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A La Carte Cable TV Channels? 382

ryantate writes "I was reading TV Tattle and came across an interesting story in the Washington Post about people who spend less than $30 per month on cable buying a la carte. To do this you need a huge C-band dish, but Sen. John McCain wants to require a la carte pricing on digital cable. Content companies like Viacom are fighting it -- they don't want people to be able opt out of their less established channels. And at least one economist type, this guy in the Financial Times, seems to think we'll end up paying just as much under a la carte pricing. EchoStar is game but says Viacom and others are refusing to go along. "
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A La Carte Cable TV Channels?

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  • by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:03PM (#8874832) Homepage Journal

    The TV broadcasters don't want a la carte programming. The reason they say, cost, is not the real reason. For years the broadcasters have been using extremely low wattage, spread spectrum messaging to program our minds via channel packages.

    For example, if you have a "Family Package" consisting of a cartoon channel, Lifetime, etc, the broadcaster will send a weak Bogon-Lyston Mind Control signal of approximately .02 nanowatts across each of the family networks to your television set. (TVs have uniquely addressable IDs in them, they don't want you to know this)

    To date this has been undetectable by standard means, however donning a tinfoil hat will block the signal and you will feel the difference within a few weeks.

    Now, if a la carte programming goes through the broadcasters and their masters (The Illuminati) will have to use a stronger signal on their most popular channels. A stronger signal may be detected which would reveal their nefarious plans.

    Back in the mid 1960s, a brilliant electronic engineer had detected an odd signal embedded into television signal of The Ed Sullivan Show. Decoding the signal, he found messages saying "DRINK MORE SOFT DRINKS" and "SUPPORT THE VIETNAM WAR". The engineer sounded the warning bell, but to the media itself. Bad move. He was heavily drugged for over 3 years then was placed at the center of a CIA/NSA/Illuminati organised mass murder crime scene. That engineer, Charles Manson, is still in jail suffering the ravages of the drug therapy.

    Don't believe me, search the net! The truth must be tol... wait a sec, there's someone at my door..

  • An idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by va3atc ( 715659 ) * on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:03PM (#8874833) Homepage Journal
    One time payment category
    Cheap terrestrial antenna : $40
    HDTV decoder [] to pull stuff off antenna : $130

    Monthly stuff
    Netflix [] for unlimited DVD rental: $20/month

    Grab your local news off the antenna (in HDTV if available), watch your favorite TV shows with your Netflix account

    FYI: There is some unlimited DVD rental folks that work exactly like Netflix here in Canada
    Movies for me []
    Cinema Flow []

    I'm interested in trying one of them, anyone have previous experience with them?
    • Re:An idea (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Also in Canada, I believe the community co-op cable supplier in Regina, SK has long offered channels a la carte. I think they also pay less per average, not more. They put in the infrastructure to do it years ago.

      The difference between this sort of system and the more commonly seen kind seems to be that they're a co-op, hence not driven to bilk their customers out of as much money as possible for programming they don't watch.

      "Bundling" in generaly is far too often about the scaling of a con than the econo
    • Re:An idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by -tji ( 139690 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:24PM (#8875078) Journal
      I have *almost* gotten to this level..

      I've been addicted to Netflix for over 3 years now. That instantly cut my TV viewing to almost nothing. I always had a movie that I wanted to watch, rather than the junk that happened to be on TV.

      After getting a widescreen TV to view DVD's in their native format, I tried out the HD capabilities of the TV with an HD tuner. I was very impressed with the quality, and my ability to get a perfect picture via antenna - even though using analog reception my picture always sucked. Now, I can get the big sporting events I want, as well as a couple TV shows (The West Wing & Fear Factor) with no monthly costs.

      But, I didn't take the plunge and cancel DirecTV yet.. For most people, there will always be a small number of stations they must have. For me, it's ESPN-HD, HBO-HD, and HDNet Movies. For my grandfather, it's The Weather Channel and CNN. For my Dad, it's the Golf Channel.

      So.. I think that the suggestions you gave make ala carte channel selection even more useful. If I can pay $15-$25 for the few channels I actually want, that's a big improvement over what I have today - paying for dozens of SDTV channels that I literally never watch.
    • Re:An idea (Score:3, Interesting)

      by homer_ca ( 144738 )
      Netflix or your local video store is a better deal than paying extra for movie channels, but there are few alternatives to the basic cable/satellite channels if you want to watch sports and cable only shows like South Park or The Shield. What else can you do? They're all pretty inconvenient compared to cable.
      - You can find some popular TV shows on BT.
      - Some official sports websites like and have live streaming video for pay.
      - You can go to a friend's house to watch a favorite show.
      • Re:An idea (Score:3, Interesting)

        A lot of shows worth watching come out on DVD. If you don't mind waiting a bit, you can watch them through Netflix.

        Currently working my way through Oz and the Sopranos via Netflix, I'm sure I'll find something after them.
      • Re:An idea (Score:5, Insightful)

        by timmyf2371 ( 586051 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @06:13PM (#8875600)
        Netflix or your local video store is a better deal than paying extra for movie channels, but there are few alternatives to the basic cable/satellite channels if you want to watch sports and cable only shows like South Park or The Shield. What else can you do? They're all pretty inconvenient compared to cable. - You can find some popular TV shows on BT. - Some official sports websites like and have live streaming video for pay. - You can go to a friend's house to watch a favorite show.

        In theory, it's a perfect idea. However, watching a video stream on my 17" CRT just isn't the same as watching a soccer game on a widescreen TV.

        The selling point of cable is that it's convenient.

        I currently pay 38 per month which gives me the different sports channels, movie channels, and all the other channels. Yeah, you do pay for many channels you don't watch, but then how do you decide the value of the channel? Is it unreasonable to value one cable channel at 5 (the cost of a movie ticket) for a whole months programming? If you watch over 8 channels the value begins to sink in.

    • For specialty digital channels. $2/channel (some are more expensive). They provide package discounts (buy 5 for $1.50/channel) too. You just need some political backbone.

      <Insert political joke here>
    • Re:An idea (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      Grab your local news off the antenna (in HDTV if available),

      Analog TV over antenna absolutely blows in this area, and I'm out of range of HDTV broadcasts.

      watch your favorite TV shows with your Netflix account

      I've had a netflix account for quite a while now, and as good as it is, it's no replacement for TV. If nothing else, expect a turn around of about 3 days, and no service on the weekend, so you can expect to watch about 1 DVD every 2 days, on average.

      In fact, what has changed my attitude torwards T

  • by utexaspunk ( 527541 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:05PM (#8874851)
    a la carte would be a good thing, in the end, for the quality of programming- it might get us more commercial-free tv, too. look at the quality of the programming on HBO compared to the rest of TV. now, if we can get a la carte programs. I'd pay a few bucks to subscribe to a season of the Sopranos and not get Sex in The City...
    • by alen ( 225700 )
      HBO also costs me $17 a month on Time Warner Cable. How many people would pay $17 a channel to watch TV? Even $5 a channel would be a lot.
      • how much does it cost you to watch commercial tv? when you consider wasted hours of mindless channel flipping and being persuaded to buy crap you don't need, i'd say it might be a bargain to get a channel worth of tv that's not encumbered with all that crap for $5/mo...
    • Commercial free is exactly the opposite of what they are shooting for. Of course Viacom doesn't want Ala-Carte, that would mean half their "less established" (read boring/worthless) media outlets would not be able to sustain themselves on subscriptions, and thus, they would have half the advertising time to sell. This is the reason they all only offer "packages". They give you one or two things you WANT to watch, and make you pay to keep the other 10 channels alive so they can sell ad-time on 12 channels in
  • by cscx ( 541332 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:05PM (#8874858) Homepage
    You need the entire cable system on digital cable, to prevent cable theft. It's either that or install 60 traps on everyone's drop line!

    Of course, many people will complain about digital terminal rental fees, cry extortion, blah blah; which is why it won't happen. That and people will complain about renting a terminal for every TV set. Right now cable can brag that it works without special equipment (analog, that is) on any modern TV.

    Places like NYC which were using addressable terminals since the early 80s can do this, but for 99% of the cable-wired USA this will never happen. Too much infrastructure to change.
    • From the post: "Sen. John McCain wants to require a la carte pricing on digital cable"

      Analog would presumably still come in bundles. Since most (all?) digital includes analog service, I assume that this would only apply to digital only stations. Of course, I didn't RTFA either.
    • It's either that or install 60 traps on everyone's drop line!

      Or 1 programmable trap. This IS the 21st century, we DO have the technology.
  • by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <> on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:05PM (#8874865)
    $tv_show? What are you talking about? Never heard of it. I don't have a tv, haven't owned one since $date. You should get rid of yours and spend more time on $activity[0], $activity[1], and $activity[2].
  • No MTV (Score:2, Funny)

    by dan_sdot ( 721837 ) *
    Even if I had to pay the same amount I am paying now, it would be worth it to get rid of MTV. I can't stand that channel, but then again, I never did like Britney Spears. I hate that I am forced to have that crap broadcast into my home (even if I don't ever tune into it, the feed is still there). Its a matter of principal.
    • yes, i agree. currently i don't have cable because i'm a poor grad student. but soon i'll be able to afford it. howver, i'm not going to get cable until there's a la carte programming, even if it is the same amount of money in the end. i don't want to buy a package deal where i get 5 religous channels, that means the crazy religous freaks are getting some money for me. where as if i could only pay for what i wanted to watch, then i'm only supporting the channels that i agree with. just like you, i don
    • Re:No MTV (Score:4, Funny)

      by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:13PM (#8874948) Journal
      Really? I actually like it. But the way I watch it is I turn on MTV and *MUTE* the TV. Then I play my own music off of CDs. A little bootyshaking and cleavage in the background makes almost any kind of music just a little bit better. For example, try Gypsy Kings over a Jay-Z video. Nice!
      • We've got something better. One of our channels has a new late night "show". Houres and houres of good looking girls in bikini jumping on trampolines. hmmmm. Life is good.
    • So V chip it, you insensitive clod. I can't believe you're too principalled to allow a channel you don't like to go unwatched on your TV, but not principalled enough to use your remote and block the channel.
  • by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:06PM (#8874873) Homepage
    That would have to be some pretty carefully-worded legislation. Just demanding that a la carte pricing exist doesn't mean it will be attractive.

    "Well, Mr. Consumer, we recommend getting the 'all you can eat' package; for just $50/month, you'll have access to over 1,000 channels!"

    "But I'll only watch ten of them, can I only pay for those?"

    "Absolutely! We're pleased to offer a la carte pricing! And we can offer you each of those channels said ten channels? Let me see...$6.00 a month per!"

    • Very insightful. In fact, you've drilled to the core of the problem with A La Carte pricing. It'll save negligible cash, because the channels you don't want to pay for aren't really costing you anything. They're just there to make what you have to pay seem like a better value.

      If the COST of a delivering a single satelite feed -- channel licensing, cable, maintenance, customer service, etc -- for a single feed was $5, they'd need to charge you at least $5 per channel to cover costs. I think we can agree on that. However, on that same feed is a LOT more than just your channel. There may be a hundred channels, or there may be three or four. The cost BEYOND that $5 to deliver another channel would be pennies per.

      So, assuming a 50% markup (which is pretty good), they can sell you one channel for $10. Or, they can sell you a dozen channels for $11. Most cable companies figure you'd prefer the latter. That's why channels are offered in such unusual tiers.

      Let's say you want Comedy Central. Along with Comedy Central, on the same satelite feed, come 30 other channels. It costs very little above the recoupment cost to give you all 30. So that's what the do. Those 30 might include some strange bedfellows -- religious channels, channels of syndiated programming, shopping channels, nature channels -- but really, you're getting all of them for free, or close to it. You're just paying for Comedy Central. It's not like $35/70 channels = $.50/ channel. It's more like ($28/first channel) + ($.10/additional channel * 70).

      The cable companies would have to mark up the per channel cost -- or set a "channel mimimum" -- to the point where getting three or four channels was less money, but it wouldn't be that much less. And why should we legislate that? What's next, legislating that K-mart has to sell me only pair of boxer shorts out of the three pack if I want it?

      I have never used the valet key that came with my car. But I did not have the option of getting the car without said key. I could have made a fuss about this, but look: the cost of the key was probably close to zilch -- figure it took a few weeks to engineer, a few minutes for a robot to install. Split that over the production run of a several hundred thousand cars, it's still less than a dollar a car. Would I bitch and moan about a dollar when I'm already shelling out 15,000 of them?
      • by rainwalker ( 174354 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @08:24PM (#8876782)
        I agree with about 95% of what you have said, except for your per-channel costs.

        Note that Echostar (Dish) is for this, but the cable companies aren't (or are indifferent). It costs Echostar virtually zero to split up their channels. They already have a 100% digital system, with all company-controlled boxes. Their distribution costs are fixed, until a satellite falls out of the sky. They are already providing all channels to all viewers, and the boxes limit what you can see. Since they already have an account management system you can access via their website or an on-TV menu, all they have to do is add checkboxes for what channels you want to watch, and change you some minimum fee plus a nominal fee per channel. Add, say 15% to make it a good deal to keep the packages, and everyone's happy. This is very much not the case with the cable companies, which is why they aren't interested.
    • In parts of Ontario and Quebec, you can get your TV signal from a company called LOOK. Full digital broadcast, but you have to have line-of-sight to their microwave tower.

      For something like $18/month, you got the "basic" package, which includes all the typical networks and other stuff that basic cable has. That was a selling point right there, easily the cheapest TV package going.

      Then, you could start adding additional channels for around $2/month each, or any 10 channels you wanted for $10. Of course, ha
  • by esac17 ( 201752 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:08PM (#8874899)
    A lot of times small cable channels get their business or make their money by late night channel surfers who have nothing better to do. Or the mom who is at home watching days of our lives and decides that during commercials she is going to flip through channels. The show that they are watching will very often catch the eye of the 'surfer' and next thing you know, you have a customer.

    If it was cheaper to go a la carte, I can't imagine anybody wanting to pay for anymore than what they already know, so you are are sort of screwing out the little guys who want to get recognized. They can't afford to buy commercial spots on other television stations (plus why would they let them), so this is their only form of advertisement. I remember a television channel that started up a couple years ago, and I was just flipping through and they had a show on the history of sex. I was interested so I started watching it.

    But hopefully this will all be gone with OnDemand starting to become more common. The little guy can create a show and have it on OnDemand, and then you pay .30 or so for it. Now THAT would be cool.
    • I doubt a la carte plans will destroy package programming. The key is, choice.

      C-Band providers offer it both ways. Getting a package gets more channels for the money, but not everyone wants the number of channels, they just want specific channels.

      The only issue for me is the cost of the c-band dish, I've been looking for a second hand one. For other people, the issue is zoning or those damn housing associations that prohibit anything they legally can, the only thing stopping some of them from banning t
    • No, this will screw over the most expensive non-movie channel, ESPN. It costs the cable co's a fortune.
    • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:44PM (#8875303) Homepage
      during commercials she is going to flip through channels. The show that they are watching will very often catch the eye of the 'surfer' and next thing you know, you have a customer.

      The problem with this is that people creat favorites lists with a very limited amount of channels on them. Customers have been flipping channels, but only seeing the ones on their favorites lists. Direct TV collects statistics on their customers, and apparently notices this trend. What they have been doing lately to combat this is removing all the channels from the "master list" and then adding them all back on again. This effectively adds all the channels to all the favorites lists. Its a dastardly little trick that makes favorites lists completely pointless. I might as well memorize channel numbers. Its been happening about once a week lately. Its like DirectTV wants to put us all back in the 1980's when the favorites list hadn't been invented yet.

      If I wanted to watch channels other than the ones on my favorites list, I would go looking for them. I don't need help finding new stuff to watch. And I don't need help screwing up my favorites list. The cat can do it all by itself.

    • Even further back than that: December 2002 /. story []


      November 2002 /. story []

      But those really were about ala carte cable. This story is about ala carte SATELLITE: "His television bill is about $25 per month. Yours? Often twice that much, ... Angry? Angry enough to pour concrete in your yard and plant a motorized 10-foot satellite dish [emphasis aded], like Cooper did more than 15 years ago?
  • by tealover ( 187148 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:08PM (#8874902)
    Ordering cable channels a la carter provides a tempting opportunity for the cable providers and their content-provider cohorts to bleed us to death with fees.

    I can imagine it now.

    "Yeah, I'd like the MTV 14 Channel"

    "That will be $2, addition to the $10 activation fee"

    "$10 activiation fee ?!? What the hell is that?"

    "Sir, this is a fee we assess to cover the cost of processing your transaction, as we have to send the truck out to your house"

    "Why can't you just flip a switch at the computer?"

    "Sir, our systems don't work that way."

    "Well forget my order. In fact, I want to drop MTV 2 that I'm currently getting"

    "No problem sir. That will be a $10 deactiviation fee"

    • you forgot the next part.

      "What? Ok, forget you. I'm getting a Sattelite Dish. Cancel my subscription; you're not geting another dime from me."
  • by Not_Wiggins ( 686627 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:09PM (#8874903) Journal
    Seems to me that the cable companies/media companies want you to purchase bundled products so they can justify higher prices.

    To my subject, I'd equate it to record companies making you buy a whole CD of some artists songs when there's really only 1 or 2 hits on there that people want (I say "make" with respect to not offering just the one or two songs individually).

    Sheesh... it *really* ticks me off that Disney is forcing cable companies to buy ESPN for big bucks if they want to carry the "kids" channels, especially since I have no interest in the sports channels (not a fan).

    I don't know about you, but I'm sick of paying for channels I never watch.
  • Goodbye (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pholower ( 739868 ) * <longwoodtrail AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:10PM (#8874911) Homepage Journal
    Of course this would be a good thing for the consumers, up to a certain point. There are some nieche channels out there. The Golf Channel, The Catholic something or another channel, Hell, even TechTV. These types of channels would slowly start to fade away because of fewer and fewer viewers. I like the idea of a la carte, but I don't want some of the better, more nieche channels disappearing.
    • Re:Goodbye (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Little Brother ( 122447 ) <> on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:30PM (#8875145) Journal
      I find it intresting that you (and big business) think that the ability to buy "A La Carte" would be bad for the less wanted stations. I do not have several "niche" channels offered in my area because the majority of the people around me couldn't care less about them. Therefore, the producers of these channels get NO money from my area until enough Cable customers are intrested in the channel to make the cable company want to include it. Under "A La Carte" pricing, however, these niche channels would be receiving my money and the money of many people like me who like their special content.

      Saying that cable TV A La Carte pricing would hurt the little stations is like saying breaking up ClearChannel would hurt the small bands and record producers, because they couldn't get national coverage. The problem is, the small people would be able to get more access to markets if the content provider didn't require something to be popular (or at least WANT it to become popular) to allow the content to reach the public.

      Come on folks, the big cable companies' claim that they act as they do to protect the smaller channels is codswollop. The smaller companies would benifit from A La Carte Programming and the popular channels that are already on everybody's standard package (but could be eliminated under A La Carte programming) would loose out. THINK ABOUT IT!

  • Okay, CATV was established as Community Antenna Television. An antenna on top of the mountain fed the people in the valley, or some such.

    People bought cable mainly to rid themselves of the hassles of an antenna, you know, the Archer Space Command thing on every chimney, rusting away with TWINAX to the back of yo' Zenith.

    Cable eliminate that, and gave you a few extra channels. But the prices kept going up, and up, and up. Premium channels like HBO offer movies, and appear to have no commercials. Actu
  • by Outosync ( 214525 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:10PM (#8874917)
    With my current Dish Service I'm on their minimum plan that gets me the channels I wish to watch. I only watch about 10% of the channels provided yet I'm paying for all of them. I recently decided that I wanted Showtime so I can watch a couple of the shows on there (Penn & Teller's BS, Dead Like Me) but to get it I have to upgrade my entire plan and pay for more channels that I wont watch.

    And they wonder why people are just downloading shows off the Internet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:10PM (#8874921)
    If we were able to get TV channels a la Carte, our choices would simply be driven down to what the majority of people want to watch. As slashdot readers, most of the channels you watch (Tech TV, the Discovery channels, and others like that would simply not have enough subscribers to continue operation. We would eventually be stuck with two channels: The FRIENDS channel and ESPN. Sure we'd be able to pick what channels we want for a while until the voice of the masses is heard via their cable bills.
    • I personally think that the potential audience for the "high-brow" channels (discovery, history, et al) is much larger than anybody gives it credit for being. Of everybody I know that has cable, we all watch the same ten channels (Discovery, History, TLC, Comedy Central, DisWings, Science Channel, TechTV, Spike/TNN, VH1, MTV2). Of course, that could be my excellent taste in friends...

      My prediction is that once ala carte cable is available, we will have proof that, Neilsen ratings be damned, nobody likes
  • by deanc ( 2214 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:11PM (#8874927) Homepage
    ... but mostly because of consumer stupidity. Basically, people pay the $50/month for basic cable for the 2 or 3 channels they're interested in. Over the past 25 years, enough channels have become available that almost everyone has their 2 or 3 favorite channels that they want to watch and are willing to pay $50 for.

    A la carte pricing would have the effect that people would simply buy the 2 or 3 channels they want, pay the same $50 they always did -- because that's what they were always willing to pay -- and any additional channels, which they now get for free, they'd have to pay extra for if they wanted to watch. This pricing scheme would have made send 15-20 years ago when there was still an untapped market for cable television, but in this day and age, cable TV subscribers are so ubiquitous that there's no untapped market that would be willing to subscribe to cable TV because it costs less. Everyone who would subscribe has subscribed and is already ready and willing to pay $50/month for television, and that is what they will continue to pay, even if government regulations change.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:12PM (#8874943)
    The economic types may be exactly right when they say in an a la carte TV world we'd be paying about the same total per month. However, would we end up getting better value in exchange for that same money?

    Unbundling channels would be a death blow to to the mega companies. Who-asked-for-that-anyway channels such as VH1 Classics and Nicktoons would simply die because nobody's going to part with pennies just to get that one channel. They wouldn't be able to say "We're giving you 10% more channels, now give us 10% more money!" anymore, which would knock their pricing back into shape.

    Furthermore, new players who don't have the resources to launch dozens channels can now just launch one and be on the same competitive playing field. That'd open up the door for "indie" TV companies to come back into play. Right now, a one-network operation such as TechTV really has the deck stacked against it, which was part of the reason why they are being sold to Comcast.

    Right now, it's the content makers forcing the "basic cable" model. They're the ones insisting that in order to get their popular networks, you have to take their unpopular ones too, and put them all into the same level of service as they're perscribed for. Wait a second... isn't that the kind of thing anti-trust laws usually stop?
  • by towerdave ( 739384 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:13PM (#8874952) Homepage
    I have a phone services package with SBC that includes a few things I need, and a few things I don't. I called about getting just the things I needed, and dropping the stuff I don't.

    "That will be $10 more per month"

    I'll stick with the package.

  • by blcamp ( 211756 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:13PM (#8874953) Homepage
    I can only see this as a way for Cable to profit:

    "Buy Package A (25 channels) for $29.95"
    "Buy Package B (35 channels) for $34.95"
    "Buy Package C (50 channels) for $39.95"

    (The cable company picks the channels)


    "Pick any 25 channels for $35.95"
    "Pick any 35 channels for $42.95"
    "Pick any 50 channels for $49.95" ...or something like that.

    Just like in a Mickey D's, you can either get a combo meal for $3.99, or mix and match yourself for $7.00+.

    My preference, frankly, is one channel: the one connected to my broadband router.

  • dupe!!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Blair16 ( 683764 )
    originally posted on Match 29th
    right here []
  • If technology has it way I think we will see subscription packages(and pay per view if you don't want the whole series) for TV shows / programs instead and you would be able to watch them on demand, perhaps a Tivo like device that would download what you wanted to see and cache it, new shows could be pushed to your machine in a multicast fashion.

    So the Sunday Simpsons would still only first be available at a regular schedule and the the live news programs would still have broadcast times but you could also
  • Ala cart (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Balthisar ( 649688 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:17PM (#8874999) Homepage
    I'm a little ambivilent -- I'd have never watched HGTV if I didn't have a package. I used to have it programmed out of the bedroom TV. But one time TiVo recorded something, and now I find myself flipping to it every once in a while.

    But here's why I'm ambivilent -- I have TiVo -- there's PLENTY to watch on the 10 or so channels that we "always" watch. The old promise of "500 channels!" isn't practical, and who needs it? I effectively pay $50 a month for HBOs, Telemundo, and Comedy Central. I (can) get the networks free. Of that $50, $10 is specifically for HBO, so let's see -- that $20 for Telemundo! I guess I should die of embarassment. :-)

  • And at least one economist type, this guy in the Financial Times, seems to think we'll end up paying just as much under a la carte pricing.

    The problem with this theory is that we don't know. Ala cart will have a few effects. Firstly, it will change the payment schemes that people use. Some people will drop out of their big plans. Others will start ordering TV when they currently only use over the air (myself included). So we need to see how that balances out in terms of revenue flow to the media gian
  • by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:20PM (#8875027) Homepage
    I want to pay only for SHOWS I want to watch. I don't want any more channels-- why should I pay for 24 hours a day of the Discovery channel? 8 of their daily hours are infomercials. And I only watch an hour or two of the remainder, anyway.

    I want TV and movies released on DVD the SAME DAY they come out on TV or in the theatre. I'll just pick up what i want to watch at the store, or download it from iShows, or whatever Apple or somebody else comes up with to sell us video.
  • by Eric Smith ( 4379 ) * on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:21PM (#8875037) Homepage Journal
    Shopping channels get a disproportionate share of cable and satellite bandwidth to the number of actual viewers because the carrier gets a cut of the sales. In an a la carte pricing model, this would be fixed because the revenue from providing a channel that many subscribers want would exceed the revenue they get from a shopping channel.
  • by D.A. Zollinger ( 549301 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:22PM (#8875053) Homepage Journal
    Imagine, if you will, that you are starting out with a small family, and you want to protect them by not allowing channels with questionable content into your home. This way you can get HBO Family without worry about your children flipping the channel and seeing an execution, Sopranos style, on regular HBO.

    Hell, its a lot easier then programming your V-chip.

    You can select, add, and remove channels from month to month depending on your wishes or desires, while allowing you to only pay for what you want to watch!

    Like most people who have posted here, most current television shows do not interest me, but every once in a while something comes on that I do want to watch. As well, most movie channels still show content that I enjoy to watch. So to be able to only pay for what I want to watch, and not have to pay for crap that I will never watch, is a big win for the consumer.
  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:24PM (#8875069) Homepage
    As enticing as it would be to be able to pick any number of channels for $x/month each, a la carte pricing wouldn't work that way. Prices for each channel would vary dramatically, to the point that you may prefer buying a bundle to save money.

    One of the things that makes the multitude of channels on cable possible is the fact that they're packaged together. Few people would ever subscribe to the Avocado Channel by itself, but they'll take it as part of a package... and once in a while they might watch something on it, like the Miss Avocado pageant. And over time they might find they like some of the other Avacado programming and become regular watchers. That would never happen with a la carte pricing.

    So we could end up with a dozen or so least-common-denominator channels that a strong plurality subscribes to (ESPN, EmptyV, Cartoon, Spike, HBO) being successful, and the more specialised niche channels (some of which would be some people's personal favorites)unable to get a large enough casual subscriber base and withering on the vine.

  • Why don't content providers do what Disney Channel did?

    Back in 80's and Disney would giveaway a free week's worth of programming every couple of months. Due to demand and marketing created from those give away periods Disney Channel became a basic channel in most markets.

    So Disney over came an al carte system off programming by giving the people what they [].
  • I smell bullshit! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:30PM (#8875148) Homepage Journal
    EchoStar is game but says Viacom and others are refusing to go along.

    I used to work for Echostar, they HAD a la carte programming once, it was called Dish Picks. They discontinued the service because of cheapskates who'd call in several times per day to add/remove channels as the shows that they liked came on.

    I suspect that they are now getting in line with the idea knowing full well that it won't ever happen. I believe that they're trying to get some congressmen to think that they're good guys so there will be less opposition to them buying DirecTV. The last time they tried, the sale was blocked.

    There was a rumor floating around the call center when I was there, it was a rumor and I can't vouch for the veracity of the claim so take this with a HUGE grain of salt; but the rumor was that before the last time they tried to buy DirecTV Charlie Ergan (the president of the company) had John McCain over to his house to "watch a football game", the game was blacked out in the area due to NFL restrictions, but Charlie had them override the NFL blackout and SHVIA restrictions and put the game on at his house. If this really happened and they got caught the company would have been subject to a $10k fine, I'm sure that Charlie would have paid it out of pocket but that's not the point. Once again, if this really happened, I think I have a good idea of what they talked about.

    Finally as a CMA, I'd like to say again that this was just an office rumor and I can't personally vouch for its veracity. The fact that there was a rumor is 100% fact, but the contents of that rumor are not known to me as being factual.

    I never looked, so I couldn't tell you if Charlie Ergan actually had a DishNetwork system at his house. If I did know about it, I would be prohibited from discussing it with anyone outside of EchoStar.

    But, you'd be surprised at what porno certain celebrities order.(I can't be any more specific than that)

    • But, you'd be surprised at what porno certain celebrities order.(I can't be any more specific than that)

      Oh, come on. Does Michael Jackson have the kiddies bouncing up and down on pogo sticks channel?
      • Oh, come on. Does Michael Jackson have the kiddies bouncing up and down on pogo sticks channel?

        If I had any information about that, I'd be contractually prohibited from telling you.

  • by Therlin ( 126989 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:30PM (#8875154)
    They got rid of their regular digital cable line up and split it in "themes" and they call it "a la carte" and it sounds good at first. You choose the themes or packages that you want and only pay for those. In theory it could be cheaper, but if you want to get the channels you like, you'll end up paying more.

    For example, I wanted "TechTV" but it was only in one of the "Entertainment" packages. It was all sports channels (every ESPN channel you can think of) and then TechTV. I don't watch sports, yet they wanted me to pay for all of those. The same thing with A&E, it was bundled with other horrible channels.

    It made no sense. I would have had to end up paying more than I was originally paying. I canceled my digital cable subscription and went back to good old analog.
  • by StateOfTheUnion ( 762194 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:31PM (#8875158) Homepage
    I had a friend in Clear Lake TX whose Cable bill went up by ~$10 a couple of years ago and he called to complain . . . they said that the price hike was approved because he was now getting 4 "Great new channels" . . . Golf, something like a soap opera network and 2 shopping networks.

    Because he was locked into a cable plan, he couldn't easily "vote" for the channels that he liked with his dollars . . . so he was stuck paying the extra for four lousy (in his opinion) channels that he would never watch.

    I agree with the economists that say that we will pay the same for TV, but if can vote with our dollars, we establish more competitition and a more efficient marketplace. If no one likes the channel, it will be dropped in favor of something else . . .

    When I move to Richmond VA in 1995, they didn't have comedy central and didn't get it for another 2 years or so . . . if people could pick and choose . . . we might have gotten it a lot sooner through an efficient marketplace that reflects true customer demand.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The sports packages are driving the whole package. It's estimated that ESPN alone amounts to a $2.50 to $3.00 monthly "tax" on the standard packages. It's a great deal for the compulsive sports fans, but a significant burden on those of us who couldn't care less. And we recently saw how a major content provider extorted an agreement to raise its rates to cover expanded sports coverage from a major cable signal delivery provider.
  • by karb ( 66692 )
    Hmm. The consumer in me says that choice is good.

    The geek in me says that complexity is very, very, very bad. The words "ala cart channels", "de facto public utility", and "billing system" conjure visions of exponents whose exponents have exponents.

    Finally, the fiscal conservative in me says that it will raise costs for the cable companies, which will raise costs for consumers, which will in the end probably price some people out of cable.

    And then as an added bonus, we get to pay the government to t

  • It seems the /. crowd is fond of trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to government regulation.

    Just remember that you supported this regulation when the government decides it has the right to regulate the content that goes through the cable the same way it does the content that goes through the airwaves. Because if they can dictate a corporation's business model, that makes it that much easier for them to dictate it's content.

    Mixing government with the economy is usually as disastrous as m

  • Don't the cable companies have a point? It doesn't cost them anything to give you 300 channels vs 10. It may effect how they apportion your subscription to their content providers, but that's really a separate issue.

    Cable companies have a bit of overhead based on infrastructure costs and general billing/customer costs. Everything else is just accounting. And since the 10 channel customer doesn't actually cost them any more than the 300 channel customer, what is the point to them of providing that dis

  • Unfortunately (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:36PM (#8875215) Homepage
    Unfortunately it isn't going to be all cookies and milk like people will hope. Maybe it will work for a while, but just like legal music purchases, the people in charge will eventually want to crank up the price. The parrallels are shocking.

    Record industry: So, you don't want to buy the whole CD because 85% of the album is shit? Fine, we will sell you songs at $1 each online. You can get your 15% of good songs off the album for maybe $2.50. A year later, they want to jack the price to around $2.50 a song. Your $2.50 of good songs per album is now $8 or $9. Might as well buy the whole album at wal-mart and get the physical, non-DRM goods.

    Sattelite guys: So, you don't want 500 channels of crap when you only watch 30 of them regularly? Fine we will sell you them at $1 each. A year later, though, maybe they want $1.50. Your cheap $30/month roll-your-own package is now $45, yikes!

    It will happen. Big media companies are greedy hoarding bastards.

  • Three little words for them.

    Netflix and Amazon

    Lets see. Basic cable costs 15 bucks a month. Cheapest way to get HBO - about 70 a month. Lets see thats 55 bucks difference. Thats either 12 Season Sized DVD purchases (how Soprano seasons are made a year?) or nearly 3 complete Netflix subscriptions. Mix and match.

    and no crappy commercials either.

  • support McCain... (Score:3, Informative)

    by The Lynxpro ( 657990 ) <lynxpro AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 15, 2004 @05:44PM (#8875312)
    I totally want to move to a la carte pricing, even if it does end up costing more. However, I think companies like Comcast should be put under regulation. Why? Let me break it down:

    A. Comcast was able to purchase AT&T Broadband last year with very little scrutiny imposed upon it from the FTC and the FCC. AOL Time Warner was not so lucky during the merger that created them.

    B. Comcast raised rates again. They claim they are recuping on their investment to upgrade their system. They claim it had to do with spending a fortune on OnDemand programming. That's great, but I don't use OnDemand; I should not be punished for this capital expense just because I was smart enough to buy my own DVR (TiVo) so that I do not need such a feature.

    C. In turn, Comcast is now trying to acquire the Walt Disney Company. Comcast will claim this is going to be a pure stock swap and thus increased subscriber rates have nothing to do with it but it most certainly does...if Comcast does not suffer a large amount of customer defection due to the pricing increases, Comcast's stock will be more valuable. This helps Comcast to acquire Disney and thus it is Joe Consumer that is paying for the acquisition.

    Now let us look at how Comcast could save money/increase revenue without resorting to rate increases and prosper under a la carte:

    1. Deploy set-top boxes with TiVo built in; not "Comcast DVR" from some other supplier. Comcast is a shareholder in TiVo - if Comcast supports TiVo, it enriches their own investment. TiVo is a popular brand now, and brand influence can be a deciding point if it comes down to Comcast w/TiVo versus Dish Network with Dish PVR. Furthermore, Comcast can share revenue based upon TiVo's viewer statistics so they'll know which channels are being watched and what commercials are the most popular. That would be profitable.

    2. Comcast can offer cable telephony. Comcast has been paying lip-service to this for years. How come I cannot get local telephone service through Comcast itself yet I can sign up for Vonage which will run over their cable line? Here in Sacramento, the upstart SureWest (which is actually Roseville Telecom) offers bundled telephone service as standard. Granted, they are offering fibre directly to the home.

    3. Dump analog, period. Analog is the piracy hole in the cable systems. Digital piracy is not a major problem compared to analog. Plus, since an analog SDTV channel takes up as much bandwidth as 4-6 digital SDTV channels, this becomes more economical for Comcast to move directly to digital. Digital cable should not be considered a premium when it is so profitable. Charge a premium for HDTV.

    4. A la carte pricing will not cause a customer service issue. Any channel additions and subtractions could be made via the internet, and if someone wants to spend time on the phone with customer service to add or subtract channels, leverage a fee on them.

    5. Allow DirecTV and Dish to offer their own ISPs to their customers over Comcast wires and share in the revenue. Those customers are no longer Comcast customers so you might as well make some money off them. This is money that would go directly to the company and not other company competitors like the regional Bell telephone companies offering DSL packages. If you look at the revenue share agreements between Time Warner Cable and Earthlink, Time Warner Cable makes 90% of the fees.

    Finally, programming packages are ridiculous. To get TechTV, I had to move up to another $5 more per month just to get it. Trio was a bonus. However, I did not require BET Jazz to be included in that. Furthermore, I would like to voice my support at Comcast keeping both TechTV and G4 separate now that they are both owned by Comcast. They are similar yet serve different interests just as MTV1 and MTV2 do.

  • by Dolohov ( 114209 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @06:33PM (#8875834)
    First off, the economic argument, which has been made a million times. If people can get their popular channels alone, then most of the homes in America will get ESPN, Fox News and the Bass Fishing channel. Channels like Cartoon Network, Sci-Fi, etc. will just crash and burn.

    It's a basic positive feedback loop. 100 people are given a la carte cable. Only 12 of them pick channel X, while 60 of them pick channel Y. Channel X is going to be more expensive. Of those 12, certain of them are going to decide that it's just not worth the extra expense -- after all, channels like Y are good enough, and less expensive. X gets more expensive. In fact, it gets too expensive for some people, who decide to forgo it in favor of watching it at a friend's house, or just renting the DVDs of their favorite shows. Furthermore, as X gets more expensive, fewer and fewer people will be willing to pick it up just to try it out, and parents aren't going to be willing to pick it up for their kids. It might spread by word of mouth, but with very few eyeballs watching, there will be very few mouths talking...

    Which leads to the social point, which is more compelling with news channels, but applies elsewhere. There is something wrong with telling people that they can elect to not have the option of seeing information they don't think they'll be interested in, and save money in the deal. Right now, if my parents got this a la carte deal, they'd get Fox News and drop CNN. The trouble is, while they don't admit it, they do occasionally flip to CNN just out of idle curiosity, to see if maybe Fox isn't being so straight about things.

    If you reward people for reducing their information diet, you're going to wind up with a whole lot of people who just don't understand why anyone thinks differently than they do. You'll wind up with a whole lot of people who never satiate a vague interest in history or science or cooking that might otherwise grow. You'll wind up with a bunch of people who think it's really odd that adults watch cartoons...

    I'd prefer to stay with the bundling, thanks. People may not take advantage of the opportunity to broaden their horizons, but we sure as hell shouldn't be rewarding those who choose to keep theirs narrow.
    • Channels like Cartoon Network, Sci-Fi, etc. will just crash and burn.

      There's a simple way out. Don't charge companies to carry your channel! Cable TV has more advertising than free, broadcast TV anyhow, so the $4/month that they are charging is out of line, and unnecessary. Then, people may only pay to get Fox News, but they'll still get Cartoon Network, SciFi, etc., because there is no additional cost to them. Alternatively, they could just make their price much lower than the competition, so now Disn

  • K Band fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MajorDick ( 735308 ) on Thursday April 15, 2004 @07:01PM (#8876097)
    A few years ago Roadway the trucking company had a store here in Akron where they are based it was called Rex salvage, Roadway was self insured so if something got damaged lost etc it ended up for sale there. I bought a whole K band dish (about 6 ft accross) tuner and all that jazz. Wow was it cool I had cable too but at the time K Band was used mostly for live feeds etc generally high quality and unencrypted. I am a news junkie so I loved I I saw stuff way before the general public and generally unedited. show were sparse and feed on them were wild but I could never helo feeling like a redneck with the dish in the backyard.
  • Marginal Revolution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by madro ( 221107 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @08:06AM (#8879690)
    This probably comes too late to the discussion, but I haven't seen anyone mention the analysis [] from the econ blog Marginal Revolution.
    Why are consumers forced to buy a bundle? Cable companies claim that choice would require expensive boxes, but few observers believe this claim.

    More plausibly, price discrimination is at work. Consider a simple example with two individuals. John values Disney at $100 a year and FoxNews at $10 a year; Sally has the reverse valuations. Without bundling, the cable company will offer each channel for about $99, and sell a channel to each consumer, reaping $198 in revenue (N.B.: I am assuming that the cable company has a good idea of demand in general, although it cannot identify which consumer is willing to pay how much for what.)

    In lieu of this set up, sell the bundle for $109 to each consumer, reaping a greater revenue of $218. The company makes greater profit.

    More importantly, aggregate welfare is higher. In this case each consumer receives two channels instead of one.

    Monopolies, regulated or otherwise, tend to bundle commodities when demands are scattered and the marginal cost of additional service is low. In this context, once the program is made, you can sell it cheaply to additional customers. So why not try to get the entire package into everyone's hands?

    You can spin your own numbers, with varying results, but the overall lesson is clear. While there is a general problem with monopoly in the cable market, bundling can make that problem better rather than worse. So don't complain next time you have to "click-remote" through those Farsi and exercise channels.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?