subscription based tv

09Dec03

tivo has spoiled, i’m accustomed to getting to watch what i want, when i want. so for years i wished there was a new kind of tv broadcast and payment system- one where i could just subscribe to a show i like and pay for just that. why should i pay for all this programming i never use? i’d be happy to subscribe to alias or charlie rose or the shows i actually care about. want me to subscribe to a new show? fine, set me up with a free episode and let me decide if it’s worth paying for. i know this would take some pretty radical retooling from the networks, but it seems like such an obvious solution. well, obvious for a nerd like me.

then tonight i read this article in techdirt, so i’ve rethought my idea, and now i have something that could be implemented today, right now. why don’t cable and satellite companies just let us subscribe to the channels we want. for instance, i don’t want to subscribe to the golf channel to get international sports of the new action sports channel, but i have no choice since they’re all part of a package. so instead i don’t get any of them. instead of packages, i should be able to pick and choose exactly what channels i get and just pay for those. out of the like 200 channels i pay for, i probably watch a total of 30 or less.

not only would this lower the ever creeping cost of tv for me, but it could also be used to control the cost for the cable and satellite companies. they would know exactly how many people subscribe to each channel, and could negotiate with the tv studios more effectively. “we’re sorry, less than 1% of our customers subscribe to your network, how could you possibly think we’re going to pay that much?” the market would truly determine the value of a network.

UPDATE:
so today carlo and i were talking about it and he found an article from a few months back in USA Today. it turns out ex-presidential candidate john mccain thinks you should be able to pick and choose your channels “a la carte” like i do. but the article says that cable and satellite companies fear that the networks who suffered reduced viewers would then charge the providers more. MORE? not LESS? the markets say if you aren’t selling well, you either lower your prices or improve your product. you don’t raise your prices.

but carlo thinks that they’d raise prices because lower viewership would lower their ad revenues, so channels would try and make up for it in the short term by raising the cost of carrying their channel even more. this would provide a nice short term solution, but would invariably kill off the channel entirely as their viewers would decrease even further because of the increased cost and lack of perceived increased benefit.

we also learned that there is a weak ass FCC regulation (PDF) (that took 10 years after passing to go into effect!!) that says that cable companies (not satellite) cannot force you to buy a higher teir of programming before you can subscribe to pay channels offered on a single channel basis (such as hbo), but it doesn’t count for channels grouped in higher teirs like MTV or CNN. carlo is the master of regulatory documents, i bow to his superiority.

so currently there’s no system in place for a la carte channel selection. i think we need a new consumer movement. now that we have number portability, i think this is the next big issue. well, this and the misuse of the DMCA.

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