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Cable TV A La Carte Part 2 245

Posted by chrisd
from the happy-new-year-from-the-cable-company dept.
Ravi Swamy writes "Here's a followup article in Business Week to the Cable TV A La Carte story from last month. For those who actually read the story it was only A La Carte if you wanted to add HBO. Apparently cable companies don't know about the law or are going to reclassify HBO as a 'tier' instead of as a channel to get around the law."
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Cable TV A La Carte Part 2

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  • Yes, HBO (Score:3, Funny)

    by HyperColor Underware (628462) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:09PM (#4958768)
    But... Perhaps I would personally be interested in getting a CowboyNeal Channel.
  • Our legal system (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Huogo (544272) <adam.thepeacock@net> on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:11PM (#4958774) Homepage
    This is, IMO, one of the problems with our legal system. Ok, HBO is a channel. Well, we can't make someone buy more hardware and still call it a channel, so we'll just call it a tier. Same thing, different name. Whatever happened to spirit of the law?
    • The problem is that HBO is like 10 channels. "Channel" is single.

      Spirit of the law is bad. The words of the law is much better. This means though that we need good lawmakers and rule makers who consider this type of thing.

      Bummer for now.
    • Re:Our legal system (Score:3, Informative)

      by LostCluster (625375)
      The law is a good law. The problem is, the cable companies are dragging their feet a tech standard that once in place will end this racket.

      Here's the rule: The only tier everybody has to buy is the "basic" tier, and the local regulators get to set the price of that tier. By law, that tier must contain the local broadcasters and local access stations, and usually that's all it contains.

      Every other tier has to be sold one-by-one. Multi-tier discounts are illegal. They can't make you get the "digital basic" tier in order to get HBO... they can't even make you get the analog standard tier.

      But in order to get anything digital off the system, you need a digital decoder. And right now, the digital decoders are a closed spec, so the only place you can get it is to rent it from the cable company. This is why it seems like you have to buy a $10.99 "digital basic" package in order to keep your HBO subscription. Really, you're paying $10/mo to rent the reciever, and 99 cents for the useless channels. You can drop the useless channels and keep your 99 cents, but there's not much you can do about the equipment rental...

      However, the FCC is requiring the cable companies to come up with a standard for digital cable boxes, so that you can buy the hardware at your local electronics store, and then they hit it with the authorization codes telling it what it can and can't decode. This'll mean you can buy your way out of that decoder rental fee, and only pay for the content tiers you want.

      Of course, technical problems are very easy to find when you want to roadblock a project, so the cable companies have an interest in keeping the decoder setup the way it is now. Hopefully lawmakers will put an end to this feet dragging soon.
      • >The only tier everybody has to buy is the "basic" tier, and the local regulators get to set the price of that tier. By law, that tier must contain the local broadcasters and local access stations, and usually that's all it contains.

        No thanks! Why should I buy something I can get for free? Seems silly to me...
        • Re:Our legal system (Score:3, Informative)

          by LostCluster (625375)
          The crazy thing is, broadcasters can demand payment for being retransmitted by cable companies... their "free signal" isn't so free when you get it over cable even at the wholesale level. What's more, if a a cable company deems a station that pumps out religous programming that hardly anybody watches as having negative value, the broadcast can then demand that the cable company take the channel for free with no way to turn it down.
      • The big full function cable boxes here(Time Warner in WI) are able to be programmed over the wire...which is what happens to rented boxes. If you wanted to buy the box you get an auth. card from TWC. Cable company doesn't care if you buy or rent the box, there profit is about the same either way. But the problem is nobody wants to buy the boxes at 500 a pop, many people have more than one and that gets expensive quick. And how long before the tech changes and you need a new box anyway. (OH and if you want an HD box that costs a lot more to buy, but the rental price is the SAME!!!)

        On the main topic. TWC in WI does allow you do get just the basic package and a box with whatever premium channels or packages you want.
        • The problem is, you can't get a Digital-cable ready TV, or a box from anybody other than the cable system because it's a closed standard right now. It's the $500 box or nothing.

          Think of how much a telephone costed when AT&T was the only place you could buy one. On episodes of Press Your Luck from 1984 that are now running on Game Show Network, contestants win $750 phones!
    • "Whatever happened to spirit of the law?"

      The spirit of the law died when Lincoln invaded the southern, soverign states following their cecession from the union. It was during this time that more laws were violated than in any other time in history, including the suspension of Habeas Corpus by the President. Even though this particular action was later ruled unconstitutional, it proved that when it comes to breaking the law, it's easy to get forgiveness than it is to get permission. Once our leaders began to set aside the law when and where they saw fit, the "spirit" of the law was dead.

      "Spirit of the Law"
      R . I . P . 1861

  • I would get rid of screenshop, qvc, best direct and all the other stupid shopping channels that nobody watches anyway.
    • by LostCluster (625375) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @11:50PM (#4959003)
      Unfortately... those channels are actually keeping youy cable rates down.

      The shopping channels are paying the cable companies to be there by giving them a cut of the sales in exchange for the cable space. The cable companies could use the help. (Before you think they're making out like bandits, where'd all Adelphia and AT&T Broadband's money go... yep, the content owners.)

      Where this all colapses is where the shopping channels get their hands on a broadcast station. Then they cable company has to carry the "local broadcaster" for free, and gets no cut of the money. That's a loophole in the law that needs to be closed.
      • Unfortately... those channels are actually keeping youy cable rates down.The shopping channels are paying the cable companies to be there by giving them a cut of the sales in exchange for the cable space.

        So why not make these channels optional too, but with a negative price, i.e. get QVC and take $0.50 a month off your bill? I expect most people would just program their TVs to skip over these channels anyway, just like we do now, but with a bit of a savings.

        • The payment isn't per viewer, it's per dollar in sales. Buy something from QVC, get $5 off your bill. (Of course, QVC's prices are usually higher than what you find in stores for the same thing, which is why they jump over the chance to get "exclusive" label things that aren't in stores.)

          Right now, you're just lucky that there's some dolt elsewhere in your town who is buing more than her fair share of QVC products, so that the pennies are getting averaged into everybody's bill.
  • I can just see this Basic Service- $24.95 per month .AOL.COM tier - $29.95 per month .COM tier - $39.95 per month "High Level" tier - $59.95 per month Gotta love the "Tiers"!
  • Big Fat DUH! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by andyring (100627) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:18PM (#4958795) Homepage
    It's only common knowledge that people want choice. I would subscribe to cable myself if I didn't have to order a bunch of crap I don't want just to get one or two channels. It's certainly technologically feasable, but it's all about money and control. Cable companies obviously realize they have monopolies all over the place, and that opens the door wide to bending over and getting screwed [goatse.cx] by the cable companies (or any other monopoly). I don't give a damn about anything sports-related, but forcing me to order sports channels to see one non-sports one I want is outrageous.

    It would be like going to the store for a bag of Doritos and being forced to buy 1/3 of the entire aisle to get the bag of chips you want. Consumers would never stand for that, and I'm surprised they've put up with this for so long.

    • Insightfull AND a goatse link? It's true - what is the world comming to?!?
    • Wow, this is the first time I've seen a post with a goatse link modded up as "Insightful". These are strange times, indeed.
    • Well, Microsoft has been forcing people to make that "choice" for years, now. And the problem is that people (in general) are unknowledgeable enough that they don't realize there's something wrong.

      The fact that, for most people, the only communication they get on issues like this federal rule are from the relevant service provider (some real honesty there), rather than from the feds, ensures that the profit loss from service cancellation from a few slashdotters won't even scratch the surface of the piles they're raking in from the mooing masses.

  • As always... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jasno (124830) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:20PM (#4958800) Journal
    The solution lies in new technology, not new legislation. If there were more content delivery methods(yes, theres satellite, but we need more), the cable companies would lose their monopoly and would have to compete for our business.

    Wireless cable, telco delivered video on demand, cable blimps, and streaming video over IP come to mind. Better yet, lets come up with a system where we simply buy bandwidth from a carrier and use that as a 'universal content delivery mechanism' for cable, phone service, etc.

    I know this has been tried before (by cable co's and telcos at least), so why did it fail?

    Its always amazed me how the government can work for years trying to solve a problem and a new technological innovation will come along and make the entire debate irrelevant.
    • The problem is that there are large companies that do content creation and distribution. They may own a movie studio, broadcast network, radio and television stations, cable channels and cable systems. This creates many reasons for not selling content to third parties. The DBS people ran into this problem when they wanted to distribute "cable channels" via satellite. The cable operators had ownership interests in, and strong influence over many cable channels.
    • Re:As always... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LostCluster (625375)
      Nope. Nope. Nope.

      The problem is not the distributors, but the content makers in the first place. In order to carry the popular broadcast stations and cable networks, you must bundle in that company's less popular cable networks, some of which are upstart no-names nobody would pay for if they didn't have to.

      There has to be a law unbundling networks at the wholesale layer before content distributors can have packages that reflect what you want to get and nothing more and nothing less.
    • Wireless cable

      Uh... you mean like broadcast TV?

      telco delivered video on demand

      I predict that this won't happen until we come up with a DRM system that actually works. Content providers want to protect their media, and the law says they have that right. We as a society would be better off-- in the purely lazy, couch potato sense, of course-- with a good DRM infrastructure than without one. I will, of course, get senselessly flamed for this by people who wouldn't recognize a good DRM system if it bit them on the DVD player. Here's a hint: a good DRM system will protect consumers' rights just as much as it protects licensors' rights.

      streaming video over IP

      How do we fix the fact that this simply doesn't work very well? I've been of the opinion for some time that the best video-on-demand system would be a store-and-watch one. You request a movie or show and your STB/TV/player/whatever starts downloading it. Depending on your bandwidth, the program might take a minute to download or it might take a day. When it's downloaded, you can watch it.

      Those of us who own TiVos kind of have this system already. I look at the list of programming that's available over the next several days and decide what I'd like to see. When it comes along, my TiVo records and caches it for me. I can then watch it at my leisure, as many times as I like until I decide to delete it. Couple this mode of operation-- particularly the "season pass" feature that lets you specify repeating program events-- with IP-based content delivery and we might have a winner.

      Ultimately this loops back to DRM, though. I don't think content providers would be too excited about this idea unless they knew their rights would be protected, and obviously consumers won't be happy unless they know that their rights are also protected. Ergo, we require good DRM.
      • by alexhmit01 (104757) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @01:20AM (#4959260)
        The notion of streaming VOD is retarded, which is why we've been promised it for 7 or 8 years... Tivo gets close. Right now, PPV movies tend to cycle so each movie is on four channels, starting every 30 minutes. If your STB recorded the first 30 minutes of each PPV movie (sent on a separate, hidden channel, so you would have it before the movies started showing), then you could VOD them for free. Think about it, at any point I am no more than 30 minutes away from the beginning.

        And, to make it proper VOD, it should grab from all 4 channels (feasible even on DBS, as long as they are on the right transponders so that it can all come off one LNB), so 4 minutes fill in each minute. You have the first 30 minutes queued up (so you can rewind fast foward, etc), and within 30 minutes, the entire 2 hours block is recorded.

        I would expect an HD Tivo (DirecTivo model, maybe an HD Tivo cable version when the open cable really happen) in about 6 months, gauging us early adopters. Once that happens, we start moving into Tivos w/ really big hard drives. The HD channels may always be limited, but the 480p spec allows streaming DVD quality films, which is probably "good enough" for PPV, etc.

        Give it 2 years, and DirecTV and Dish release a killer VOD system on top of their time-shifting PVR boxes.

        TV tech is finally getting good. :)

        But yeah, DRM is necessary. However, the studios need to realize that the stuff will get out, but they can keep it out of mainstream. Downloading TV/Movies won't occur unless convergence happened, and its a dying fad. People don't want interactive television, most people don't want PVRs. People watch TV to vege, and that's the reality that all us gadget freaks miss when we wonder why something isn't there yet.

        However, at least w/ the tech, hopefully they will make new and exciting toys for those of us willing to pay a premium. VHS took off, S-VHS and Laserdisc never hit mainstream, but DVD got HUGE fast. PVRs didn't take off, VOD isn't taking off, maybe whatever comes next will.

        Personally, I think that DTV + PVR could do it. I have the Sunday Ticket demo package (4 months w/ everything free), and I was planning to keep all the channels. Currently, I barely take advantage of them, because the ReplayTV doesn't have enough space to store movies. Give me an 80 hour PVR that will find movies for me, and I'm willing to pay for all the movie channels.

        If you could find movies for me and I could have 30 movies (plus all my weekly shows), constantly rotating, of which 5 could interest me... Good bye Blockbuster, and I'm happy to send ~$100 to DirecTV each month.

        Alex
    • Wireless cable

      Late contender for oxymoron of the year...

  • No thanks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kungfuBreaks (537144) <kungfuBreaks&netscape,net> on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:22PM (#4958808)
    I own both a VCR and a DVD player, but I don't have cable. It's just not worth it to me; all the global news coverage I could possibly want is available online (in fact, I rank many blogs far higher than most mainstream media outlets), and I can rent tapes and DVD's when I'm in the mood for a movie. If and when cable (or satellite) companies decide to offer true per-channel subscription, I might be interested in getting HBO or an independent movie channel say. Until then, I think I'll hold on to my money.
    • all the global news coverage I could possibly want is available online (in fact, I rank many blogs far higher than most mainstream media outlets)
      Does this includes Slashdot?
    • Re:No thanks (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Flounder (42112)
      I find the $30 a month I spend on Netflix to be a far better deal than anything I could ever watch on broadcast TV.

      Between Netflix and internet access, I've got on-demand 24 hour news. Coverage of any sporting event I could ever have interest in. No commercials (except banner ads and pop ups, and there's software to eliminate those). A much bigger variety of movies than I could ever hope to see on cable (especially in older movies).

      I do miss The Simpsons and Babylon 5 reruns. But now that both shows are coming out on DVD, I'm set. I do miss vegging out in front of the tube at 4am, but I do get alot more reading, writing and coding done now.
      • I had heard of netflix before, but I hadn't realized exactly how it worked. I like it much more than Blockbuster already. But it's website says it's only 19.95/month + taxes. Are your taxes that much?
        • There are various levels depending on how many movies you want to have out at a time. The standard level is your $19.95, allowing 3 out at a time with no monthly limit. There is a lower level $13.95 plan which allows 2 out at a time, and only 4 rentals per month total. The poster you replied to has the $29.95 plan which allows 5 out at a time. There's one level above that as well, $39.95, which allows 8 out.
    • I was amazed how much free time I had after I cancelled my cable ( when Directv anyway ). I didn't think I watched much tv a day, but I guess a show here, and a movie there adds up.

      Now I'm getting much more done, including coding projects I'd been dragging for a while.

      I'll be honest, I miss it now and then ( especially the sundance channel ), when I get really bored, but I always seem to find something slightly more productive or entertaining to do.

    • I can't get TV reception in my part of New York City (who'd figure?) and there's little worth watching anyway. But I've got a DVD player and a VCR too - I see no need whatsoever to pay Time-Warner WAY too much money to bombard me with ads - I get enough of that in Manhattan (I work by Times Square - ick).

      However. If I could get just The History Channel, Comedy Central, AMC, Bravo and SciFi I'd do it.

      Sidebar - I kinda like the fact that TV shows are being released on DVD. I just picked up the first Season of Law & Order cheap and LOVED it: no commercials and no scheduling. Easily worth 40 bucks. :)

      Triv
    • I enjoy the discovery channel
      My wife likes BET/MTV/etc.
      I watch ESPN for RedWings Hockey
      I like the clarity of the reception

      $40/month is a little extreme for these few things so if I could get it al la carte, you know I would be paying like $20 as originally it cost...

      if the local stations begin to transmit in digital, I will likely drop the cable, but Ill miss my discovery channel...
      • Don't know about your area, but when we switched from Extended to Basic service ($42 -> $12) here in Oregon, we still got the Discovery Channel, AMC, and a couple other stations along with the local networks.
        • What I have is basic Plus.

          The plus is BET/Discovery/ESPN2/Comedy Channel and a few others.

          Bizarre that the "blackest" city in the Nation population wise (Detroit) has to pay extra for BET, not that I even watch it. I call that extortion.

          its like another $5 and they don't offer it to you, they give it to you without asking or telling. You have to tell them to take it off. My mom didnt even know she was paying extra...
  • by FireBreathingDog (559649) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:22PM (#4958809)
    I don't see what the big deal about a la carte is; every time I order sushi that way, I end up ordering too much, spending an assload of money and getting stuck with a bunch of uneaten raw fish.
    • by Lord Bitman (95493) on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:45PM (#4958864) Homepage
      Extend the metaphore. Think of each channel as one sushi.. thing.. whatever the individual unit of sushi is (wrap? I dont know.. whatever)
      The way it's currently set up, the only way to get any sushi at all is if you order [this is based on my cable company] 69 sushi things. To me, that's too much sushi, and some of it I wouldnt even want by itself. The resteraunt won't even let me share what I get with others(as illogical as this sounds. Even if it seems unenforceable, there are federal laws stating that you CAN'T share your sushi with someone else. The resteraunt doesnt have to enforce it because they got the government to) Some of the sushi has weird spanish spices on it, some of it is prepared Kosher, some of it is prepared with alchohol and served on the same big plate even though I ordered with my family. The only way to get the house special is to get another 10 peices of shrimp. Well, not really. They serve the house special on the same big plate, but they'll only let you eat it with their special silverware, and if you try to get at it with the chopsticks you had to bring yourself, they arrest you. The silverware costs more money, and comes with an e-mail account, but also comes with a menu that will tell you which of the sushi has alchohol in it- something you can get to otherwise only by waiting for somebody to walk by with a menu, all the while talking about how to get cheap patents, and of course calling out information about other sushis which if you'd have been able to eat you wouldnt be paying attention to the menu guy anyway. ... did I have a point? :)
  • by mrscorpio (265337) <twoheadedboy AT stonepool DOT com> on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:25PM (#4958814)
    The area I live in is served by Mediacom. I get basic cable service for $14.95/month, and that's only because I would have to pay a "you're going to steal cable anyway" fee of $10.00 per month if I don't take it along with my cable internet (DSL is too slow, expensive, or both here). The only "extra" channel I get is the Food Network (which rules), but I would love to get The History Channel, Comedy Central, and MTV2, but can't unless I go for digital cable, which starts at like $60/month and gives me a bazillion channels I don't want. Sorry, but I'd rather do without than to overpay for things I'm not going to even use. I hope this legislation will bring about some positive change in the near future.

    Chris
    • That $10 penalty fee was created because the FCC fell alseep at the wheel.

      They have ruled cable modems as an "information service" rather than a "cable service". This difference means that all of the regulations that apply to cable TV do not apply to cable modem services, so they can can charge people who refuse to accept their other services more than people who don't. If there were regulations that required them not to charge punative fees to those who refuse to buy their cable service, they'd actually have to do the work to install traps so that cable modem lines didn't have to have the low-tier cable service on them... that's simple equipment, but it costs money to get it and install it, and they're just lazy.

      If the FCC would classify cable modems as a "cable service", then that would mean local regulators would also have the ability to regulate the quality of the service... speeds, which ports are blocked and which aren't, etc. That'd be a good thing.
  • Then I would only have to pay for /.
  • Digital Cable Recievers [24.125.76.224]

    And don't forget to do everyone a favor, and help add to the compatibility database...
    *grin*
  • I am probably one of the many consumers out there who don't read Business Week, but now I know.... and as this article says, am kinda mad.

    I know where I live, my cable rates have gone up a lot. I pay almost $100 a month for basic digital cable and my cable modem. There are so many channels that I don't even want, but I pay for them anyways. Even so, and even if the rules have changed...... I doubt there is anything I can do about it. They would laugh at me if I called and said "take of ESPN... I don't want to pay for it"

    I'm sure many slashdotters have cable service at home too... what choices do you think you have?
    • In India... (Score:2, Interesting)

      In India, the information and broadcasting ministry recently passed an order requiring all cable operators to install equipment which would allow users to select their own channels. Although it is similar to what is seen in the US, the main differenciating feature is that there are no "bouquets" by the cable operator. A look at the minisculine costs invovled would surprise you.You pay around 20 rupees (thats around 35 cents)a month for HBO, another 20 for Star movies (the competing movie channel) and so on and so forth. However, The @!#ing TV companies however, might well take advantage of the habitualy lax enforcement by indian authorities and form a cabal of sorts, driving up costs and making artificial bouquets of channels (with the better ones and not so good ones bundled together) so that the channels get bunched together by the TV companies rather than the cable operator. I think there is some provision in the law against this happening to, but im not sure. HBO sucks. You wont believe it, but they show ads every 10 minutes in india. 10min-ad(2min)-10min-ad(2min) . Heck.. i know which movie channel I am going to suscribe to..
  • by secondsun (195377) <secondsun@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @10:41PM (#4958854) Journal
    Thankfully many stations (like showtime) are putting their more popular series out on DVD after each season (Queer as Folk season one has been out a year and season two is set to come out in a month or so just in time for season three to start up). This is competition to the cable industry, and it is only going to increase. DVD's are cheap to stamp, mpeg-2 is cheap to make (esp since 99% of all editing now is done digitally on nonllinear systems, mpeg-2 is just an option!). And the internet means that it is cheap to ship, sell only 10,000? Stamp 10k, ship and then forget about it. The only thing that I think would be better would be if I could download everything (say pay 50 for a season and download eps after they are aired). But the cable paradigm is beginning to fade in the wake of new and more diverse, more specific techs.

    Secondsun
  • Man do i hate cable sometimes. I have battled this thing out several times. I used to have the 'gold' package from ATT cable. This included every premium chanel they offered. I soon got tired of the 80 bucks a month and I wanted to drop some of the premium channels me and my wife didn't watch. I soon found out I couldn't just get rid off cinemax and keep HBO I had to loose them both and go down to the silver package which cost about 10 dollars less. Well after a few months of downgrading packages I was left with just basic digital cable. I would love to be able to keep my basic digital cable and just order HBO, I don't want starz or any of that other shit that comes with the gold package. Because of this I have really thought about switching to satellite, but I don't know if they're any better and I have heard your reception gets fuzzy in the rain. In this case legislation might be needed since it appears all the major cable companies are following the same price guidelines which leaves the consumer out in the cold.

    PS. My cable box says dolby digital on it but i have yet to find a digital output on the back of any kind.

    • Sounds like you and I have the same cable box. There is a nice little port that says SPDIF, but it's blank.... nothing there. What about Y/Pb/Pr outputs for video? It's a digital signal coming in right? Why must I have an interlaced signal coming out? And the best part: I called and asked for a better box... something that had REAL digital output. They laughed. Unfortunately, it's not like I can just got to bestbuy or costco and get a better box either.

      I also asked about HDTV via cable... they said that it's technically not possible.... on their website however, it's an option in several markets. Don't feed me bull, just tell me that my market isn't big enough to bother with... and that we have no competition.
      • Yeah, I had that annoyance when I had "digital" cable.

        Coax goes in, with "digital" signal, only coax comes out. No red, white, yellow, optical, etc, just an RF plug. How the hell can you call that "digital"???? Because it displays the time and channel on a "digital" read out??? Thank god DSL is cheap here.

        Bye, Bye cable, and commercials. Hello P2P Simpson's episodes. I would watch the commercials to "pay" for the episodes, but they aren't shown frequently enough to meet my needs. "Digitally" or otherwise on cable.
        • Meister, the signal that travels from the headend over to the Hardlines up to the tap(that is where your house drop is connected) is infact a digital signal.
          • In the places where they've actually upgraded the system. Here, my city's system is analog all the way, using equipment that was installed in the 1970s.

            They say they're gonna upgrade, but they're about to blow right through a contractual committment to have it done by the end of Winter.
  • Ever notice now it seems when there is a commercial on the channel you're watching and you go to surf, all the other channels you watch are showing commercials too? I don't remember this happening five years ago.

    • I've noticed that too. And its starting to piss me off... Doesn't happen to often during the daytime but during prime time (6pm-10pm roughly) it gets really bad especially on channels like MTV, Comedy Central, USA, and FX.

      I don't remember this 5 years ago either...

  • This amazes me. The individual channels thing, I've been doing for a long, long time, with my (canadian) Starchoice dish and TechTV, and for PPV events? I'm pretty sure us Canadians, even the basic cable users, can just order a single pay per view event.

    Is it actually true that you can't order a single PPV event? I'm baffled. Flabbergasted. Snamboozled.
  • I spend roughly $100 per month on cable TV services. My cable modem adds another $40 to the monthly total. If I get a pay-per-view movie or two, that adds a few bucks more. I wouldn't be without cable since I rely on it for entertainment and news (especially financial). With about 130 channels, plus another 50+ music only channels, it's a pretty decent service. Granted, I'd like to have all of this for around $60 a month (plus the cable modem).


    I don't mind HBO being considered a part of a tier. While HBO consists of about 12 channels here (HBOHD/HBO/HBO+ East, HBO/HBO+ West, HBO Family, HBO Comedy, HBO Signature, etc.), it offers a whole lot of choices. Throw in the Showtime and Cinamax packages (probably 30 channels in all) and I'll call it a tier.


    I don't want ala carte cable. It would be expensive (to manage and therefore to buy) and it would mean I would have to spend much more time picking and choosing between channels. Even at $1 per channel per month, my bill would quickly double if I picked everything I now get. I don't know how I'd pick which channels to get rid of - BBC America? VH1 Classic Rock? CNBC? No thanks, I'll take what they offer until it doesn't meet my needs any longer.

    • Not everyone is as independently wealthy as you are. No one has enough time to watch 130 channels of cable tv, either. If you have as much income and free time as you indicate, you can afford a-la-carte. If you're too stupid to "pick and choose between channels", then you can't have that much income and free time after all. I'm calling bullshit on this post.
  • Other Excuse (Score:2, Informative)

    by jhunsake (81920)
    I just received a letter about this today. However they (Mediacom) don't mention the federal law at all, they blame it on the local authority. That's the first three sentences. Then the rest (a full page) is advertisement for their digital stuff, of course.
  • Previous story (Score:3, Informative)

    by CoolQ (31072) <quentinsNO@SPAMcomclub.org> on Wednesday December 25, 2002 @11:24PM (#4958935) Homepage
    For those of you who are sick of using the search "feature", here is the previous story, "Cable TV A La Carte?":

    http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/11/07/138248 [slashdot.org]
  • I know rates are high, and there is little or no competition in the area, however, its only television. It is not like you need television to live, it's entertainment. So what if you cannot afford HBO or Animal Planet.

    It's like a car, if you want a certain feature, you most likely have to buy it in a package. Yes, I know it is a bad analogy, due to the fact that there is a lot of competition in the car arena, however it was the best I was able to think of.

    I am not saying what the cable companies do is right, I am trying to put it into perspective. I am a cable customer, and I do pay around $100 per month for it, so I know how much they can screw you. But, I choose to pay it because I get pretty much what I want, and it doesn't put too big a hole in my pocket.

    Like I said before, it is only television, you do not need it.
    • The problem is, there is a tendancy now to do exactly what we complain about Microsoft doing all the time, stuffing in stuff you don't really want in order to lock out other competitors. The New York Yankees took their broadcast rights away from the MSG Network in order to put their live games on their own YES Network. YES demands about $1.75 per subscriber per month, and insists it gets placed on the Standard Analog tier. Not only did this result in a nearly-direct passing through of the cost to everybody (even Mets fans and those who don't watch Yankee games) in areas where the cable system added YES, but it also meant that TechTV, a network that lacks connections to the major media empires was selected for deletion on several systems. The only system that refused to inflict that rate increase on its subscribers is Cablevision, who is now facing the PR headache of Yankee fans deprived of their baseball. Moral: It's easier to force-feed your customers what the content owners want, than to try to play hardball and risk losing the "valuable" content in order to keep out the overpriced content. The reason why the price of cable TV is rising is because the cost of content is rising. The cable companies are not pocketing the increases (think about Aldelphia and AT&T Broadband's finanacial shape) while the cost of wholesale cable channels is going crazy. There needs to be copyright reform. Right now, the content owners have too much of an advantage in when striking deals, so the cable companies are forced to pay higher prices and pass them on to the consumers.
  • All the cable companies really need to do is offer a custom-tier option. You pick 10 channels, they sell it to you for +13.95 a month, and the problem is both legally and economically solved.

    Not bad, eh?

    ~geogeek
    • That'd be beautiful, yet the content owners won't go for that.

      See, the content owners get paid by the cable companies for each subscriber who could watch their channels, not for those who actually do. Most people already only really watch 10-15 cable networks and wouldn't miss the others, however that means marginal cable networks would see their number of households slashed dramatically.

      For example, I know there's an audience for ESPN Classic, but it's certainly nowhere close to the number of people who'd put ESPN itself in their top 10 list. However, why is ESPN Classic on all of our cable systems now? Because Disney insists that cable systems that want ESPN must accept paying for and give a good channel position to ESPN Classic. Don't want ESPN Classic, you lose ESPN too... no cable operator can get away with that.

      Sure, providers would love to offer a "Pick 10 for $15/mo, Pick 20 for $25/mo." type package, but the channel owners simply will not allow that to exist because some of the marginal networks will find themselves without the critcal mass needed to survive. The money consumers would save would come from them, so they're not budging. They don't want to see that kind of package offered, so they won't let it be offered.

      Until an a la carte pricing scheme is required at the wholesale level, you'll never be able to get one at the retail level.
      • I hadn't thought of the point you made-- quite interesting.

        That issue could be solved, I think. Take my idea again, but lets say the package is more like this:

        You chose 7, we choose 5, +11.99/mo. I bet that would still me an immensely popular program. The cable companies choose 5 channels based on the initial 7 chosen by the user. Or, the cable company provides sets of 5 channels to choose from with your a la carte order.

        The wholesaler is now part of the picture, and the customer is given a great precieved choice (its very marketable to both parties). The provider only stands to profit.

        ~geogeek
      • Umm.. no. AT&T Broadband, here in Seattle offers ESPN and ESPN2 in the standard package but ESPN Classic is digital-only. I know because I have standard cable.
      • Actually, it is done, but the scheme I've seen is on the order of "buy this package, and pick any 3 of these other 10 channels for $nn more!"

        More choice than none, but not by much.

  • Cable companies have to pay for programming. They pay Time Warner, etc on a per subscriber basis, and they get discounts if they offer certain combinations of channels from the same programmers to their subscribers.

    For cable companies its frequently cheaper to have a channel lineup that includes say, 4 time warner owned channels to a subscriber, instead of just one or two (i.e. they have to pay less for the programming).

    Remember, a large percentage of what you pay for cable goes for programming fees, then they have tons of other costs, etc... They probably are being greedy to an extent, but, its not exactly as cost effective for them to provide programming on a per channel basis (due to programming charges, and other things).
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Thursday December 26, 2002 @12:02AM (#4959043) Homepage Journal
    What we need is COMPLETE de-regulation of a terribly over-regulated industry. It's regulated for the industry and it's regulated for the consumers -- regulations that often baffle the mind and battle each other!

    If we could completely deregulate the industry, including the LOCAL regulations that decree that a cable company shall be a monopoly ("common carrier") and that satellite dishes could be placed on anyone's private property without regulations, I think you'd see many more providers popping up. Why should a town only have ONE cable company?

    In a truly unregulated market, competition WOULD provide for what the MARKET wants. No, you can't just get HBO for $2.99 a month and EPSON for $1.99 a month because there are many fixed costs for cable. The premium packages are the best value because they subsidize the costs of smaller packages. Just like airplane companies make all their money off of first class full fare passengers, with coach passengers only giving them tiny incentives when the plane is full, cable carriers make their money off of the people who get the whole ball and chain.

    Honestly, all these regulations "for the consumer" only end up making government have to offer incentives "for the provider." They don't work. The Austrian School of Economics shows time and again that there are no consumers and no providers -- we're both just trading items of value for what we think is more valuable. If you completely deregulate the markets (COMPLETELY) you'll allow competition in, and competition will ALWAYS offer what will make both sides happy at the lowest level.

    If you think you can offer better service to people who want it, in a deregulated economy you can! But today, how can I offer cable to you a la carte, at a price you want, if the cable provider in your area is a government imposed monopoly?

    Study the realities of further legislation -- you'll only see that more government introduced "rights" for the consumer will hurt us in the end.

    dada
    • Just like airplane companies make all their money off of first class full fare passengers, with coach passengers only giving them tiny incentives when the plane is full, cable carriers make their money off of the people who get the whole ball and chain.

      Two wrongs don't make a right!

      The old dog major airlines run this way. These are also the same major airlines that are now losing millions of dollars a day and going bankrupt fast, United being the biggest loser when last minute business travel declined, one of their goals during reorganization is to get a more rounded profit from all passengers and not have to rely on the top 10% to pay the bills. Wether they can change fast enough is to be determined.
      Southwest, Jetblue, Airtran (formally ValueJet), Frontier, and small regional feeder carriers do not have they same subsidizing fare system and all are making money and experiencing double digit growth rates, these guys are running lean and mean and built from the ground up with that in mind. They are giving the consumers what they want and efficent enough to provide it. If the airlines were running as near monoplies or under a back scratching business plan like the cable industry, the smaller upcoming airlines would not have adapted and would have been gone long ago.
    • Why should a town only have ONE cable company?
      No real good reason, but you can't get there from here. If your local government is already used to having this revenue, how can you take it out of the budget without everyone screaming?
  • by SecretAsianMan (45389) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @12:36AM (#4959129) Homepage
    One interesting solution, and I've heard this before somewhere: I previously had 'digital' cable (which isn't all digital, but that's another story), cable modem service, and even 'digital' phone service (didn't notice any difference, but it was cheaper than [company2]) through [company]. Then I got unemployed for a while, and those things became tough to afford. The first thing to go was the phone service. I have a cell phone and use it almost exclusively, and my cell service is a good plan with free nights and weekends. Cable TV service was tougher to let go of, but I eventually realized that all I ever watched was the History Channel. Most of the shows there are okay but IMHO aren't nearly as enjoyable as an honest-to-[deity] academic text. So I got rid of the cable TV service. I still had cable modem service; its priority was somewhere around the food-and-water level.

    A few days ago a wage-monkey came out to uninstall my telephone interface. After he let himself into my backyard, I politely went out and asked him what the hell he was doing. He explained and then asked me which of the three cable jacks in the house my modem was plugged into. My first reaction was that I didn't have time to trace which line terminated at the appropriate wall jack. Then I realized that he aimed to disconnect two of my three jacks, since I 'obviously' didn't need them. I regarded this idea with disdain, since I wanted the freedom to move my cable modem to a different jack if I were to rearrange my house (and such an activity *is* planned). I told the monkey as much, and he finished his work without disconnecting any jacks.

    A few days after that, I accidentally turned on a TV that was still connected to a cable outlet. I saw a picture! I scanned through the channels, and behold, I now had more active channels than I did with the 'digital' service. I wasn't looking to break the law; I simply stepped on the damn remote control.

    My suggestion: lose the cable service, keep the cable modem service. Watch TV. Oh, and one more phrase: at your own risk.

    • Most cable co's will let you have your cable modem and also basic cable for 10$ per month more. So just call them up, and cough up 10$ a month, and dont feel guilty.
    • Wage-Monkey is an interesting term to be throwing around when you've just finished telling us that the tech was there because you "got unemployed".

      The "wage-monkey" has every right to disconnect additional outlets that you aren't paying for.

      You could also "accidentally" remove the trap on your line (depending on where you live and who provides your cable service) and get a la carte HBO. And by a la carte I mean free.

      What you can do, and what is legal, are often two different things.

    • My parents did this with Time Warner, until Time Warner got wise to the situation, and installed a filter of sorts at all the homes that had cable modes without cable TV service. This filter prevents viewing cable TV but leaves the cable modem operational.
      • No, they remove the RF filter and this is what renders th cable TV inoperative. The real trick is to see what the part number is for the RF filter they left on the cable modem jack and get a duplicate.

        In many areas, they cannot turn on Cable Modem service without turning on Basic cable. That's why many times the cable companies act like you can only get broadband if you have basic cable.

        I personally made the switch to DirecTV last year... I wish there was a third option. The no local channel B.S. with DirecTV is the major drawback to the service. I ended up getting a smart card programmer and hacking the system so I could get ABC. Total BS.

        Cable TV should be regulated like a utility. In many cities they will not even allow for another cable carrier to run wire. This strikes me as the very essence of a utility. In saner times, the Cable companies would be acting as a utility. Only in our corrupt age we deregulate and give them more freedom.

        Sad.

        ~Hammy
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @01:17AM (#4959248) Homepage Journal
    I used to think that it was a way for content providors to extort money out of their customers, until I worked at an unnamed Satellite TV company's call center.

    Now I see why there is no a la carte.

    It would raise rates all over the place. People who think that they'll get a better deal by only paying for one channel will quintuple call volume at call centers. By calling in several times per day to change programming.

    HBO in the morning, ABC in the afternoon, NBC at night, HBO again the next morning. Rinse, repeat.

    In order to keep the call center staffed, companies will need to increase the number of operators on the line at any given time. People don't work for free. And the effect of a la carte will be instant. Meaning overtime for countless employees. That is a higher cost. Higher operational costs equal higher consumer costs. Those cheap bastards who are trying to get over on the system will cause everyone else's prices to skyrocket.

    LK
  • Why watch TV? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 26, 2002 @03:00AM (#4959504) Homepage
    I've never had a television. I only see TV in the gym where I work out. It seems to be mostly commercials. What's the point?

    I have a DVD player, and don't mind buying movies. I have walls of books. But broadcast TV? Why?

  • Tech TV (Score:2, Funny)

    by tetro (545711)
    Imagine getting Tech TV without having to sign up for the Oxygen Network and those other retarded channels.

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