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United States Media Television

Congress To Force Cable a la Carte Plans 864

unassimilatible writes "Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain seems to be leaning towards sponsoring legislation mandating something I have wanted for a long time: Forcing cable companies to offer "a la carte" programming packages. No U.S. cable or satellite currently offers such a plan. However, as the Washington Post reports, "That may change, if some lawmakers and consumer groups get their way, as the cable industry finds itself under increasing scrutiny. Lawmakers report that their constituents are angry about cable bills that have risen at three times the rate of inflation since the industry was largely deregulated in 1996." McCain money quote: "I go down to buy a loaf of bread. I don't have to buy broccoli and milk to go with it." Bottom line is, cable companies have a government-authorized monopoly, so maybe they need to recieve government-mandated "innovation." Why should I pay for 15 non-English channels?"
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Congress To Force Cable a la Carte Plans

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  • evil cable companies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:47AM (#8702816) Homepage Journal
    unbundle everything except the local channels now! McCain is right.
    • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#8703229)
      Here's what I see happening.

      Cable rates will go up even more.

      Cable companies will charge even more for the individual channels in order to recoup the costs of administering the additional choices. Popular channels will go sky high such as CNN, ESPN, HGTV, etc. The channels nobody want's (QVC, HSC) will be free anyway. I wouldn't doubt if channels like QVC actually pay cable companies to carry them. Without those "support" dollars, they will pass on the full true cost (and then some) of those good channels.

      If you look at the technical issues, the only way to really do this is with digital TV. Considering the $5 or so / TV cost of the stupid box (plus even more for a remote in many places) that raises prices for households with a bunch of TV's. With old-analog, you could tivo multiple different channels at the same time while watching a third or fourth all on different channels. With digital, I'd need a box for each tivo plus one for each TV. It's easy to pay an additional $25 / month for stupid boxes.

      Thanks but no thanks.
      • by ralf1 ( 718128 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:39AM (#8703492)
        In some cases the shopping channels have purchased a failing small channel in your local market and then sued the cable company to carry its programming for free under the "must-carry" provisions of the last round of cable legislation. I know they've done that here in Houston.
      • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:52AM (#8703647) Journal
        A world where you connect online, and get your TV channels in a website like fasion, and anyone then can have a tv channel is what I would like to happen.
      • by ZoneGray ( 168419 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:59AM (#8703720) Homepage
        Mostly what will happen is that the small channels will go out of business, or be bought out by the bigger ones. There's a chikcen & egg problem with niche channels, because they need to sell advertising. The dual-revenue model (subscription fees + ads) only works for established stations like ESPN, or those who can piggyback on bundled packages to get distribution.

        The likely scenario if a la carte were mandatory would be for major channels to acquire smaller ones, then shift some key programming over to the smaller channel in hopes of building the subscriber base. If that didn't work, they'd just shut it down and cherry-pick the programming.

        A la carte sounds nice, until you realize that the menu will change once it goes into effect. If I could pick and choose amomg existing channels, it might be one thing. But that won't be the choice once reality hits home.

        And for that matter, this sort of price regulation inevitably makes it illegal to offer certain discounts... they couldn't do a "buy ESPN & CNN, and get another channel for free" for example, without reducing the base price of the individual channels. Most likely, they'd have to break out a base "service cost", so out of your $40 cable bill, they'll say that $30 of it is technology overhead and $10 is programming. Or $10/$30, depending on which is more profitable. Don't worry, the FCC will play right along with whatever they request.

        And expect the news and political channels to get an exemption.

        Meanwhile, this is about the third time in a row that Congress has promised to lower our cable bill in an election year. How many times are we gonna fall for it?
      • by mig0 ( 632825 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:00PM (#8703735)
        I think you're right.

        I also think that some channels that are less popular will simply get removed, regardless of the wishes of the fans of _those_ networks feel, which can be unfortunate if you happen to be a fan of that network. I may not care about HGTV but what if it were more popular than Boomerang? Which channel is going to get dropped first to make way for another channel?

      • by digitalamish ( 449285 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:05PM (#8703775)
        Sure if you got the same number of channels it would be the same price, but if you only picked up the channels you want, it may make the cost go down for the consumer. I'm sure someone else really wants all of the religious/CSPAN/Oxygen network choices, but I don't. It might also force some networks to reevaluate. MTV, for instance, might take note if 50% of their viewers dropped MTV and MTV2 picked up.

        Honestly, out of the 100 channels you get, how many do you spend more than a fraction of a second surfing past? I probably only watch 20% of the channels I get. If the rates were to double for all of basic cable, but I only paid for the 20% I wanted, I'm still saving.

        One downside I see is that networks could become like TV shows. If it doesn't perform well in the first year, it'll get pulled for something else.
        • Who watches MTV? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Gruneun ( 261463 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:47PM (#8704282)
          MTV, for instance, might take note if 50% of their viewers dropped MTV and MTV2 picked up.

          Except, MTV is mostly viewed by the people in a household who are not the ones paying the cable bill. A sudden drop in subscribers could just as easily be explained by parents angrily dropping the channel, giving MTV back its "rebel" status and making it even more appealing to the younger crowd... you know, the ones with the disposable income.

          If you don't believe me, look at VH1, a channel that plays much more music, appeals to an older crowd, lives under the same umbrella... and doesn't come close in ratings or revenue.
        • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:16PM (#8704612)
          "Honestly, out of the 100 channels you get, how many do you spend more than a fraction of a second surfing past? I probably only watch 20% of the channels I get."

          And, honestly, how many percent of the programming on those channels do you watch? So, why should we have to pay for the rest of the crap that's on?

          Why not just skip the middle men and just buy the content we want?
        • by TheScottishGuy ( 701141 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:17PM (#8704628)
          nonestly i don't think people will end up paying less for cable, what i reckon is likely to happen is that the good channels will be billed at something silly like $5 a month, now that doesn't sound too bad, but figure a base charge for connection say $20-$25 maybe they offer a free channel for the top tier, maybe you add Fox, MTV2, and your favourite sports channel, now already you're at $35-40 a month, your cable bill is $10 cheaper but you have a whopping 4 channels, there's also the point that networks that run multiple channels, like ESPN and MTV and C-span would likely spread the programming so that you need to buy both MTV and MTV2 to get what you really want.
      • by Inebrius ( 715009 ) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:43PM (#8704242)
        The whole cable box thing is how they get their rates to go up.

        I remember back when the cable companies could charge based on how many TVs you had hooked up in the house.

        But then that got dropped (lawsuits?). So now, you pay the same rate for service to the house, and you can run it to any number of TV sets that the signal will support.

        With cable boxes, they bring back a way to charge you per TV again. That is by choice. With digital TV and standards, the basic channels don't need to be scrambled and you wouldn't need separate boxes for each TV. The only ones that would need a box are the ones that get premium channels. But even technology could take care of this.

        There are ways to deliver ala carte, that would not require a separate box per TV with a per box fee, but that is not what the cable/sat providers would want.
  • by ellem ( 147712 ) * <> on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:48AM (#8702826) Homepage Journal
    Why should I pay for 15 non-English channels?

    Dude Xuxa, ilLvatello, those chicks are all so hot and slutty.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:49AM (#8702836)
    While I am completely against government regulation of things like cable, the Cable Companies have made their own bed on this one. They scammed themselves a legal monopoly, now they have to dance to the government's tune. Of course, they'll just pass the 'costs' of this on to the consumer. But they can't claim some kind of moral high ground against 'government interference', when they've been sucking off the government tit for the last 20 years.
    • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:04AM (#8703055) Homepage Journal
      Ah, but what exactly will those costs be? At least some consumers, who will get only two or three channels, will pay less. Those who really do watch all 395 channels will pay more. Funny that more government regulation should play out like free-market capitalism.

      The losers may not be the consumers, but the low-end stations that are being subsidized right now. If the cable company drops 78 of those 395 channels because nobody's watching, there aren't any costs to pass on to the consumer (but I'm sure they won't be dropping prices, either). It sure sucks if you work for one of those 78 channels, and they pay the costs, but we can save money by exporting those jobs to India...wait, wrong discussion.

      The consumer will also lose out on those 78 channels of original programming, but such is life in a free-market economy: if not enough people want it, you can't get it.
  • by thebra ( 707939 ) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:49AM (#8702841) Homepage Journal
    I've been wanting this for so long. I hate paying for things I don't need.

    "Besides adding to the cost, cable companies say, selling channels individually might make it difficult for lesser-watched, niche channels to survive."

    This is bad how?
    • by EricWright ( 16803 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:57AM (#8702975) Journal
      Well, I hate to break it to you, but what's stopping TW/Charter/Cox/etc. from charging you $3/channel (or pick your favorite insane amount) on the a la carte plan? They will still be (essentially) a monopoly.

      And what about the niche channel you like (TechTV maybe?) that the general populace couldn't care less about? Will you be happy when they go under because only a select few people want to pay for it?

      I'd love to see a la carte television myself, but only if it's a reasonable price and the selection doesn't decrease. In reality, I just don't see that happening.
      • by That's Unpossible! ( 722232 ) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:08AM (#8703106)
        Well, I hate to break it to you, but what's stopping TW/Charter/Cox/etc. from charging you $3/channel (or pick your favorite insane amount) on the a la carte plan?

        Market forces? TV is a luxury, and they have competitors via satellite TV and the internet.

        And what about the niche channel you like (TechTV maybe?) that the general populace couldn't care less about? Will you be happy when they go under because only a select few people want to pay for it?

        If there is no market for it, why is it on the air? Why should people who don't like it subsidize it? I may lose a channel or two that I care to watch, but that is capitalism baby!
      • Well, what is happening to niche shows NOW? Can the cable companies really disambiguate which shows are valuable? Critically acclaimed shows get cancelled all the time for mind rotting sitcome pastiche. Maybe a show's audience simply isn't prone to buying stuff through advertising. Right now I can't effectively vote with my dollars. If I buy a package, I vote for 100 different things, when I really wanted to vote for 3. I would be GLAD to pay a higher per-channel fee if I got ONLY the channels/shows I
      • Not only that... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Chordonblue ( 585047 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:14AM (#8703167) Journal
        How exactly is this going to solve the problem of companies like Viacom charging for their own package deals? You all realize of course that this is how it works for cablecos as well?

        I'm all for choice, but this will in no way affect the PROVIDERS of the entertainment. The American public has already shown a willingness to basically pay whatever they have to for their entertainment (look at ticket prices to any event nowadays for proof!) The program providers know this and so no matter what the cablecos do to split up channel selections, THEY will still pay out the ass.

        Now THAT'S 'reality television' for you...
      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:26AM (#8703321) Homepage Journal
        A channel with poor ratings will be pulled off the air regardless. However ratings might lie, a channel to which no one subscribes will be pulled off the air. Want to keep that channel alive? Subscribe to it, whether you watch it or not. If enough others do the same, it will live. If not, there was not sufficient public interest, let's try that channel's theme again in five years and see if it flies.

        If I paid $3/channel I actually watched my cable bill would be about 1/4 the amount it used to be for basic digital. Sounds great to me.

    • This is bad how?

      This is bad because it further encourages the homogenization of the entertainment industry.
    • by jcoleman ( 139158 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:06AM (#8703076)
      I've been wanting this for so long. I hate paying for things I don't need.

      Why do you have cable TV in the first place, then?
  • Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by glpierce ( 731733 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:49AM (#8702843)
    "...angry about cable bills that have risen at three times the rate of inflation..."

    Don't forget that quality has also dropped noticeably. We're paying more for more channels, not more good programs.
    • Re:Quality (Score:5, Funny)

      by That's Unpossible! ( 722232 ) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:17AM (#8703204)
      Don't forget that quality has also dropped noticeably.

      Prove it. I call bullshit. The 'poor quality' argument is a favorite of the "HEY EVERYONE, I DON'T OWN A TV, LET ME TELL YOU WHY" crowd.

      I enjoy: The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, The West Wing, Arrested Development, Survivor (the only reality show I watch or have any interest in), Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Dennis Miller's new show on CNBC, ESPN SportsCenter, HDTV live sports, and now HBO has rolled out their next good show, Deadwood.

      There is PLENTY of quality programming on TV.

      Just because there is also plenty of unadulterated SHIT out there doesn't mean the quality of all programming is down. You say the quality has "dropped noticeably." Prove it. I don't see it. I also don't read my horoscope or believe causation when there is only correlation.
  • by MadWicKdWire ( 734140 ) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:50AM (#8702851) Homepage
    So when did a-la-carte mean cheaper? Go to a mexican restaurant and order a 3 enchilada meal, and order 1 crispy taco on side. Unless you are going to Taco Bell... that damn crispy taco is going to cost you just about as much as 1.5 enchilada!

    The cable company is going lobby against this big time. If someone just wants TechTV only at their office, it's going to cost them big time. The cable company would at least like to make some profit off of everyone of their subscribers.

    Thats my $0.02... oh yeah forget... since I'm only making one comment today, I'm charging more... that'll be $3.50.
    • So when did a-la-carte mean cheaper?

      True, but ultimately it won't work this way.

      With a-la-carte services they'll start out, pricing each particular program higher, like you say.

      But people will buy less. People will only buy 10 or 15 channels when formerly their package had 160 channels. And at the high individual program price, consumers will be even more discerning, cutting out ones they really don't want. To get the per/household revenue back to what it was, the cables companies will ultimately have
    • by Dracolytch ( 714699 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:29AM (#8703357) Homepage
      Sure, things are cheaper in volume. I honestly don't care about volume though. With my current company, my food choices are:
      No food
      One Taco
      15 Enchiladas
      Free reign of the kitchen

      There's a big space between one taco and 15 enchiladas.

      Right now I get about 60 channels, and I watch ~maybe~ 5 of them. I would happily drop the rest.

      If I drop 92% of my cable service, and the price doesn't go down, then something's fucked up.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:05PM (#8704484)
      After the recent Viacom/Dish dust-up, we were reminded of the bundling forced on cable operators by content providers -- want ESPN? Then you need ESPN2, ESPN classic, ESPN gardening, ESPN chess, the Menstruation Network, and the Colonoscopy Channel *or* you don't get ESPN. Oh, and because we're providing so many channels, the cost is high, too.

      Cable operators have said that forced bundling by the content providers forces them to bundle channels as well, since they could easily sell ESPN ala cart but the 27 shit channels they have to pay for as well to get ESPN wouldn't sell, making it a huge money loser.

      I'm generally in favor of unbundled channels, but only if they're vertically unbundled and the cable company only pays the content providers based on the subscriptions they have for those channels. Anything else should be considered a restraint of trade.

  • by Faust7 ( 314817 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:50AM (#8702853) Homepage
    However, less-watched channels that serve distinct but smaller audiences, such as TechTV and BET, may not survive, because not enough viewers would pay for them.

    Which is fine. TechTV and BET are both complete garbage. What better way to improve the quality of programming than to mandate it through public dollar votes?

    (Just give me Sci-Fi, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, and the Playbo--er, Discovery, and I'll be good to go. Heck, maybe NBC as well, if for no other reason than this year's feisty presidential election.)
  • It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by G27 Radio ( 78394 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:50AM (#8702856)
    It's ridiculous for me to have to spend over $50/month for cable just to watch Comedy Central. I'd much rather pay just $5 a month for Comedy Central instead of the $30 extra or whatever I have to pay to get the "package" that includes it. Comcast sucks.
    • by Chordonblue ( 585047 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:24AM (#8703293) Journal
      My parents were going to discontinue their cable service but are litterally in a 'rock in a hard place' as far as picking up any local stations on rabbit ears.

      Nonetheless, my dad made the call and was informed that there was an unadvertised package for $15/month that would give them basic local and a few other channels. They called it the 'basic-basic' plan or some such garbage. I guess it was a way to keep people like my parents for leaving completely.

      The cablecos know their pricing is out of hand, but the fact is, the PROVIDERS of the channels are equally blameworthy, if not more so.

      Viacom: "Tell ya what. We'll give you VH2, MTV2 and 3, and the Munchkin Channel as part of our package deal!"

      Comcast Exec: "Yeah, but all we really want is VH2 and MTV 2 and 3..."

      Viacom: "Ah, so sorry. These channels only come as a package... Say! Would you like some Food Channel to go along with that?"

      Frustrating indeed!

  • Do this for DirecTV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HarveyBirdman ( 627248 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:50AM (#8702862) Journal
    I'd like to see it set up so I can pick and choose each and every channel, preferably via an onscreen check list at the set top box. And if there's something I want to see on a channel I don't normally have, I can order it just for that program right at the box.
  • English channels (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:51AM (#8702864)
    Why should I pay for 15 non-English channels?
    Even without seeing them, I can confidently say they're likely to be more entertaining than the english ones. Nope, no greek Survivor, chinese Friends, or japanese that want to be millionaires.
  • A big problem for cable companies is that they now have no real excuse to not have plans like this. Before digital cable they could at least claim some technological difficulties in setting up such a system. Now I would guess that it would involve minor changes to their infrastructure and users should easily be able to add or remove channels directly through their cable box.
  • by jbuilder ( 81344 ) <evadnikufesin&gmail,com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:52AM (#8702895)

    Why should I pay for 15 non-English channels?

    Don't get me wrong - I have NO problem with access to any of those channels, but what *I* have wanted for *years* is for cable (and satellite) companies to provide me with the content *I* want at a reasonable price. Not charge me for a 120 channels because that's the only way I can see the 20 that I actually *want*.

    I wouldn't mind so much IF cable wasn't so expensive. I looked from switching back from Dish Network to my local cable co.. The price I pay for *everything* that's available on my line-up is US$89/mo. via Dish Network. I wanted to get the local channels in HDTV. But to do that I'd have to switch back to cable. To switch back to cable, and keep my current channel lineup would have been US$170/mo!!! And that's not including the HDTV support...! To add insult - my local cable co (Comcast) doesn't *have* as many channels as Dish Network does.

    The Dish Network ads are right - cable cos. *are* pigs...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:54AM (#8702930)
    This could be a bad thing. Analog cable is an open standard that lots of hardware can use. We might lose effective access to the signal if it is not used.

    It is very hard for the cable company to do access control on Analog channels --- basically some person has to drive to your house and install a filter on the line. There are only so many filters that you can stack up there. Denying access to analog channels is so expensive, that often times they just forget to do it if you are downgrading from extended basic to basic service and the like.

    Meanwhile, digital channels can be individually decoded and decryped. Sounds great, but the problem is that it is proprietary. No TV tuner cards support it and neither does TiVo and the like.

    Be careful what you ask for....
  • by Ranger96 ( 452365 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:55AM (#8702951)
    I assume McCain's legislation will also include provisions rendering the contract provisions from content providers that require bundling of their offerings null and void. Otherwise, the point is somewhat moot. It's not just the cable/satellite service providers that are the problem.
  • Not a good thing.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWS ( 104239 ) <> on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:56AM (#8702954)
    as I quote someone I read on Fark, as it applies to slashdot as well:
    Members of Fark are a fairly intellectual minority (for the most part). Before you begin going off on your "this is what's best for a free market" spiel, check out the likely results. People here seem to think that the stations they want would be around in a year, because they picked them. Most of them won't. Stations like MTV, VH1, ESPN, SpikeTV, and other mainstream channels have by far the highest viewing (other then the local monsters of CBS, NBC, ect.) The channels I hear people on Fark want: Discovery, some of the News channels, History channel, are channels that, due to their viewership, will not get many subscribers under a "a la carte" system. They die. Pop culture and sports will survive. I'm a sports fan, but I'd like more to TV then sports and sitcoms. I'd rather pop culture not own the airwaves at all times, forcing more useful channels out in a shark tank frenzy of a ratings war, which is exactly what would happen.
  • by selderrr ( 523988 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:56AM (#8702955) Journal
    I wish the Belgian government would regulate similar principles (we have a cable monopoly too here). There are about 10 dutch speaking channels available, only 1 of which is worth watching. But the only way to get that one is by taking the whole shebang of crap with it. And since we don't want our kids to grow up with commercials, we decided to dump the TV and rent a movie every other day.
  • by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:56AM (#8702957) Homepage Journal
    If companies sell shit you don't want -- don't buy it.

    Yes, this means you have to give up the something you want, because it's bundled with a bunch of shit you don't want. Hang in there -- if enough consumers stop consuming the shit, companies will desperately try to save themselves from bankruptcy by selling you what you really wanted in the first place.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:58AM (#8702991) Journal
    If there was only one supermarket, then they probably would demand you buy everything in chunks of standard sizes. The thing is, we have competition, so since the customers don't want it, they could go somewhere else that does offer what they want.

    Cable companies don't have such competition. There's typically a choice between the local cable provider and a couple of satellite providers. They can get away with this sort of thing by a sort of unspoken agreement. If one of them offered a la carte, so would the others. .

    Essentially this is the prisoner's dilemma. They both know that they will both get the best results by cooperating
  • Technical Nightmare (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jratcliffe ( 208809 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:58AM (#8702998)
    While we'd all like a la carte pricing of cable, it's a nightmare from a technical point of view. The only possible way to do it would be to require everyone to have a digital box - trying to do this in analog simply wouldn't be feasible (i.e. try filtering 100-106Mhz out, allowing 106-112Mhz, filtering out 112-124Mhz, allowing 124-130Mhz, etc. - each cable tap would have dozens of filters, and each would push the limits of what passive filters can actually do).

    Therefore, we're talking requiring a digital box for each customer, and every single TV set - that alone will tack $5+ per TV onto everyone's monthly cable bill (digital boxes are ~$150-200 and up.

    You'd probably also end up with a lot of marginal channels going off the air (outside of Slashdot, how many folks will actually _pay_ for TechTV on an a la carte basis?).

    • by Cheeze ( 12756 )
      most cable companies already require a digital box. There was this law that says they have to be all digital by 2006 or something like that. I could be mistaken though, but comcast in my area requires a box on each tv, if you want to get any advanced programming.
    • by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:17AM (#8703207)
      My cable company has already started forcing us to move to digital if we want to keep the service we had a month or two ago. HBO Signature, Bravo, Sundance, BET Jazz, and a few channels I don't watch have been moved to a digital tier. This is not a real barrier. You're getting moved to digital sooner or later anyway.
    • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:40AM (#8703504) Homepage Journal
      Somehow a lot of C-band satellite providers do it, and they offer both package and a la carte pricing. You can buy a minumum (or no) package and add channels, or just buy a package. Their packages are also about 25% cheaper than dish or cable providers too, individual channels cost $1 to $1.50 except for the premiums (HBO, Star, etc), $3 a channel.
  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:59AM (#8702999)
    Lawmakers report that their constituents are angry about cable bills that have risen at three times the rate of inflation since the industry was largely deregulated in 1996.

    I thought the theory was that unregulated markets drove down prices and were good for consumers...

  • by Ridgelift ( 228977 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:06AM (#8703078)
    "I go down to buy a loaf of bread. I don't have to buy broccoli and milk to go with it." Bottom line is, cable companies have a government-authorized monopoly, so maybe they need to recieve government-mandated "innovation." Why should I pay for 15 non-English channels?"

    As a Canadian, we're used to this sort of socialism (NB: Socialism != Fascism != Communism). Many french and other non-english channels cannot survive in the market without being subsidized. Take our music industry for example. If you want to run a radio station here, you must play a certain percentage of Canadian artists so that US artists do not swamp out our industryt altogether.

    All in all, I think forcing people to pay for a small percentage is a good thing, but then again what do I know? I'm just a brain-washed Canadian.
    • by His name cannot be s ( 16831 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:45AM (#8703552) Journal
      Yes, in our socialist state of Canuckistan, we are indeed forced to accept the Canadian programming along with the Foreign content.

      However, I'd still take a-la-carte programming within those restrictions.

      Canadian content must be 1/3 of the total availible programming. Ok, I want 14 foreign channels, I'll take 7 Canadian ones. (7/21) That to me seems fair.

      Instead, I'm forced to take shit by the tier, and in order to get two fucking channels I want I need to take somewhere near 60. And none of which I care about.

      APTN? The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network? I'm sorry that there is not enough people to support such a station, but If I don't wanna watch it, why should I have to pay for it.

      No fucking wonder there are a million households in Canada pirating US satellite service.

  • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:12AM (#8703141) Journal
    Two points about the monopoly question:
    • In many places there isn't a monopoly, government-granted or otherwise, on pay-TV service. Some franchising authorities have granted permission for overbuilders to construct a second, competing cable system. In most areas there's a choice between cable and satellite. There are two satellite providers, since the FCC had the good sense to disallow the merger of Echostar and DirecTV.

    • Where there is a monopoly cable provider (ignoring satellite), the monopoly was not granted by the Federal government but by the local franchising authority. If a la carte pricing is going to be a requirement, shouldn't it be a requirement imposed by the authority granting the monopoly franchise?

    Finally, if Congress is going to require that the cable operators unbundle channels, then they better be sure that they require the media companies to unbundle as well. That is, if Comcast is required to sell ESPN without a dozen other Disney-owned channels, then Disney should also be required to make ESPN available to Comcast at a lower price than the bundle of ESPN plus other channels that they require Comcast to buy today. It would be interesting to see, should the cable and satellite providers sell those channels on a cost-plus-markup basis, how loud the end-users scream at ESPN's 20% annual price hikes :^)

  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#8703227) Homepage Journal
    "Lawmakers report that their constituents are angry about cable bills that have risen at three times the rate of inflation..."

    I get so sick of hearing complaints about the cost of X rising than more than the rate of inflation. Guess what, the inflation rate is an overall value, some things will grow at a higher rate, some lower. Given the fact that the value provided by cable has grown*, I really think people don't have much to complain about here. Think also of how much time people really spend watching cable - it is basically the main form of entertainment in most homes.

    This is like the constant whining over the price of gas. If you actually consider the value that consumers get out of it, the price itself isn't so bad.

    * While it is fashionable to constantly bemoan the lack of good content on TV, look at the diversity of offerings that cable provides, and the opportunity for shows to reach major success from small beginnings that never would have occured on network TV (like Trading Spaces or Queer Eye).
  • by abiggerhammer ( 753022 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:24AM (#8703292)
    Nothing in the article indicates that cable companies will only be able to offer a la carte services. I fully expect that Comcast, Warner, et al will go on offering their package-deals, and that most consumers won't have the time or inclination to pick and choose only the channels they want.

    For that matter, nothing's stopping the cable companies from providing a la carte selection at some outrageous price and package-deals at the prices they've been charging all along, on the grounds that if people want a service, they'll have to pay for it at a price the market will bear.

    The lament that "oh, we'll be paying $45/month for 6 channels" makes sense only if a-la-carte-only is mandated.

  • Charging by channel? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:25AM (#8703311)
    Maybe the whole idea of charging by the channel is fundamentally flawed. To really match the costs to benefits of cable service, it might be better to charge by the minute. That way, the people who use the service more pay more, and the people who use it less pay less. It could be set up like most other utilities, with a base rate to cover overhead, and various per-minute rates depending on channel, time of day, etc. Everybody could always access any channel, but they would pay the corresonding per-minute charge to watch.

    Of course, the problem with this is the cable companies' tendency to price gouge. However, maybe something as simple as mandating that the cable box always display an accurate real-time running count of the day's viewing charges might counteract this. Since most people are basically cheap, they'll shut off the service if they see the day's total go over a couple of bucks. This would put pressure on the cable providers to keep the charges reasonable.

    Another approach might be to give billing control over the various channels directly to the upstream provider. The current cable company would only handle the physical infrastructure, with their costs covered by the base rate. The content providers would compete against each other on price for the individual channels that people watch. This could work kind of like the current arrangement for competition in long-distance phone service, where you choose among long-distance services that are brought to you via your local phone company.

  • by techstar25 ( 556988 ) <techstar25 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:34AM (#8703431) Journal
    I only want the HD channels but Brighthouse required me to subscribe to the full digital package at $99/mo so I can get their 6 HD channels(ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS, NBC, Disc). It's another $4/mo a la carte for HDNet (2) and INHD(2), which show sports and cool concerts. Plus for me to get HBO in HD (Sopranos), I have to subscribe to the whole HBO/Showtime package which is like 15 more channels for another $20, and I watch only one of them. Give me those 12 HD channels for $3 each per mo ($36)and I'll gladly pay it. It would save me $100/mo. If people could get only the HD channels a la carte, I think they would.
  • by camperslo ( 704715 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:41AM (#8703509)
    Aside from the number of channels used or carried, I believe there are other factors that should be taken into account to force rate REDUCTION.

    1) Digital transmission allows carrying the content of many channels in the bandwidth of a single analog channel. These added channels cost less to carry and maintain since their addition does not tax the power output capacity of the distribution amplifiers. Also the demands for signal amplitude and freedom from cross-modulation (amplifier distortion causing noise and spill-over between channels) are lessened since the digital signal is less vulnerable than analog. Analog tv signals use vestigal-sideband amplitude modulation which is vulnerable to noise in the same way that A.M. radio brodcasts are. We've all seen the cost savings of digital transmission in long-distance telephone service. The same principles apply to some degree.

    2) Cable companies actually get kickbacks from sales on shopping channels, and often give those more desirable channel placement than things we want. They should pay US for carrying these!

    3) Cost of the systems are subsidized by locally inserted advertising in many cases. And while this competition for ad revenue is damaging to local radio and tv broadcasters, the cable company isn't faced with the high-cost of producing news programming, or the burden of complying with public inspection files.

    4) The cost for basic service users should be lower now that digital technology has virtually eliminated piracy of premium services.

    5) Although it should be fair use to watch and record cable programs on anything in a household (much like we're now free to have extension phones without added fees), digital transmission requires a decoder for each location, and we're stuck with added fees for this.

    6) We're stuck with paying perhaps $1 a month per decoder box for electricity to power the decoder boxes which are party of the cable company infrastructure. These boxes use power even when we're not watching which is not only costly, but environmentally unfriendly.

    7) In my area, there is an anti-competitive "cable access fee" of about $10/month tacked on for internet service of those that are not cable tv subscribers. This is unreasonable considering that the connection is simply a tap into an existing feed, NOT a dedicated cable all the way back to a central office (as it is with a phone company). To the extent that using the cable system for internet use covers a portion of the infrastructure costs, the cost for basic cable users should fall.

    Cable rates are held artificially high because we're dealing with monopoly. With lack of competition relief must come through regulation.
  • by mikeboone ( 163222 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:47AM (#8703582) Homepage Journal
    I think it would be cool if you paid for cable usage like you do for electricity...for how much you use. Give me access to every channel, and charge me by the minute. If I really like a certain show, I'll be willing to pay for it. If I go on vacation for a couple weeks, I pay nothing.

    It might also cut down on the mindless hours people spend in front of their TVs.
  • by s4f ( 523726 ) * <> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:47AM (#8703585) Homepage
    I don't know if I would want to pay for C-SPAN, If watch it once a week, that's a lot. And probably more than most. Yet. I really like the idea that it's there shining a light on what goes on in congress. And I'm willing to pay for it as a part of my cable bill, If there's not enough like me, then it'll go away. That would be bad.

    Also the cable companies need to make it easy and CHEAP to switch channels. Now you have to call them up, and it's a minimum of $5 for any changes. They should give me a package that I can choose 15 channels, and let me pick which, and change them at will.

    I would be reasonable to have then force you to make only one or two changes a month. Otherwise you could effectively rig the system to let you watch all of it. Especially if there was a web interface to the selections.

  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:07PM (#8703804) Homepage Journal
    This reminds me of the old saying: "Democracy is four wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner."

    With our current system, less popular channels are subsidized. That makes it possible for channels like TechTV, The Biography Channel, and Discovery Wings to survive.

    With a la carte cable plans, we run the risk of sinking to a least-common-denominator selection of cable programming, where the consumer is given viewing choices of pro wresting, Fear Factor, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, and soap operas. Small, special-interest channels may go under due to a lack of people willing to pay for them individually. Sure, mom & dad my get the kids to watch a National Geographic Channel show once every month or two, but will they be willing to pay for the channel every month? I bet that most of them won't.

    On the other hand, I don't like paying for non-English channels, either, nor do I have any great interest in women's channels like Oxygen. I don't really want the Home Shopping Club or QVC. But I recognize that people who do want those channels may not like paying for The Discovery Channel, The Science Channel, or Speed Channel, either, all of which I do watch.

    I'd rather see us go back to the old system where cable rates were regulated. This would prevent content providers from raising the rates too high, because they would know that the cable companies could not pass the costs on to consumers. Now they raise rates and the cable companies pass the costs on to us.
  • What I want (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cjpez ( 148000 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @02:19PM (#8705419) Homepage Journal
    I want to take it one step further. I stopped watching TV a few years ago, but there's still the occasional show (Invader Zim comes to mind) that I'd love to see, and just went over to friends' houses to watch. What I want to have is a service that lets me go to a webpage or something, select which *show* I want, and then for that half-hour or so I can watch just that show. There's no way in hell I'm paying a full monthly rate for all of Nickelodeon when the only thing worth watching on it is half an hour on Friday nights, or whenever the hell IZ was on.

    So yeah, that'd be great.

  • by ps ( 21245 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @02:31PM (#8705629)
    I used to want a choice in cable channels. I'm not a big sports fan, so I'd rather not have ESPN, nor QVC, etc. But after I thought about it for a while, it would probably be more expensive to have it ala carte, since the cable networks set the prices for their channels.

    Think about it for a second. We have, what, 108 million cable subscribers in the US? Round that to 100 million for simplicity. If each cable channel (ESPN, CNN, Discovery, etc.) gets $0.25 per subscriber, they get $25 million to cover the costs of production. But if all of a sudden, we have all but 1 million of those people no longer paying, the channel only gets $250,000. So if it actually takes $25 million to produce the shows, then they're going to have raise their costs to $25.00 to make up the difference. Do you want to spend $25.00 a month to pay for SciFi?

    Whether or not it costs $25 million to run the channel is open for debate.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"