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 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.