Cable operators considering "a la carte" channel service

By on September 28, 2011, 1:30 PM

Cable operators are said to be mulling over the idea of offering channels “a la carte” in an effort to combat increasing popularity from online video streaming providers and regain lost subscribers. Such a move would represent a massive shift in how providers have traditionally offered programming to customers, as reported by Reuters.

Consumers have been asking for such a model for as long as I can remember but providers had little reason to oblige. With no competition in the market in terms of alternate delivery methods, programmers were free to bundle channels together, forcing the customer to subscribe to channels they didn’t necessarily want in order to have access to a few that they were interested in.

But with new online delivery methods, higher programming production costs and a slow economy, cable operators may have to force programmers to unbundle networks and let customers subscribe only to the channels they are interested in. Comcast and Time Warner Cable collectively reported a loss of 1.2 million video customers in the last year ending on June 30.

"We feel that some of those expensive channels should be offered a la carte so only those people who want to watch them actually pay for them," said Jerry Kent, chief executive of Suddenlink, which has 1.3 million cable customers.

Allowing customers to opt out of certain channels in a package could save viewers a lot of money. For example, EPSN is the most expensive channel in the US at around $4 per subscriber. Customers not interested in sports could nix this and other ESPN channels from their lineup.

There’s no doubt that such a move would have a significant impact on major networks and they are likely to fight a shift.

Are you in favor of a la carte service, are you happy with your current bundle or have you washed your hands completely of traditional paid television programming?




User Comments: 52

Got something to say? Post a comment
gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

This is actually pretty big news if true. Being forced to pay for about 50 channels in languages I don't speak was a big factor in me getting rid of cable.

treeski treeski said:

Stop mulling it over and do it already!!!

Guest said:

about freaking time...dump 150 of my 170 channels and adjust price accordingly!!!

Guest said:

I haven't had cable for a couple years now. I torrent heavily, have a netflix and hulu plus account. If the prices are reasonable I would definitely go for this. I miss ESPN and some of the more obscure science channels. Oh and HBO and Showtime! I would happily pay for those.

Guest said:

ZOMG

It only took the loss of millions of subscribers for this idea to finally be considered

Consumers have been asking for this since the birth of cable

There is nothing to mull over.

Evolve or die greedy cable companies

SammyJames said:

Goodbye, Fox News Channel... I won't miss you.

Guest said:

I have now been without cable for slightly more than a year. In this area, an antenna brings about 40 channels, some in HD and all at great quality. I miss Dexter, Nurse Jackie and certain others, but not enough to pay for even a basic cable package. If I could order la carte, they would at least get _some_ business from me, as opposed to none!

Mydnight said:

Yea, this needs to happen. I might actually pick up a few channels that I'm interested in.

Guest said:

This is funny bcuz i have more than 10 years without cable and suddenly my family make a contract with a company..they gave me my extension but for me its useless.... i dont use it...most of the channels are b u l l s h i t and i dont need the 99% of the channels...everything its on the internet...legaly or ilegaly so...who the f uk needs them? their technology sucks...in my country they reencode the analogic signal to make as a DVD resolution and the worst its that they use SD when everyone has HD tv......of course they rent you the DVR but its useless and fake HD so.....its useless they need to disssapear...besides where are the other channels of the rest of the world? only american s h i t

Guest said:

Well not to be a smart but ... I have Videotron in Canada and we have to get the basic channel(that i never watch) BUT i have a 15 chanel a la carte contract that i can edit online and after 24 boum the chanel is on my tv (you do have to keep the changes for 1 billing period)

there are some that are still bundle like SPEED channel is with 3 other channel that im totaly not interested in so i didnt take that extra

Route44 Route44, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

This is actually pretty big news if true. Being forced to pay for about 50 channels in languages I don't speak was a big factor in me getting rid of cable.

This. Most of what cable offers are waste channels and yet I pay for them.

Guest said:

I've (and most others) have been asking for this for years. Of course time will tell if this is for real and how long it lasts or what prices they charge.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Wow, could you imagine the havoc that an a la carte system would create? Cable systems have been throwing more and more junk together into "channels" to inflate their lineups and try to make customers feel like they are getting more, so they don't notice the screams their wallets are making every month. If you suddenly give consumers a choice, I would guess that about 80% of the channels out there today (that are not sports or premium movie networks) would fail due to lack of subscribers. How many people are going to actually choose to pay for channels like the game show networks, or "reality" tv networks that show constant repeats of stuff you could have seen elsewhere?

The cable lineup bloat would implode, and we'd end up back closer to the compact lineups that existed in cable's infancy. But then, of course, the customers would end up paying more and more for each individual channel to make up for the lost revenue...

madboyv1, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

about freaking time...dump 150 of my 170 channels and adjust price accordingly!!!

This is roughly where I stand (my spread of channels is a little different), though I will admit channel surfing HAS landed me some entertaining nights on channels I normally don't go to. Not too often mind you.

Guest said:

this would make me so happy. I lost my favorite channel because fios bundled it with some movie package (even though it was a scifi channel?) I didnt want to pay x amount more, i already pay 150+ for the fios stuff. I'd love to get some awesome channels without having to pay for ones in languages i dont speak!

Guest said:

GOODBYE "MSNBC" you wont be missed

SammyJames said:

Vrmithrax said:

The cable lineup bloat would implode, and we'd end up back closer to the compact lineups that existed in cable's infancy. But then, of course, the customers would end up paying more and more for each individual channel to make up for the lost revenue...

Yes. Back to the time, for instance, when there was ONE Cable News Network. And when there was ONE Music Television channel.

SammyJames said:

Guest said:

GOODBYE "MSNBC" you wont be missed

T-Bagger.

Guest said:

I guess we can both get CNN :-)

SammyJames said:

I'm a bit weary of the back-and-forth political thing in this country. I want for ALL extremists to go away. I want my middle-America back NOW. I want to be able to go to a Denny's and know that I'm getting a great meal that doesn't have Alar on the Apples and that the plastic cups weren't manufactured in China. I want to know that the beef didn't come from Brazil, and that the oil that we once bought from Saudi Arabia and Canada has been replaced by solar power and wind generators.

I want to buy tools and computer parts that are manufactured in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. I want to own a bicycle that was built in California, using ONLY graphite and steel mined from American lands. I want my toothpaste free of radiator fluid, and my pills manufactured in Vermont.

I want to live in a country that is a land of plenty for all. I want to be able to walk down the street without being accosted ten-times daily by homeless people, ten feet away from morons wearing furs and fine leathers, sipping cocktails and reminiscing about the "good old days."

I want, in short, the 1950s -- with all of the poverty, racism, sexism, and agism erased -- with today's promise for the future and none of the ghosts of our past. Do I want the impossbile? Maybe. But I'll tell you this --

We all like TV. And if we can come together by obliterating its current state, then I'm ALL FOR IT. Because THAT, my friends, WILL bring us closer together as a nation.

MilwaukeeMike said:

SammyJames said:

Guest said:

GOODBYE "MSNBC" you wont be missed

T-Bagger.

I notice you didn't deny it, Sammy.

Guest said:

Maybe this will prevent the owners of those crappy channels from creating new ones that are just as bad. They don't really care about the comsumer unless you've been suckered into paying them your hard earned money. I've been without cable or satellite for close to 3 years now and I don't miss it at all!

Even if the they do go 'a la carte', you can bet your bottom that they are going to figure out some way to rape you one way or the other.

SammyJames said:

milwaukeemike said:

SammyJames said:

Guest said:

GOODBYE "MSNBC" you wont be missed

T-Bagger.

I notice you didn't deny it, Sammy.

I don't deny that the Guest is a T-Bagger.

I'm a strong Democrat, and I'm PROUD of it. Anybody who has paid any attention to my posts here and all over the web knows this too. I voted for Obama and will do so again. I believe in integration, Medicare, Social Security, and public works programs. I feel that FDR was the best president of the 20th Century, that Abraham Lincoln was the best of the 19th, and all others before Obama had too many other problems to qualify as "great" presidents.

Are you happy now?

And also -- George Washington did some things right -- and wrong. Owning slaves is never right, and is a huge mark against him in my view. Especially at a time when he was touting the "Age of Enlightenment." I don't think that enlightened people own slaves.

MilwaukeeMike said:

SammyJames said:

I'm a bit weary of the back-and-forth political thing in this country. I want for ALL extremists to go away. I want my middle-America back NOW.

I agree Sammy, but we won't see it again. Our system has some serious flaws. The current political strategy is 'Let the other party be in control for a while, because the easiest way to get elected is to let them screw up for a bit.' It's a sick irony... both groups fight for control, but it's far easier to sit on the side and criticize than to lead. I'd bet my job that if Obama gets elected again a republican will be elected in 2016..... well... if I still have a job. (I'm kidding, i'm kidding)

Anyway... back to cable...

A la Carte! GO! Do It!

MilwaukeeMike said:

I'm not getting into a political debate on a tech website in a cable TV article... but for fun... type 'FDR prol' into google and see what it fills in for you.

SammyJames said:

milwaukeemike said:

Our system has some serious flaws. The current political strategy is 'Let the other party be in control for a while, because the easiest way to get elected is to let them screw up for a bit.' It's a sick irony..

Anyway... back to cable...

A la Carte! GO! Do It!

*SIGH* Yeah, you're right man. I'm sorry if I come across as being too extreme myself. I'm constantly trying to check my own head before I go spewing accusations at others. It's difficult though, because I have the dual problem of not only not having a job -- but being disabled on top of it. Being disabled means many things, but I assure you that my disability is very real, physical, and causes me physical problems.

Anyway -- look -- you're also right. A-la carte IS the way to go. At least we can save some of that money and put it where it BELONGS -- in our savings accounts, in our credit-card accounts, and in our checking accounts. And maybe we'll be able to dig our way out of this mess -- simply by spending less money on crap that we don't need that gets advertised to us by companies whose designs are far from benevolent.

- S

P.S. Go and see The Daily Show for Sept. 26th. Great commentary by Jon Stewart, who said [while showing a photo of Ronald Reagan]: "I feel like if this guy came along now and tried to run for president today -- most Republicans would say: 'Ah -- I'm not really into those Hollywood types...'"

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Vrmithrax said:

If you suddenly give consumers a choice, I would guess that about 80% of the channels out there today (that are not sports or premium movie networks) would fail due to lack of subscribers.

Yep. Although advertising might stem the tide so that it won't be that bad.

Without getting into politics, I can understand how even in a very capitalistic society as ours we still subsidize certain things, I draw the line at entertainment.

SammyJames said:

gwailo247 said:

I can understand how even in a very capitalistic society as ours we still subsidize certain things, I draw the line at entertainment.

Gwailo -- I agree with you. Entertainment meaning sports, movies, and pop music, among other such exploits.

I still feel that we should subsidize school music and art education programs, because let's face it -- kids who excel in art and music typically also excel in mathematics and computer skills.

You need to learn about subdivisions in time in music, and you need to visualize spatial structures and geometric shapes in art. This all comes back to computer programming, which is at the root of why everyone on Techspot is here.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

About frickin' time. I absolutely HATE that I'm stuck paying for a brazillion channels I could care less about.

SammyJames said:

TomSEA said:

About frickin' time. I absolutely HATE that I'm stuck paying for a brazillion channels I could care less about.

You could NOT care less about them.

If you COULD care less about them, then you are suggesting that you care about them at all. Which you probably don't. And I agree -- because I hate TV. Well, not really. But I could live without it.

My computer, on the other hand, I could NOT live without.

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

"If you COULD care less about them, then you are suggesting that you care about them at all."

Ahh...I've been duly busted for bad grammar. Correction: I care less about paying for a brazillion channels I never watch.

Tanstar said:

One each of the major networks, USA, TNT, SciFi, Cartoon, Weather Channel, one each of Liberal and Conservative News (so I can possibly figure out the truth between them), every general sports channel, football specific channels, and The History Channel. That should do it

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

I'd actually subscribe to cable again.

compdata compdata, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I dumped cable and am probably unlikely to go back. However this would defintily make it more likely. It would also likely help keep cable companies keep costs down by showing customers which channels cost the most (ie putting presure on the networks to keep costs down).

Guest said:

I think this would also help with the bandwidth as well during streaming, you know how one channel that has alot of action in it would steal resolution from a channel that doesn't! And finally, pay for what I want to watch.... Please, no commercials!!!!!!!!!!!

Timonius Timonius said:

Sorry, too little too late. I ditched cable over a decade ago. I don't like commercials and network television in general and prefer to actually support well crafted entertainment selectively by purchasing it directly (eg. dvd, bd, tv show box sets, etc.) or streaming it (eg. netflix, youtube, etc.). I find this is the best way to support what is actually good and not have all the crap shoved down my throat.

Guest said:

I doubt the ala carte would be true to the phrase. I'm sure it would not be, "pick 5 or 10 or 15 channels from this list". It would more than likely be, "pick this group or that group of channels from this list of groups". I subscribe to Cox and only get broadcast basic cable (broadcast channels, cable access and spanish/portuguese channels). If they came out with true ala-carte, I would certainly consider it.

aj_the_kidd said:

Guest said:

I doubt the ala carte would be true to the phrase. I'm sure it would not be, "pick 5 or 10 or 15 channels from this list". It would more than likely be, "pick this group or that group of channels from this list of groups".

I suspect that this might be the compromise, buts its better then paying for a 100+ channels you never watch

Butch said:

Good idea but somehow I think the price will not go down with this model. We will just get less channels for the same or slightly less money. Streaming content like Netflix, Hulu etc have a LONG way to go. I subscribe to both and other than a few older sitcoms and documentaries there is really not much there for me. But then again, I really don't watch a lot of TV so I'll live. However, I do miss one or two HBO series' ... If I could get one or two news channels and HBO for a few dollars a month I would consider it but you know it will never go below $30/month no matter what. Plus add all the equipment rental fees, surcharges and god know what else we are right back up to where we are now.

supertech supertech said:

It's about time. Why should I pay for 100 channels when I watch 10 channels and have no interest in the others. For example, I want HDnet only but I have to pay an extra $10/month for a package that includes that. NO THANK YOU.

The cable companies have been living in the stone ages so they better get with the program.

Tomorrow_Rains said:

I vote for Darth Vader Every Election.

True story

I've voted 2 times already, both darth vader.

ANd my local elections?

Luke Skywalker

or General Akhbar

True story.

jjbeard926 said:

I work for a cable company and actually suggested this two years ago to them. The answer from my company was "great idea! But we can't do that". The reason was actually contractual. We have contracts with content providers, aka channels. These company own a lot of channels, not just one, and our contracts with them require us to carry and provide a certain set of channels together. So for example if we want to offer Fox, we must also provide the Fox News channel to those same people, as well as FX, however their SPEED channel can be offered as a separate, higher level of service.

All broadcasters operate this way, you want one channel, then you have to pay us for two and must offer both to the same customers. Exceptions can exist, but they tend to be rare and similar to our deal with the SPEED channel, we still have to buy it but we're allowed to charge a premium for it. The way this works out is we pay for these channels regardless of whether our customers pay to get them. So if we have 100 customers that upgrade to that SPEED channel or 1 million, we still pay $700,000 a year to have the channel. Cable companies want to use an ala carte system. It's the broadcasters that don't. They like getting a few hundred checks every year for over $10 million for all their channels, and they use that money on lawyers to make their contracts rock solid.

So unless we can get broadcasters to change how they structure their system, this will not likely happen.

Renrew Renrew said:

Amazing---the Cable co's actually are listening to the consumer--could it be because they're losing millions of subscribers?

Hear this--I refuse to pay for TV and then be hit with commercials every 5 minutes or so, you have more housecleaning to do than promising al la carte to get back your subscribers.

Staff
Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

A la carte is the way to go, but it'll be 20 years before this happens....

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I work for a cable company and actually suggested this two years ago to them. The answer from my company was "great idea! But we can't do that". The reason was actually contractual. We have contracts with content providers, aka channels. These company own a lot of channels, not just one, and our contracts with them require us to carry and provide a certain set of channels together. So for example if we want to offer Fox, we must also provide the Fox News channel to those same people, as well as FX, however their SPEED channel can be offered as a separate, higher level of service.

All broadcasters operate this way, you want one channel, then you have to pay us for two and must offer both to the same customers. Exceptions can exist, but they tend to be rare and similar to our deal with the SPEED channel, we still have to buy it but we're allowed to charge a premium for it. The way this works out is we pay for these channels regardless of whether our customers pay to get them. So if we have 100 customers that upgrade to that SPEED channel or 1 million, we still pay $700,000 a year to have the channel. Cable companies want to use an ala carte system. It's the broadcasters that don't. They like getting a few hundred checks every year for over $10 million for all their channels, and they use that money on lawyers to make their contracts rock solid.

So unless we can get broadcasters to change how they structure their system, this will not likely happen.

Hadn't really considered the contractual side of things, that makes the whole idea a hot sticky mess, doesn't it? Ah well, if the content providers decide to remain dinosaurs and make a stand, they'll eventually be performing for an empty room. The times they are a-changing, and they had better learn to adapt.

Route44 Route44, TechSpot Ambassador, said:

What I want to know is it the broadcasters who are responsible for taking a two hour movie and stretching it to 2 and half to four and a half hour event, i.e. greater length = more commercials = more $, or is it the cable companies doing this crap?

Seriously, it has become epidemic.

Renrew Renrew said:

Ah well, if the content providers decide to remain dinosaurs and make a stand, they'll eventually be performing for an empty room. The times they are a-changing, and they had better learn to adapt.

Well said.

anguis said:

Great news if they do it right. 10 channels I don't want that are $0.50 each is still $5 of waste. I want to be able to knock off EVERY channel I do not watch. Not just the "more expensive" ones. Also with this a la carte method I would be able to subscribe to channels I would watch that aren't on my block subscription. I'd be more willing to pay for a channel like HBO in this case.

Guest said:

This is long time overdue. I can get 240 channels but only watch 5 on a regular basis.And, there is only so much I can buy on QVC. But as usual the pols will take the cableproviders "contributions" and nix the deal. And then the providers will say we tried. And the publuic will again roll-over and take the sharp end.

Guest said:

Please hurry!

I'd love to drop ESPN and all of its sub-channels and save $4. That alone woujld be a step in the right direction.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.