Please let me buy tv channels à la carte

Posted by & filed under Misc.

Today’s rant is dedicated to the cable companies and other pay TV providers, that figured out how to make money by selling unneeded junk. You know that joke, “in the future there will be 500 TV channels… and nothing to watch“. The future is now.

Sadly, out of the 300 or so channels I have with Time Warner, 90% are junk, marginal channels and other fluff, meant to make me feel good about paying just a few cents per channel.
Problem is, even with Tivo trying to hunt down things I want to watch, I hardly go beyond 10 or so channels, sprinkled through the whole digital package.

And no, I don’t think I need ESPN, MTV (no music there anyways) or E!. Plus those annoying TV shopping channels (frankly they should be paying me for cluttering up my tv lineup).
Unfortunately both content providers and cable companies are happy with current status quo.

Content providers can inflate their viewership, or quietly sidestep it by providing “availability” numbers for their smaller channels. Fights break out over who gets to live on “basic” cable package, because so many people get it. “In fact 20.7 million homes throughout the USA now have access to GOD TV”, exclaims, for example, GOD TV channel’s web site. But of course out of those millions of homes only a tiny fraction actually watches the channel, but who cares about that…
So, the content providers get to charge more for advertising.

Plus, they also get to push their new channels in addition to the old and popular ones. You want ABC? Then you have to carry whole package of other smaller ABC channels. Have you ever tried to subscribe to HBO? It’s a whole bouquet, that rotates exactly same movies over 3-4 different channel, and no option to just have one “primary” HBO channel for a cheaper price. “But you’re getting 10 channels for the price of one!!”. Yeah, but there’s barely enough content for one channel.

Cable companies get to charge you more and more, and blame it on content providers (which is partially true, but don’t forget about the margins). And also play “hundreds of channels to choose from”.

There’s also a third group, that supports packages — people who say we need to keep this system or “small channels will die”. Great. That’s just a subsidy to keep weak and uninteresting channels afloat. Instead of culling channels with low viewership, everybody else pays for someone’s addiction to shopping for jewelry on tv, or watching something else strange on local access channel.
If content provider can’t be profitable, they will have to raise prices. But it also means that content quality will need to improve. Because if people loose interest in art channel, they will have to solve the problem of improving quality of tv shows, instead of shrugging it off by being packaged with some popular channel as a deadweight.

I hope FCC will have enough willpower and independence to force change into current system, and we will have more choice. I am not saying that we have to have only a la carte system. No, by all means add it as an option. If someone sees value in 50 “music” channels and all that tv shopping, great. For those who doesn’t want to sponsor stuff he/she is not watching, there will be “pick 10 channels” option (or even each channel individually).


One Response to “Please let me buy tv channels à la carte”

  1. KevinF

    Touche! I channeled my frustration for paying for a bunch of channels i don’t watch into starting the movement for TV a la carte.

    I truly believe that if we combine our collective energies through the power of social media that we could fight back against Big Cable. Entertainment should be what we want, when we want it, at a reasonable price.

    You can join us at and also at @tvalacarte.


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