03 January 2008

How to sell me television entertainment

First, some facts:

1. At the present time, I pay the cable company $52 every month for TV.

2. I only ever watch one channel. Much of the time, I really only watch one weekly show. $52 is the price of the cheapest available option from the cable company for me to access that specific channel. This means that 4-5 episodes of the one show costs me $52.

3. I can buy a full season of that show, 26 episodes, as DVDs from Amazon for $30. Unfortunately, these aren't generally available until months after the end of the season.

4. I can also watch any given episode of the show for free, within a day after its official TV airdate, if I download it off the Internet.

5. The cable company tells me that at some point in the not-so-distant future, they will be able to sell me access to individual single channels in an a la carte fashion. Unfortunately, their timeframe for "not so distant" is "maybe in five years" while mine is more like "by the end of this year."


a) At present, my most sensible course of action (financially speaking) would be to cancel cable television, download what I want to watch off the Internet, and then later on buy the DVDs when they become available.

b) What I'd prefer is a legal way to watch what I want at or near the actual official airdates, for the same cost as a) or lower. Even better than #5 above would be a way to buy realtime access to individual single shows - either in the form of "rent" the way it sort of is now, or actual purchase of each episode.

c) If such legal schemes as b) ever came into being, I wonder what implications they would pose to advertising, the funding of new TV shows, and the entertainment industry as a whole.

Vaguely related: How to sell me music


Eric said...

When I moved to my current residence two years ago, I didn't bother getting cable hooked up partly for the reasons you discuss: I can download shows and/or buy them on DVD for less than the cost of monthly cable. (On top of that, I also kinda wanted to get away from having the TV always on in the background, even when I wasn't watching; now the TV is in an upstairs room and I only use it for... (drum roll) watching things on it.)

If a cable company offered a la carte channels, I might consider it. Then again, if I'm willing to wait patiently I can own the whole series, watch it at my pleasure, and have total control over the viewing--rewinding for lines I didn't catch, pausing for info-rich moments (a half-hour Futurama episode can take an hour to watch on DVD), etc. So, as long as I'm willing to run away from friends and coworkers who ask me if I've seen something spoilerish, I might as well just wait for the DVD. (Yes, I know TiVo and its equivalents can do those things... if I want to spend extra money and/or time....)

There's been a home-entertainment revolution: enjoy it.

Random Michelle K said...

We've watched cable more this week than we have in the past month. That would be: The Rose Bowl parade and the Fiesta Bowl.

Otherwise, my grandmother watches shows during the day, but mostly she reads. If it weren't for her, we'd go back to no cable, watching the Rose Bowl parade at my parents house, and listening to football games on the radio.

Cable of any sort (we have Dish Network) is totally not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Makes me wonder if the Networks themselves should offer ala carte downloads of its shows for a small premium,.. commercial free, of course.

Janiece said...

We discussed this in my "Digital Age" class last semester. Don't worry - the networks will get their pound of flesh.

So...what's the fabu show you watch?? Enquiring minds want to know...!

MWT said...

Why, Stargate Atlantis of course. ;) Later on if Battlestar Galactica comes back, I'd be watching it, too.

And so of course my one channel would be Sci Fi. ;)

Meanwhile: one of the younger lurkers has just informed me that there already IS a way to acquire legal downloads of episodes shortly after they air. iTunes sells them for $1.99 apiece. I shall have to investigate further...

Eric: your reasoning reminds me of why I didn't bother to get a home phone line when I last moved. Basically, cable internet was cheaper than DSL, and I could just use my cell phone for phoning needs...

Steve: welcome to my blog. :) And yes - commercial-free downloads straight from the networks would be something I'd go for. (Provided they pay the writers, etc.)

Anonymous said...

As a PM for the IT dept - of a cable, phone and Internet company - I can say that there are many major challenges.

-- Billing! It would be extraordinarily difficult to set up. And the same would apply from the program/channel companies to the cable companies.

-- Program lineup deals. The programmers (i.e. HBO, etc) will only sell their channels in packages, and pricing depends on those packages being offered to customers. If you only offer the channel to on-demand customers, it's fiendishly expensive to buy.

-- Advertising. That's how cable companies make their money (although on demand helps)

-- Ratings. Currently only real time viewers count. Tape delay and on demand does not. Since ratings determine ad pricing and show renewal, it's an issue!

I'm not defending these practices - just pointing 'em out. You are under the misperception that the cable company is in the customer service business. It is not. It's in the advertising sales business. ;)

CW said...

I have a friend who is a cable executive, and I asked him why we couldn't have ala carte cable now. It turns out that it has nothing (or not much) to do with the technical issues.

Of the $52 you pay for cable, nearly $35 (according to my friend) goes to ESPN and other sports channels, because the sports marketing "package deals" for ESPN (and other sports channels) to broadcast professional sports are by far the most expensive programming in mass media.

They need all that money to pay the athletes' outrageous salaries - which they sure as heck aren't making from ticket sales, or even product promotions. Similarly major universities demand similarly huge sums to broadcast their games, and fund their (supposedly non-professional) sports programs.

So even though all you want is the Sci-Fi channel, the cable companies make you pay $35 to the likes of Barry Bonds and Dennis Rodman for the privelige of watching Stargate.

Because of the (involuntary, hidden) cost of professional sports, it is unlikely that the cable companies will be able to offer an attractive deal for ala carte cable TV.

I believe it will take some disruptive technology, like episodes-via-iTunes, or totally-internet-based DVR, to break the stranglehold that professional sports have on cable TV.

MWT said...

Ah, wonderful. If they're not interested in service to the paying customer, then I'm not interested in paying for their ads, either. Nor am I in the least bit interested in sports. So... I'm feeling less and less bad about cancelling my cable.

John the Scientist said...

CW - good to see ya, bud. Strange how we wind up on the same blogs.

The technology is already in place to break the stranglehold, but there is not enough of it - I think that the current Net can't handle the bandwidth demands if all programming went to Internet PPV at once. I'm hoping the writers strike will stimulate some new business models that in turn stumulate infrastructure growth.