We demand on-demand: A la carte cable TV

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.


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