07 August 2002

Time for Another ChasRant(tm)

I originally wrote the following as a comment for Todd Dominey's "What Do I Know?" blog, but it's a subject that drives me absolutely crazy (as only the really superficial and trivial stuff will) so I want to pass it along to my own regular readers:

Can someone explain to me any reason -- besides greed -- why we can't have a totally "a la carte" cable system? Most morons would gladly shell out $5/channel for way more channels than they actually watch, just so they can have "choice."

I am currently paying about $70/month (actually more, but that inclues the cable modem service that doesn't really affect this discussion) for cable television. That price includes HBO and Showtime (all versions), Music Choice (90 channels of music), and of course a large range of "basic cable" channels, and an awful lot of channels I think of as "Basic" (like Food Network, CourtTV and Bravo) that a lot of people have to pay extra for.

On the whole, I'm quite happy with Time Warner's service as they provide it to us here in the Orlando area. But the truth of the matter is that I have four complaints:

1. I can't abide the thought that some of my monthly money goes to support stations I loathe, particularly religious channels and shopping networks.

2. I hate the fact that Time Warner advertises it's all-digital services at every single commercial break. The stupid part is that only people who are already Time Warner customers can even see most of these ads. Hellllooooo?

3. There are a few channels (most notably the Independent Film Channel) that I'd like to get and can't. TW has been awfully good about taking requests, but there are still some channels that fall through the cracks and that we will never get here, because of either bandwidth limitations or local politics (so no Gay/Les/Bi-orientated channels, for example).

4. There are absolutely no public access channels here.

This could all be rectified easily by switching to a totally a-la-carte pricing system. For example: let's say you have to have a basic package that includes local channels (to pacify the FCC) that costs you $20/month. Fine. From there, you can simply add any basic or extended-basic channel you desire for another $5/month. Premium channels such as HBO et al cost more, maybe $10-20 month due to their "ad-free" nature and willingness to put on riskier, more intelligent programming. Music channels can be an extra $1/month.

Let's see, beyond the basics I would need Turner Classic Movies, Bravo, Trio, IFC, AMC, A&E, The History Channel, Food Network, BBC America and what the heck, one channel of HBO. Throw a couple of music channels on there as well.

That's $77/month. Yes, more than I'm paying now. And I would gladly pay it to be rid of all those other channels I have to slog through to try and find something decent on those rare occasions when I want to do a stretch of alpha-wave TV viewing. Of course, to keep me abreast of other possible channels I might want to subscribe to, my local cable company has lots of "free weekends" full of other options. I might add something, sure. Or remove a channel that's gone bad or I've grown bored with. The cable company still makes money (and they would make lots more money off stupid TV addicts than they do now!), and the plebes would still have all their sports and fluff channels because believe you me, they outnumber us. The only reason I can see why they don't do this is because they know that religious channels, local "all-news" channels, home shopping networks and other crap everybody hates would die off lickety-split, and that affects their corporate coffers. Instead of offering 200-500 channels, most would be scrambling to have 100 channels to offer by the end of the sixth month. Gee, the free market at work?

Let me put it this way: I'm not forced to buy every -- or even most -- of the magazines on the rack at Borders. I pick up a few new ones every now and again and give them a spin, I might even buy them regularly for months -- or years -- before I subscribe. The ones I really like, of course, I subscribe to. Why should it be any different for digital delivery services like cable TV? I'm sick of these companies reminding me during every commercial break that they have an all-digital network, then not letting me configure this all-digital thing the way I want -- supposedly the point of an all-digital future!

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