Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cable TV bundles about to unravel?

There once was a time when there were four major television networks and no recording devices.  Now there are 100s of networks and all sorts of opportunities to watch any show at any time.  But consumers of satellite and cable TV do not have the opportunity for a la carte pricing.  Instead they must select among various bundles of channels.  In Raleigh, Time Warner is the largest service provider and consumers choose between basic cable, various tiers of digital cable, along with HD options and premium channels. 

In essence cable and satellite TV is like a restaurant where everyone must order a full meal at a set price rather than being allowed to pick and choose which dishes they want.  This is not necessarily bad for consumers; imagine a menu where appetizers are $8, dinners are $15 and desserts are $6.  If you can get a three course meal for $25 and you were going to get all three courses anyway, then you are better off than buying each course separately.  So if basic cable is $25 per month and the 200 channel package is $45, a lot of people think they are getting a bargain with the extra surcharge. 

But cable has become so specialized that many viewers do not watch more than 10 channels, which makes them wonder why they should pay for 200.  Some watchers are cutting the cord altogether and relying on broadcast channels, Hulu and Netflix for their TV fix.  WSJ recently reported that Cablevision Systems sued Viacom for antitrust violations because Viacom was forcing them to buy channels they really do not want in order to keep carrying Nickelodeon and MTV. 

My take: over the next five years TV is going to go through the same revolution as the music industry.  Consumers will select the shows they want and watch them when they want.  The companies that catch onto this first will be the winners. 

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