We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

Summary: Why do we have to pay such high prices for cable TV? Customers deserve more choices from their cable service providers.


Recently while looking through the existing cable lineup for Comcast, I realized that a lot of non-premium channels were sidelined into a "preferred" lineup and not available on standard digital cable. Channels like BBC America, Current TV and Turner Classic Movies are placed into a separate lineup.

I did discover that Comcast had changed their package lineup, so for the same price I was paying I was able to upgrade my account to include the preferred lineup as well. But it brings up an interesting point; I didn't really want all of those channels, I just wanted one of them. And herein lies the crux of the problem.

If you look at your existing cable lineup, you will probably see dozens--and in some cases, hundreds--of channels that you not only don't watch, but would prefer if they weren't there at all. Some people can configure their cable boxes or DVRs to skip over the channels you don't watch. But you're still paying for those cable channels, and that is one of the reasons cable prices are so high.

It's really time for a change in the cable industry. Cable companies are perfectly capable of providing on-demand service to their customers. So why can't they provide on-demand cable lineups as well? We need an a la carte system.

I could shave my current lineup down to maybe two dozen channels, tops. I personally have no need for non-English-speaking channels. We typically have no need for sports channels like ESPN in our house. We certainly don't need Home Shopping Network or QVC. It would be great if you could go to your local cable provider with a shopping list of channels and pay for just those.

But let's not stop there. Why not go even further and let us get on-demand TV programs. What if you just watch Big Bang Theory and Fringe? Sure, you can get those on Hulu Plus, or Apple TV or perhaps even Netflix, but not all of the shows people might want to watch are available through these services.

This isn't to say that it would be appropriate to all channels. News channels, for instance, are usually live broadcasts and have up to date information. So you wouldn't need on-demand service for programs on those channels. What we really need is the ability to filter just the channels we want, and have on-demand access to pre-recorded programs.

Cable companies wouldn't even have to adjust their billing mechanics that much to accomodate. They already bill you in blocks based on what your channel lineup contains. Why not arrange it like pre-paid mobile phone service? Pay for a bundle of programming, watch what you want, and if you use up your allotment simply pay for more. If you watch less one month, you pay less.

Admittedly, there's a flaw in this where the summer months are typically rerun season. But these days there are many programs that have new content during the summer months, and shift schedules, so that there is new programming all year round.

I'm just saying that it's time for a change in the way cable TV is presented to us, and it would benefit every subscriber to have more choices in their cable access.

Final note: I did call Comcast today and discovered that due to their new pricing plans I was paying way more than I should have been. Not only that, as a long time customer they gave me a new rate and and additional channel lineup that I didn't have access to before--and it contained a few channels I was definitely interested in.

Keep in mind that by calling up your cable company and talking to a service representative, you may find that they are a lot more flexible about providing you with better deals than you might find online.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Networking, Telcos

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  • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

    Cable companies cannot maintain their business model with a-la-carte. They need to bundle channels together to make it cost efficient to provide service. If a person chose 5 channels plus local stations for $25, Comcast would go out of business altogether. Also the content providers would negotiate their channels in blocks. Say Disney would require cable company to take Disney channel with 4 ESPN channels. That way, the lower rating Disney channel would be guaranteed a certain number of subscribers so that they can sell higher ad rates.

    Under a-la-carte, a lot of channels would cost more per channel and many would disappear.
    • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

      @mstrsfty If that's the case, then shouldn't those channels disappear anyway? By packaging unwanted channels with popular ones, all they're doing is subsidizing channels that no one wants to watch anyway. That's bad business, and it's throwing away money. There is no point in buying ad space on programs and channels that aren't being watched.
      Scott Raymond
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        @Scott Raymond

        Agreed about if those channels cannot stand on their own, they should disappear anyway.

        We really need to stay that networks cannot try to sell cable companies 'packages' of channels.
      • The "unwanted" channels ....

        @Scott Raymond

        can use streaming via the web. If they cannot survive with donations and advertising, it is time to rethink what they are doing. In that case the demand is just not there.

        Come to think of it, ALL programming should be on the web. The last mile cable/fiber should be community owned and the cable companies can close shop and go home.
      • Should that not then be the case with everything?

        You have the choice to either use them, or not use them. Why should they be forced to change a business model, with the loss of profits, to accomondate the small minority?

        The cable company is not stopping you from just purchasing Internet access, allowing you do do with it what you please.
        Tim Cook
      • Yes, they are

        @Mister Spock
        The cable companies are very much limiting what you can do with their Internet service - by way of bandwidth caps. If all video consumption were to be over the 'Net, how many people do you think would run hard up against Comcast's 250GB/month cap? I would think that number to be very high indeed.

        The only network service you can get from cable companies is video delivery, and that is only via the cable box - not the 'Net. The reason is obvious, too. It's much more profitable. They charge you for the line to your house, they charge the networks for access to the line to your house, and then on top of that they sell advertising space on the line to your house. Then of course there is all the pay as you go on demand content on top of that.

        I know a very large majority of my friends and family would prefer ala carte cable channels, and/or Internet only video. It's never going to happen, though. It would be too beneficial to the customer over the profit motives of the cable company.
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        @Mister Spock

        A. A choice between a monopoly and no service at all is not a choice. That's like saying, "Hey, you can pay the mob, or your store will burn down, it's totally up to you!"

        B. Check the legal restrictions in your area. Maybe you live in an area that isn't locked down, but I doubt it. The ISPs are using the law to restrict your choices and impede competition. This is not capitalism or free market economics.
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        @Mister Spock said: "The only network service you can get from cable companies is video delivery, and that is only via the cable box - not the 'Net. "

        Not true; cable companies are big into Internet. We have the packages of TV, Internet and telephone all from the cable company. Look at the bandwidth you get from most DSL and compare it to cable. There is a convergence going on between the three services. All you need to do is pick a provider or have it decided for you by where you live. Our cable company also provides TV programming over the Internet now. Just because now, you have a coaxial cable for your TV, doesn't mean that we are not going to see a full fiber network (like what FIOS has). It is not happening right now as many houses are still wired for coax, but it will eventually happen, unless something new comes out. There will always be a need for satellite and some places are just too far away from a box to run cables. So, I don't see cable companies not being around because they are only video as they now sell a lot of services.
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        @Scott Raymond - My wife and I certainly agree. We have stopped using cable and gone back to over-the-air free TV and a PVR. Anything else we want we can get via the internet. I refuse to pay for content that includes stuff I don't want (and shouldn't have to pay for) just because it is part of a bundle. A la carte is the only way I will ever go back to cable. Certainly many of those programs and a few channels should go away and are being supported unwittingly by people having to pay for bundles. A la carte would weed out a lot of the sleaze that is out there, or at least only those who are willing to pay for it will get it.
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        That's bad business, and it's throwing away money. There is no point in buying ad space on programs and channels that aren't being watched. <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/mp.asp">online masters degree</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/ap.asp">online associate degree</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/dp.asp">online doctorate degree</a> | <a href="http://www.affordabledegrees.com/ADA/hp.asp">diploma high school</a>
    • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

      I'm not interested in paying extra because the big cable companies have a terrible business model. A la carte please.
    • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

      @mstrsfty netflix does just fine with its$ 10 business model and no ads. Plenty of cable shows there to. Streams beautifully.
  • I want even more...

    I would pay for a service that would be essentially a giant DVR on the cloud. I could pick any production that has been broadcast already, within a certain time period, and have it delivered over the net. I don't expect this or a-la-carte cable to happen anytime soon.
    Mac Hosehead
    • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

      @Mac Hosehead

      It will, if we stop allowing laws to be passed to protect old business models.
      • What laws are there stopping that idea?

        I do not believe there is any law that states you cannot do that.
        Instead it is most likely based on return on investment, not laws. If the number of people interested in a feature like that is too small to be profitable due to the cost to maintain it, then they will not offer that feature.
        Tim Cook
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

        @Mister Spock

        Guess again..... the copyright laws and the 'you have to have authorization from the copyright owner to offer something in X form' even if you are already licensing the thing in question laws are leading to the fact that we don't have this yet.

        Everytime someone tries to start a Netflix for TV, the TV companies whine and moan about it, saying that they cannot 'make any money' off it.
  • count me in

    I LOVE the a la carte ideea!
    Linux Geek
  • A la carte? Dream On

    Cable isn't like buying milk, you can't go to some *other* supermarket to get what you want.

    The only realistic alternate to cable TV is "cutting the cord" in lieu of all the robust streaming options (Netflix, Hulu+) and the bandwidth to handle them nowadays (unlike years ago). In my case I haven't had cable TV in over 2 years.

    If you think for a second cable companies will yield power (move the average of what they charge DOWNWARD) without the pressure that is competition, dream on.

    Some of the problems I've seen to cutting the cord are people's rituals. One of the biggest is treating their TV like "white noise" or a "fireplace" - it's something to be left on while the business of living at home happens. Others treat channel surfing like a sport. While still others have the challenge of a large family which means several individuals streaming simultaneously will kill bandwidth rendering everyone's experience subpar.

    Thankfully I don't fall into any of these camps. Sayonara cable TV.

    • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

      I'm in the same camp. Still with Comcast Internet, but took my picture boxes back to the center and dismissed CATV.
      Things got quiet around the house. Too quiet. But I've discovered other things like talk radio or FM in general work for background noise. Even PBS on free HD OTA works.
      The point is, I didn't realize until after the fact that TV was just something for me to sit sedentary in front of to while away the hours. A month later, I really don't miss it, especially with Netflix and the web at large.
      • RE: We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV


        Another option is reading. I recently got an iPad 2 and I've read more fiction in the last 2 days than I had in the last 10 years. Part of the problem for me was that with a series of moves in the mid 2000's, I became averse to accumulating items, books and CDs (physical medium) became poison in my mind's eye. The hassle of moving them several times became a big deal.

        Anyway, reading more now that you don't have a noise box (cable TV) is something I might suggest.

        The vehicle for me to returning back to reading has been the eBook and the iPad 2 (cheer; no physical crap required).