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I Want Cable TV on a Per-channel Basis!

Some of this week’s events (which I won’t go into) have gotten me thinking quite a bit about cable companies and, in a more general sense, cable’s position in the media world. For years, I’ve harbored this somewhat negative emotion towards cable, and I never really took the time to consider why. Maybe it’s a cost issue. Maybe it’s programming. Maybe it’s the fact that I rarely watch TV coupled with the fact that when I do watch TV, I usually only flip between a select few channels. Frankly, I think that the only real reason why I ever had cable in the first place was because of ESPN. As a man, I simply don’t see how you can do without it.

Samsung DLP HDTVMy work requires that I stay on top of the latest internet trends and development issues, and one natural bit of fallout from this is that I end up thinking about how web trends can be applied to other areas of society. Let’s take a look at the very progressive, very customer-oriented music industry.

With regard to legal music exchange, you can now download individual songs from iTunes (and other services) instead of buying an entire album from a particular artist. Cost per song is typically $0.99, which is considerably cheaper than buying an entire album just because you like one song that’s overplayed on the radio. Some people want to bitch about this, but I think it’s an awesome development. Why is it so awesome? It’s all about efficiency for the consumer. Moreover, it’s more efficient from a distribution standpoint, making it a win-win (on some fronts) for both the music industry and the consumer. If you don’t like the whole album, you don’t have to buy it! This is efficiency. This is freedom.

Consider your expenses for a moment. Do you really use ALL your cell phone minutes? If yes, remove that bastard from the side of your head. Did you buy that album because you liked EVERY song on it? If the album only had six songs that you liked out of fifteen, wouldn’t you have been better off paying $5.94 for those six songs instead of giving $16.99 to Best Buy? What about your cable service? Do you watch enough TV to justify your enormous cable bill? Did you watch enough different channels last month to justify your cable package, or did you get that premium package just because they didn’t offer ESPN on their basic package? I’m betting that you only watch maybe five or six different channels with any kind of regularity anyway, and if you’re watching more than that…well, god help you.

Cable BoxClearly, the music industry is on the road to righteousness, and now all the Napster-related struggles of 2000 and 2001 appear to have been the catalyst for this “freedom of choice” movement. Cable, however, still sucks, because unlike the music biz, its livelihood hasn’t been threatened by the free exchange of information. Fear not, though, because the movement is now in its humble beginning stages. You can now purchase $1.99 episodes of Lost, Desperate HouseHoes, and other shows the day after they air, and the best part is that you won’t have to waste your life watching commercials on the WB while trying to catch a re-run of this crap (pardon me, but for the most part, I hate TV. Can you tell?).

My fingers are crossed in the hopes that the rapid distribution of videos and TV content will apply some external pressure to the cable industry. I also hope that somewhere out there, there’s a network exec with the balls and the foresight to offer typical cable programming on a pay-per-access basis. If the music industry can do it, why not cable? Sadly, cable companies are some of the strongest organizations in America. They’re basically monopolies in their individual markets; they’re HUGELY profitable; and they’re in charge of delivering the most popular form of media and advertising on the planet. Big business + old paradigms = SLOW changes.

While technical “new-media” giants like Google and Yahoo! embrace change with developments and deployments rolling out at rapid-fire rates, the lumbering cable giants look more like the three-toed sloths of American industry. News and information outlets are ascribing to a new “get it when you want it” mentality, while those bastards at cable conglomerates hold fast to their “you’ll get what we give you” approach. Their advertising, however, would have you believe otherwise. Take a look at Comcast and their Comcastic! ad campaign.

Comcast's advertising campaign, That's Comcastic!

Sure, you can get movies (old ones) ON DEMAND, but you can’t get squat else! Freedom doesn’t look too much like freedom when you think about how limited your choices really are. AOL/Time Warner LogoTime Warner, another cable giant (and a company that makes me want to vomit by virtue of its association with AOL), also wants you to feel like you’re in charge. Check out their freakin logo, for goodness sake: “The Power of You.” I think a slightly modified slogan would be far more appropriate for them: “Time Warner: the Power of Your Dollar.”

Open your eyes, people. There are no choices with cable. You’re going to pay whether you like it or not, and you’re going to have to succumb to a barrage of ads from all over. You get a bunch of channels you don’t want; you get ads out the ass; and you pay an ever-rising premium, and you do so all in the name of “increasing cost of doing business.” BAH.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me ANGRY. The thing that gets me the most is that it’s so damn inefficient! You’re paying $85 a month to watch ESPN, Comedy Central, and E! (because they occasionally have bikini-glorification programming)? Does that seem right to you? When you sit down and look at value in your life, are just a few channels worth this much of your expendable income? For me, the answer is a definite “F NO,” and I believe that if you really take this kind of thing to heart, you’ll join me in giving the cable conglomerates the collective middle finger.

Cable TV cableI’m SICK of not having choices over what I watch and what I pay for. There ought to be a one to one correlation, or else I’m getting screwed. And cable companies aren’t nice enough to provide vaseline, either.

I’m SICK of industries that don’t adapt, and I’m SICK of not having any real say against them.

With that in mind, here’s what needs to happen. Cable needs to take a good hard look at the music industry and then do the following:

  1. Completely DITCH the archaic basic/standard/premium cable packages. This is a smoke and mirrors way of bending us over, and I feel inexorably violated. Hopefully there aren’t any negative psychological ramifications associated with this.
  2. Implement pay-per-access on ALL channels. Maybe ESPN costs $5.99 per month. Maybe HBO costs $12.99 per month. I don’t care, so long as it’s not $85. Oh, and maybe Lifetime costs $0.15, cause it’s not worth a damn. Okay, okay, unnecessary dig. But we really would find out where the value is!

I can see cable execs going nuts over this, but too bad! Don’t you think the music industry about shit itself over the Napster deal? The bottom line here is that things are GOING to change. The reason for my confidence is simple: the freedom to choose is reflective of the human spirit as well as the principle upon which our free enterprise system was founded. We WILL prevail. It’s just a matter of time.

In the 1800s our government said that monopolization was bad. Anti-trust regulations of the 1900s were supposed to slam home this point. Why, then, do we put up with this garbage from the cable conglomerates in 2005? Enough is enough!

Web trends dictate that the future will be characterized by the ability to get the information you want when you want it. When the time comes for cable to make the switch, you KNOW who will be the first one to have a party. And believe me, we’ll definitely be checking it out in HD.

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6 comments… read them below or add one

Momz November 27, 2005

Considering I watch a total of 2, count em 2 stations (HGTV and Discovery Channel), I too am tired of the huge bill I pay each month. I remember when watching TV was free! Why aren’t people crying from the rooftops about this injustice!!

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tfro November 28, 2005

I think the real injustice is that you put a Samsung DLP on this page, when the tosh is clearly superior. Actually, I’d be ecstatic to be able to have cable; instead I’m forced by my apartment to use SBC’s re-branded DirecTV, without any of the advantages of DirecTV. Does my HDTV get a HDTV feed? No, thanks to SBC. How about a DVR? Sure, if I want to setup a computer to do it. You cable subscribers have it better than you think…

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R November 28, 2005

Funny…I was thinking the same thing a few weeks back.

The thing is that IF it ever does change, it’s a LONG freakin’ ways off. The cable companies KNOW you only watch the same 3 channels and surf through the other 200 to see if there’s anything remotely good to watch (no pun intended). They know you’ll pay $85 for the package with ESPN and Comedy Central —> that’s how they make their money. If they only charged on a channel by channel basis, they’d never make the kind of dough they’re screwin’ us for now. Think about it (math lesson!)…say they charge $10 per channel and you watch ESPN and Comedy Central $10 + $10 = $20. If they’re currently making $85 off of you for the same thing: $85 – $20 = $65 loss of profit. Yeah……. Like I said, if and when it happens it’s gonna be a while.

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Grub November 28, 2005

The cable companies are playing the american paradigm of: More is better. Ofcourse this is a false prophecy. Although content providers (e.g. CBS / ABC / NBC / Fox) have little to no-say when it comes to the content dealers’ (cable companies) packaging, they will be the first to play the per-channel option, when the distribution capability (e.g. Internet) is there to support it for the majority.

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Stephen Weinstein January 2, 2007

tfro :
1. When you say “I’m forced by my apartment to use SBC’s re-branded DirecTV, without any of the advantages of DirecTV” do you mean:
a. They prohibit you from having a DISH Network antenna, your own DirecTV antenna, a regular antenna (to receive local TV), or any combination of these, anywhere in the complex, including within your apartment (and, if applicable, your private balcony or patio).
b. They allow you to have these types of antennas within your apartment (and, if applicable, your private balcony or patio), but a DirecTV antenna will not work in those areas because they do not have a clear view of the southern sky and the complex does prohibit you from having your own antenna anywhere that it would work (such as the roof).

2. Do you have a wireless network within your apartment in order to connect your computer(s) to your Internet connection?

3. Does the apartment complex prohibit you from using the local cable television utility company or does that company not serve your neighborhood?

4. Aside from the apartment complex and DirecTV, is there anyone else involved, especially anyone else you are required to pay or a company that may be known as “Consolidated Smart Systems”, “Consolidated Lauco Systems”, or various other things?

I am preparing the paperwork to request that the FCC rule on whether prohibiting tenants from selecting their own service provider violates 47CFR1.4000. I am confident that they will rule that what I have described in a is illegal, based on their rulings in cases involving homeowners’ associations, etc. Although 47CFR1.4000 does not apply to situation b, they did recently overturn a restriction on a wireless network, so there is a remote possibility that they may rule that it is illegal to prohibit you from using the cable television utility company to connect a wireless network to the Internet, but only if the case is presented as a restriction that prevents you from using the antenna that is part of the wireless network to (without connecting it to the Internet through the telephone lines), and even then only if you had a valid reason (such as cost or speed) to want to use cable instead of DSL for your Internet access. If your situation is a (or you have a wireless network that you would connect to the cable television utility company if you could do so), please send me a signed and notarized affidavit as to:

1. what service you desire and cannot receive,
2. that you cannot receive the service you desire without using an individual antenna, and why not
3. the building, rule, lease provision, or other regulation that prevents you from using an individual antenna (of the type that would be needed to receive the service that you desire)
4. that the property to which it applies is within your exclusive use or control and that you have a direct or indirect ownership or leasehold interest in the property
5. either that the antenna would be used to receive direct broadcast satellite service, including direct-to-home satellite service, or to receive or transmit fixed
wireless signals via satellite, and is one meter or less in diameter or is located in Alaska; or that the antenna would be used to receive video programming services via multipoint distribution services, including multichannel multipoint distribution services, instructional television fixed services, and local multipoint distribution services, or to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals other than via satellite, and is one meter or less in diameter or diagonal measurement; or that the antenna would be used to receive television broadcast signals;
5. How the restriction, etc., described in #2 above unreasonably delays or prevents installation, maintenance, or use of the antenna; unreasonably increases the cost of installation, maintenance, or use; precludes reception or transmission of an acceptable quality signal; or otherwise impairs the installation, maintenance, or use of the antenna;
6. anything else you feel should be included

If I use your affidavit, I will be sending the FCC either the original or a photocopy; I will not be editing it. However, you only need to include factual information, and do not need to include legal analysis, which will be in a separate document called a “petition for declaratory ruling”. The FCC website says “You may simply describe the facts, including the specific restriction(s) that you wish to challenge. If possible, include contact information such as telephone numbers for all parties involved, if available, and attach a copy of the restriction(s) and any relevant correspondence. If this is not possible, be sure to include the exact language of the restriction in question with the petition.”

The most important thing is that I must have a mailing address for the party that you claim is imposing the restriction that prevents you from using your own antenna to obtain the service you desire (probably your landlord). When I file, if I include that restriction in what is being challenged, then I am required to send that party copies of the “petition for declaratory ruling” (this is the formal name for the request to the FCC) and all attachments (which will include your affidavit, so do not include anything that you do not wish your landlord to know), so if I do not have an address, then I cannot include that restriction in those that I ask the FCC to overturn.

I am not a lawyer and cannot officially represent you; my offer is only to include your affidavit as an attachment to a petition either that I file on my own behalf or that we file jointly.

I do not want to post my address here because my landlord threatened to evict me. (Once I file the petition, certain laws prohibiting retaliation should protect me, but not now.) I have clicked the “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” button. Please followup and include some information that will allow me to contact you more privately (either your address, your e-mail address, or your telephone number) or followup and request that I post a temporary an e-mail address that my landlord would not recognize, so that you can then e-mail me privately.

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jp September 7, 2008

It’s 2008 now and we’re still getting screwed like this…maybe the solution to this is the development and spread of an underground blackmarket for cable boxes that will give you those packages for a one-time fee of $250, so that nobody would be paying cable companies continuisly every month…that might get us somewhere.

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Hoot and/or Holler

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