Basket-weaving Finals on ESPN 8 "The Ocho" in prime time?

Alternate channels (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336725)

Companies like BFT that can't get cable traction, should try deals with alternate routes like Live or ITMS. I don't even see why we really need streamed video much anymore, except for truly live stuff - which we can get from over the air broadcasts.

Even news programs I would be just as happy to subscribe to a feed for and get a download that I could watch when I had time.

Having a subscription model also allows for video to be distributed via BitTorrent, really the only model that makes much sense for HD video because otherwise if you ever get a large subscriber base ISP's or servers will start falling over.

Re:Alternate channels (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336823)

The tech's definitely out there. A friend and I have been experimenting with a system to stream a 640x480, full framerate, stereo video feed over RTSP on his friend's gigabit pipe, and so far, it's looking up!

The simple matter of programming, now, is the showstopper we're working on now.


Re:Alternate channels (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337001)

Companies like BFT that can't get cable traction, should try deals with alternate routes like Live or ITMS.

Which is what's going to happen. And which is why you're hearing about this now, because it's too late. All the niche content will move to internet distribution, whereas TV will remain the bastion for the big networks, news, and other live events. (Maybe we'll get lucky and eventually get a Star Trek channel. Between all the series, movies, specials and whatnot, there's enough Star Trek material to fill a whole channel.)

Good. (2, Interesting)

darnoKonrad (1123209) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336733)

I've never ordered cable or satellite because there are only a half dozen channels I care about. I'll take the 6 channels I like and they can charge me 6 bucks a month. For an extra dollar I'll take the university channels. If they want to charge more, well I will continue to abstain from purchasing their product.

Since I've upgraded to Digital TV OTA, I now get a music video channel, and 8 PBS channels -- amongst the others. I could care less about cable unless they want to give me the product I want to buy. Still I think paying for COMMERCIAL television is retarded, but then I don't buy bottled water either.

May actually improve content (1)

jfdawes (254678) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336737)

Allowing people to subscribe to channels on an ala carte basis may actually improve programming. There are so many channels that are full of unmitigated trash, but get "sold" because they are bundled with channels that have a couple of good programs. Those channels would need to start doing some actual programming, or they will find themselves losing what advertisers they do have.

Sounds great (2, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336741)

I'd be happy to pay $1 per month per channel. I'd probably end up getting half as many channels as I do now while paying the same amount, but they'd be the [i]correct[/i] channels. I'd drop 30 channels I never watch and add 2 that I would.

Or, if they want to price the channels competitively, I'd be willing to work with that, too. I'll pay $4 per month for ESPN if it's so expensive, but I'm going to pick it up each August and drop it each January so I can just get college football. At $1/month for ESPN I wouldn't bother.

This doesn't make it hard for new channels to break in, either. Dish Network is always having "free preview weekends" for higher-tier cable and premium content. If you want to launch a new cable channel and get people interested, you might have to (*gasp*) give it away for free and rely only on your advertisement income or your startup capital before you gather a critical mass of viewers. Then, you can add a low monthly fee, and scale it up as your popularity continues to climb. Sounds fair to me.

Re:Sounds great (0)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336915)

Or, if they want to price the channels competitively, I'd be willing to work with that, too. I'll pay $4 per month for ESPN if it's so expensive, but I'm going to pick it up each August and drop it each January so I can just get college football. At $1/month for ESPN I wouldn't bother.

so you'd pay $24 for 5 months of ESPN, but wouldn't pay $12 for a year of it?

Re:Sounds great (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337507)

No, he wouldn't pay $48 per year, would pay $24 for 6 months, and would pay $12 per year without bothering to discontinue service during the months he's uninterested.

Re:Sounds great (1)

davetd02 (212006) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336929)

Does this mean that I get to only buy the sections of the newspaper that I want to read? I mean, I only read News, Sports, and Politics -- can I get a refund on the Entertainment and Style sections?

Re:Sounds great (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337629)

Difference is your cable provider doesn't produce TV programming, they just direct it to your home.

Your analogy would be more like "I only want to read the Times, does that mean the corner store can't also bundle the Sun with it?"

Why would you go to the store to buy two newspapers when you only want one?

Not to nitpick, but... (3, Informative)

immcintosh (1089551) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336869)

It's "a la carte," meaning "by the menu."

Re:Not to nitpick, but... (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337091)

I think in the case of cable TV, "a la cart" is more apt.

Re:Not to nitpick, but... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337593)

Technically, it means 'of the card.' In French, menu means a set menu; a la carte refers to things that are not on the set menu. In English, 'menu' is used to refer to both concepts, menu and carte. Carte has a number of meanings, including card, menu, and map.

They'll never do it. (2, Insightful)

pabster (875594) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336897)

This is all BS and anyone with half a brain knows it. Cable monopolies are not interested in providing consumer choice. If such an "A-La-Carte" system were ever put in place, you'd get 5 channels a month for $60 instead of 200. Sure, they'd be the 5 you want, but would YOU pay $60 for just those lousy 5 channels? They'll kill this idea just like CableCARD...Speaking of, how is that going these days?

Re:They'll never do it. (1)

iPaige (834088) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337003)

It's doing very badly. Poor CableCARD. Never had a chance.

Re:They'll never do it. (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337263)

No, I wouldn't pay 60 dollars for 5 channels...nobody would, that's why the price would fall.

None of the forecasting document I read indicated that it would be nearly this price. 50 cents, to a buck 50 per channel. Excluding HBO, et. al.

Set-up fee:Anywhere from Zero, to 50 dollars
min fee: 10 to 25 dollars a month.

With competition(satellite and fios) the prices will approach cost.

Re:They'll never do it. (1)

pabster (875594) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337419)

Nice fairy-tale land you got there. :o) Do you honestly believe the monopolies would 'sell' a channel for 50 cents? Or even $1.50? Come on! I can just see it now. "ANNOUNCING A-LA-CARTE SERVICE! Pay just $19.99 base charge per month plus $12.99 per channel. Taxes and fees additional." Your laissez-faire theory is great but it doesn't apply in a Monopoly.

Re:They'll never do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337389)

Your absolutely right. I generally watch Discover, Science, History and PPV's once in a while, (Thank you ROM2). I will say though that every once in a while it is nice to just channel surf and see whats on. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. With a la carte I lose that. Well actually I don't but many of you will......

To the submitter/editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20336951)

It's "à la carte" or at least "a la carte", which means "from the menu" (à in this context means "from" and la carte is the menu). There's no such word as "ala" in any language known to me. There's also a subtle difference in pronunciation. And even more importantly: the article does get it right and you didn't. Is it really *that* hard to just check the word if you aren't 100% sure? I mean, one of the first entries that comes up on Google when searching for ala carte is wikipedia's entry on "à la carte".

- An Anonymous Coward whose native language isn't even French or English

Re:To the submitter/editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337287)

I think the editor was referring to Ala, the Muslim God. Maybe you should read a book or something, frenchie.....geez.....

This will never happen (2, Informative)

ReTay (164994) | more than 5 years ago | (#20336983)

1. The content producers (TV networks) decide what they want to put on and tell the cable companies that it is a take it or leave it deal. If the cable companies puts up a fight they put a scroll in that says Your cable company does not want this channel call them to change their minds on the highest rated shows. They try to force high cost programming in to the lower tiers so everyone that has those tiers has to pay for it. The golf channel did this just before the US Open. It did not work. They are on a high tier package.
2. The cable provider will calculate what the cost to maintain the connection (and some profit and that will be broken out on your bill. Then each channel will be listed.
3. The number of channels will go down. Right now some networks run lower cost channels in the higher tier and subsidize it with a more popular channel. With out that subsidy there would never have been a History Channel for example.
4. The content providers will not let this go through, not the cable companies.

why not basic rate plus per channel? (1)

shalla (642644) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337037)

I don't see why it would have to be all or nothing pay-per-channel or pay-for-3-million-channels. Why not a base rate that everyone pays for their basic cable plus a per channel rate to add any number more channels? Right now I have the option of getting basic cable, which lacks ESPN and the NFL Network (yes, I'm one of those people who requires them, folks), Comedy Central, and the Sci Fi Channel, or paying an arm and a leg for a whole slew of channels I really don't care about.

While I realize that this means there's no chance for start-up channels to get a following, I'm pretty sure they can find a way around it if they try. Free/reduced rates for the first few months or starting out on the Net...

You want NFL (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337591)

I *need* FSN West... At least between April and October. That's where 90% of the Angels games are on.

Go Halos!

My order (3, Funny)

planckscale (579258) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337075)

Hi, what can I get for you today?

Yes, thank you, I'd like your High Speed Internet Access.

Ok, no problem, the half order or full size?

Full size; the one with 3mb/s down 712 up.

Do you need hardware or setup?


Sure no problem, anything else?

Yes, I'd also like a few side orders?

Ok go ahead.

The local channel 17, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel, Military Channel and AMC.

Anything else?

How much is your ESPN package?

4.95 per month.

No thanks

Would you like to try our HBO package? It's free for the first 3 months.

No thanks

Okay that's a Full size order of high speed internet for 19.95, plus 6 sides at .95 cents a piece. Anything else?

Nope that will do it for now.

Including taxes, fees and internet monitor labor, your total is $76.65.


illiterate plebs (1)

inzy (1095415) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337079)

à la not ala

it's french and roughly translated mean with.

ala does not mean anything.

They will just do what they did with CableCard (1)

samwh (921444) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337203)

AKA pay lip service to the feds. "You can get just the Sci-Fi channel for 5 dollars a month! (plus 50 dollars operating expenses)!" "Or get our premium package for 60 dollars a month! Over 9000 channels!"

Who benefits? (0)

amightywind (691887) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337207)

minority consumers, especially those living in Spanish speaking homes, might benefit most of all

It is not clear to me that part of the FCC charter should be promoting non-English speaking households in the United States. Foreign language households create problems of assimilation, economic integration, application of law, public services... I have no problem with duel language households or the availability of native language television channels for them.

A La Carte is french for More CEO Money (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337223)

When you get your Red Bushie Dictionary out, you will find that the translation for "A La Carte" is "Excuse To Raise Rates On Consumers While Providing Less Service".

It's in there before "Above The Law".

I would go for it (1)

basketcase (114777) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337239)

I don't know or care how anyone else would use it but if I could buy only the channels I want I would have cable TV right now INSTEAD of using an antenna. The few cable channels that I want are worth paying for but I am not paying for every cable channel there is. It just isn't worth it. I wouldn't buy many channels because I don't want much but my bill would be some amount greater than the $0 it is right now.

From a Cable Operator's View... (5, Informative)

teebob21 (947095) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337255)

I work in the billing department at a smaller cable company, so maybe this post is biased. At least it's biased in the direction of truth, rather than ranting consumer speculation. I also used to work as a field technician for the same company, so I am in a position to know this issue.

First, most cable and satellite companies would be contractually prohibited from complying with any such mandate from the FCC, if it were to be announced tomorrow. Viacom, HBO, Universal, Disney and the over-the-air corporations demand carriage of their lesser-known networks in exchange for a reduced rate on their main programming. For example, our customers demand - and we willingly pay - for ESPN and ESPN HD. The cost per subscriber per month is about $14. We also carry ESPN2, at a discount. If we dropped ESPN 2 from our expanded basic tier, the SD and HD ESPN channels would cost us $9/mo per sub. We are currently in month 4 of a 36 month contract at this rate. Thus, we cannot break this portion of the bundling in our lineup for the better part of 3 years.

Additionally, it is a simple fact that forced a la carte offerings would lead to higher customer cost, and reduced quality. Most cable companies continue to carry their basic tier in analog. A la carte analog results in a daisy chain of traps at the pole or pedestal, degrading the signal across the spectrum. A la carte digital requires equipment in customer's homes with remotely accessible security. You can achieve this with CableCards or Switched Digital. The two are not currently compatible, so it's an either-or situation. In all honesty, MY employer wants CableCards to work correctly. When they don't, it generates higher costs in the form of truck rolls, and lower customer satisfaction.

This is to say nothing of the increased cost due to the creation of rate codes in the billing software for each channel, and the corresponding training of 1700 CSSR's on how to use them. It also ignores the time/cost of converting 79,000 video subscribers to an a la carte plan, so on and so forth.

Kevin Martin has a lot of dreams, most of which seem to be based in fantasyland regarding cable companies. I would be happy to have him shadow me for a week to see how these companies actually operate, so he can realize the true costs of what he dreams up.

Re:From a Cable Operator's View... (1)

Lysander Luddite (64349) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337491)

Couple of honest questions here.

Consensus is cable cards simply don't work and a newer spec promoted by the cable industry is on the way. True? I thought cable cards were required to be supported after a certain date, but I don't know. Would that solve the a la carte technical issue?

What would it take to drop analog cable? I haven't heard of any mandate, but a decade ago I heard cable companies wanted digital to more closely monitor usage and have more remote control. Is there a reason the rollout is so slow? Is it because of set top boxes?

Seems like it is a mix of technical hurdles and contractual obligations that is the resistance here. If the technical issues are dealt with is it just a matter of which industry is going to steamroller the other?

SlashDot is all about the Black Family Television (1)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337267)

Every year we have to watch as SlashDot continues to be ignored for being "too black".

For Reference (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337379)

I would support Ala Carte cable. It'd love it. That said, I figured I should provide a little perspective.

I was reading the previous issue of Forbes a day or to ago (not the current one the one before that) and they had a story about the guy behind High School Musical and how Disney has made their channel much more popular than it used to be (at the expense of quality and watchability, in my opinion).

The article mentioned that Disney is the 4th or 5th most expensive cable channel, and costs 89 cents per subscriber for a cable company to buy the rights to show. I'm not positive that's right, but it was in the 80s.

This would be fantastic. Look at the quality of programming that HBO and Showtime must produce to keep getting viewers. Now try to watch Spike TV for a few minutes. That's what competition does.

Re:For Reference (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337413)

Sorry to reply to myself, but that's 89 centers per subscriber per month. Forgot that last part.

Telecommunications Act of 1996 (1)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | more than 5 years ago | (#20337481)

I remember when they passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and there was all this talk from Congress and the media about this sort of thing. The legislation was supposed to "free us" and let us choose from a wide array of competitive content providers, which would lower prices and generate higher quality content, etc;... What happened? Pricing goes up, while the competition goes down.

How many cable providers are there really? It's the same with Direct TV, et al.

Surely this can be subverted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337699)

Let's say you like SciFi channel, and so you decide to subscribe to that channel, and only that channel. The countermove is to distribute SciFi's programming across 20 channels. So now Star Trek is on the Gay/Lesbian channel, Babylon 5 is on the White Christians With Short Hair channel, Battlestar Galactica is on the Fake Wrestling channel (as opposed to the other wrestling channel), etc. When you talk about cable, "channels" are an old-tech convenience for categorizing things before we had Tivos. If you make it unprofitable for the cable company to let you categorize things, then they'll stop doing it.

What you really want is ala cart programming, not channels.

I'd buy it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#20337745)

I currently get internet access Time Warner Cable with no cable TV service. It is strictly the price that is keeping me from subscribing. If I could get the local channels, Comedy Central, one of the news channels, and the maybe Weather Channel for under $10 a month I'd seriously think about adding that onto my service. But with the current pricing structure, no way.

This would be great for customers, but I do not see this happening anytime soon.
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