A Game of Thrones
October 15, 2014 8:42 AM   Subscribe

 
Wow. "Socialism for the rich" has apparently come full circle since 2008, morphing from a condemnation into a completely sincere proposal. You can always trust AdWeek to bring you the best in newly-minted, or at least freshly coopted, ideology, but this is really something: from each according to their abilities, to Comcast according to Comcast's needs.
posted by RogerB at 8:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


It looks like we're going to need Net Neutrality now more than ever when this news sinks in at Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, et al.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


That last article is so doofy that I don't even really want to go there.

I really would like it if either A: the rumors are true and ESPN is really going to start streaming NBA games to non-cable subscribers, or B: somehow, someway, Turner and the NBA finally fix league pass. The occasional basketball game in the second half of the year on NBC is the only reason I haven't taken my antenna to Goodwill. (I used to watch football but yuck).
posted by selfnoise at 8:52 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


What complicates this for me is HBO's recent deal to stream older series through Amazon Prime. Unless you really care about recent episodes, you can catch up on The Wire, Sopranos, etc. for about $8/month (or less) already.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


But wait, is A la Carte the Worst Idea Anyone Has Ever Had?

Well, if you're Ad Week and you see a world where TV is paid for directly by subscribers and not by advertising, A La Carte is basically armageddon. The idea that ESPN would have to become $30 is a common fallacy. The pricing will be set to whatever makes the most money, and that formula is simple: Cost of Subscription x Number of Subscribers. If $6 means they get 8 times the subscribers than $30 would, they will charge $6 in a heartbeat.

It looks like we're going to need Net Neutrality now more than ever when this news sinks in at Comcast, TimeWarner Cable, et al.

Doubly so since this is a direct attack on a revenue stream of theirs. Of course, if they had brains, they'd be all set to do nothing but provide TCP/IP networking. But these are cable companies. They're not noted for brains.
posted by eriko at 8:53 AM on October 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


My family has HBO (because Comcast's Byzantine price structure basically includes HBO in any package that includes the basic cable channels that we might conceivably watch).

I have basically ignored HBO for as long as we've had cable. We watched a couple series, but always from other sources-- I never seem to manage to get into a good series until it's at least halfway through its broadcast run.

Anyway, we decided to watch Boardwalk Empire a few weeks ago when the entire series was offered on-demand. Of course, we were about four episodes in when Comcast pulled the early shows, and I was left figuring how I would procure the rest of them.

I was going to start torrenting when I remembered HBOGO-- I had resisted because screw digging up our Comcast online credentials. But I set it up and WOW! We are going to watch the shit out of HBO.

People without TVs or cable would eat that shit up. People who already have cable aren't generally going to cancel their subscriptions. It seems like it should have been an easy decision to offer streaming to non-subscribers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:59 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


"It's basically socialism" isn't exactly a selling point as long as I still have a functioning remote with which I can scan channels and see that the subsidized channel model has brought us only the lowest common denominator, a wasteland of reality TV, history about things that never happened, trash, and the shoddiest special effects possible. The SyFy network has now one appeal: to see just how terrible it will become before the entire operation burns to the ground as its own shame self-combusts.

Yes, cable channels are in for a relentless slaughter as they might conceivably be rewarded money based on a more direct accounting of who actually wants to watch these shows instead of endless middle managers' projections and interpolations based on "packages." We have a terrible, non-functioning model going on right now and articles like the above plea will guarantee that they will not go gently into the euthanasia chamber for a hit of the gas. Blood will run in the streets of Hollywood; it's up to my ankles.

The cable industry and the massive infestation of parasites which has somehow curled around its spinal cord have only its collective self to blame when it finally succumbs.
posted by adipocere at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2014 [31 favorites]


Unless you really care about recent episodes

"People really care about the recent episodes" is pretty much the basis of their business model.
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


The pricing will be set to whatever makes the most money, and that formula is simple: Cost of Subscription x Number of Subscribers. If $6 means they get 8 times the subscribers than $30 would, they will charge $6 in a heartbeat.

The only service doing this right now is the WWE network. At $10 a month, it presents an enormous value to fans, many of whom were used to paying $30-60 every month for pay-per-view events. And still they couldn't make their break-even subscription level.

Which isn't to say that other services won't be able to break even, but that it's not really viable yet. One of the biggest hurdles is probably that most people don't have any way to get these services onto their TVs. Most people don't want to watch their tablets or laptops.

A big content provider--Viacom, Disney, somebody--might want to offer a "free" device with a year's commitment, say, to make this work.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


HBO is currently priced at $16 per month, with a cable subscription. Are the people who want it unbundled really going to pay that, or more, per month?
posted by smackfu at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


is A la Carte the Worst Idea Anyone Has Ever Had?

No. Betteridge's Law aside, that article seems to assume that more channels == good, and therefore because an a la carte model would result in fewer channels, it would be bad.

That's crap. I'd rather have fewer channels that were exactly and only what I wanted. First, because some of the channels in my cable package basically offend me on a fundamental level to pay for them, and second because an a la carte model would allow signaling information from consumers to be passed through to the networks more efficiently.

Television doesn't and shouldn't be socialized. That's how you get shitty, lazy television. This isn't healthcare, that needs to be protected from the ravages of the free market, it's fucking entertainment. One of a hundred different ways in which you could spend your time and money at the end of the day. It's not sacred. We could do nothing better than to flip the fat, lazy carcass of cable TV upside down and expose its soft, tender underbelly to the slavering jaws of the free market.

And if it meant that some networks could no longer afford the sub fees? Fine — they'd go off cable, and probably go online. I suspect that Netflix / Hulu / etc. will be very happy to cut a deal with some of the lower-tier cable channels for exclusive deals on programming. (Which admittedly does "rebundle" content in a way, because Netflix at least is all-or-nothing in terms of access, but it at least it does it within a competitive framework and not through the cable companies.)

Ultimately, of course, we'll never see unbundling because the cablecos regulatory capture is so complete that they can dictate basically whatever terms they want to consumers, and the government will happily enforce it. The best weapon consumers have against the cablecos at the moment is to tell them to take their TV service and shove it, and go all-Internet (plus or minus OTA broadcast if you can't live without sports). The regulatory hill to die on is simply to ensure they don't start mandating cable TV packages as a precondition for Internet service, which at least at the moment none of them have really tried to do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:04 AM on October 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


The downside is that the Comcasts of the world, who HBO will still want to market its service, may punish the company.

This. I fully expect Comcast to throttle the shit out of any HBO Online service. Unless, of course, HBO ponies-up some tribute.

As an aside...When was the last time anyone saw a "Free HBO" weekend on cable? Those used to be wonderfully commonplace.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 AM on October 15, 2014


Socialized television... Hmmm...

Does that mean cable buyers who don't care about sports will have their cable bill dropped in half?

Or better yet, does it mean that a US version of BBC is finally coming to the states? (you know, actual socialized television - and no, PBS doesn't count).
posted by el io at 9:10 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, frog in a pot upward trending profit insurance isn't really socialism. More of a mass subsidy. Socialism would be us all paying in automatically, paying no extra fees to content providers, and no need for prices to increase to give "growth" profits to shareholders. I know it's shorthand and a form of "socialized profit" but the author uses the term too matter of factly
posted by aydeejones at 9:11 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Or better yet, does it mean that a US version of BBC is finally coming to the states? (you know, actual socialized television - and no, PBS doesn't count).

I will happily pay the UK Television License fee to get access to the BBC as a whole. Happily. I suspect many other in the US would do the same.
posted by eriko at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2014 [34 favorites]


> HBO is currently priced at $16 per month, with a cable subscription. Are the people who want it unbundled really going to pay that, or more, per month?

Gladly. It's one of the only channels we use. My SO is a huge watcher of HBO2GO. If we could dump the other 500 channels (which cost something like $80 and are required to reach the HBO "tier"), I'd gladly pay more than $16 a month for access to HBO2GO.
posted by foggy out there now at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: My Verizon FIOS package is currently giving me a "Free HBO 'til December" deal. I have watched precisely 1 minute in the month-and-a-half it's been available. (I wanted to see if it was functioning).
posted by contrarian at 9:23 AM on October 15, 2014


The more I think about what TV I actually watch and enjoy, the more I realize that cutting the cord wouldn't be so bad. About the only thing I'd really miss is Modern Family reruns. Would need to get an antenna to watch Jeopardy, though, and a Tivo to time-shift it, which would be a drag.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:25 AM on October 15, 2014


I'm calling it now - this won't be true a-la-carte like Netflix but creating HBOGO as an offering bundled with Comcast, Time Warner, etc. internet packages. That must be what they mean by working with “current partners.”

Like Xfinity SuperBlast! Performance High-Speed Cable Internet with SpeedBoost!, now with HBO GO!
posted by ALongDecember at 9:27 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


But rest assured, if you want to pay for your cable channels individually, you will end up paying a ton more. A report from Needham Insights issued last month suggested that 20 million viewers would pay $30 a month for ESPN, which would give the network the $600 million a month it needs to keep functioning, because that's what it makes today.

There's terrible reasoning, and then there's AdWeek-terrible-reasoning. Lawd-a-mercy, if there aren't 100 million paying $6 a month for ESPN (when only 1/5 of them watch it), how will it continue to make $600 million a month, which is a number engraved on a granite tablet by The Almighty Himself as the number of dollars to which they are entitled?
posted by Mayor West at 9:27 AM on October 15, 2014 [22 favorites]


The best weapon consumers have against the cablecos at the moment is to tell them to take their TV service and shove it, and go all-Internet (plus or minus OTA broadcast if you can't live without sports). The regulatory hill to die on is simply to ensure they don't start mandating cable TV packages as a precondition for Internet service, which at least at the moment none of them have really tried to do.

this all the way. In fact I'm pretty much there already. I just wish there was some simple Formula 1 motor racing online package I could buy (all the races, all the qualifying etc) with the occasional (again simple) pay-per-view option for other one-off sports (and other) live events.

To my mind, the weakest arguments going in favor of the cable/broadcast status quo all stem from a central delusion. That there is somehow anything remotely good for our culture, our civilization, ourselves in having almost unlimited access to almost unlimited stuff that has been curated by somebody else (just shut up and eat what's good for you).

Hell, I suddenly feel like a parent. "You've got fifty dollars a month. You can spend it any way you want, but once you've spent it all, the screen goes blank and you're going outside to play. I don't care if it's rush hour."
posted by philip-random at 9:28 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The logic behind the AdWeek article is bonkers-- they claim everyone's cable bill would go up under a la carte because in the current system your favorite channel is being subsidized by people who don't watch it.
posted by justkevin at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


I like the concept behind A la Carte pricing; I hate bundles. They're frustrating and just another form of clutter in my life. I'm a huge proponent of them decoupling, or putting together packages that are useful.

But, honestly, I probably won't be buying into one unless the price is relatively low…I'm much more content with my netflix subscription because each of the major cable companies typically only have one or two shows I'm interested in. Even channels like the Food Network probably only have two shows I'm interested in? I'm not just going to binge on whatever is on the Food Network…90% of it is insufferable. Same goes for networks like Syfy; If they lay out another Battlestar Galactica quality show, I'd be into that…but I don't want to pay for BSG and Sharknado. I don't want to go into a bookstore and get a copy of Moby Dick that's bundled with a pulp-sci-fi comic book (but I'd probably buy one if it was good…) People just don't consume media like this!

I'm interested in shows, not in networks. My interest in shows crosses across several different networks, and there's just no way in hell I'm going to pay for HBO or AMC just for one or two shows I really want to watch. I'd be much happier just waiting for those to come out on DVD, or hit 'mass streaming' zones like netflix, amazon or hulu.

I'd be much happier if this eventually slippery-slopes it's way down to just shows or individual small studios putting out higher quality television. I have my doubts this is possible, but it would be pretty great. Realistically, they're just going to keep their shit off of netflix and amazon in their own proprietary ecosystems.

I also find it hilarious that Adweek is trying to convince us this is a bad thing for any other reason than 'omfg where's our industry's ads gonna go?'
posted by furnace.heart at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


foggy out the window, I would double check with your cable company, they are required by law (1992 Cable Act) to offer premium cable channels like HBO with any package they offer. Most companies offer a "networks only" level package for not a lot of money, and you can attach HBO to that.

when I moved a few months ago I switched from TWC to AT&T. U-Verse had a deal going where you can get this basic networks tv package + HBO free for a year with a sufficiently fast internet package, so I am currently basking in the splendor of 12 months of free HBO. If they can get this thing together soon and it's not completely insanely priced, I will be hard-pressed to keep the TV part after the free deal expires
posted by grandsham at 9:30 AM on October 15, 2014


is A la Carte the Worst Idea Anyone Has Ever Had?

Well that's obviously hyperbole, but A la Carte would in fact be disastrous for the cable industry the way it is now. And to be clear, "disastrous" doesn't mean "oh boo hoo, Kabletown makes less profit," it means "boo hoo, what happened to my favorite TV show on a B-tier network?"

Cable, honestly, really does work the same way the Affordable Health Care Act does: the healthy are paying high premiums to subsidize coverage for the sick. In this case, it's the popular and high-revenue-generating channels subsidizing the smaller and less profitable ones. You are paying for ESPN because it makes HGTV possible. You're paying for Nickelodeon because it allows The Hub (now Discovery Family) to exist. The AdWeek article calling it "socialism" is written very over-the-top but, honestly, it's right. This is how the model works. The reason HBO can get away with this is because HBO has always been a "you are specifically paying for this channel and we are funding it with just that money" system. In other words, yeah, HBO is a single-payer system.

Now it's a completely separate issue, of course, that the industry has had, let's say a good twenty or so years now, to figure out how to fix that model and chose not to. But I'm not sure why people are all eyerolling about this just "because it's only entertainment" when the numbers are right there.

There might be a plan to just get ESPN for $15 a month or whatever, because that will actually make cable companies MORE money. You're not going to get "oh I just want AMC and Animal Planet and MSNBC and [insert any channel other than the top ten] for that amount, too, please" because under an A La Carte model, that will not be profitable for the cable companies. If anything, it will make some of those networks stop existing.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:31 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's worth paying the Beeb's licence fee just not to have fargin' ads every 2 fargin' minutes. Or in fact, ever.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 9:33 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Or better yet, does it mean that a US version of BBC is finally coming to the states?

Who aside, British television is in pretty rough shape right now. TBH I'd expect the Tories to finally finish off the Beeb on their way out of office, despite bland output intended to stave that off, and formerly strong competitors are getting similarly conservative, with Channel 4 axing Utopia. It's all a bit grim compared with ten years ago really.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


> you know, actual socialized television - and no, PBS doesn't count.

It used to, and to a minor extent, still does.
posted by ardgedee at 9:37 AM on October 15, 2014


You are paying for ESPN because it makes HGTV possible.

I disagree. In this healthcare analogy, ESPN is more like the older person who is in the hospital constantly and has huge medical bills, but pays barely anything for health coverage because their high costs are spread around to everyone else.
posted by smackfu at 9:38 AM on October 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


If anything, it will make some of those networks stop existing.

Just out of curiosity, what entitles HGTV/Animal Planet/{low-rated cable company you want to talk about} to exist, at its current budget, if it doesn't draw enough viewers to pay its own bills? Cable TV is mostly a wasteland. Why should my decision to get cable require me to subsidize everyone else's entertainment options?
posted by Mayor West at 9:44 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I disagree. In this healthcare analogy, ESPN is more like the older person who is in the hospital constantly and has huge medical bills, but pays barely anything for health coverage because their high costs are spread around to everyone else.

I mean you're just switching the points of the analogy but other than that we agree on the concept: you are paying an averaged fee for a profitable and not-profitable channel so you can get both and the cable company still profits.

It's not being argued, I don't think, that ESPN could sell itself a La Carte for $30 month and maintain profit. There are probably a dozen other channels though that would literally disappear if that model came into place.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


ALongDecember: I'm calling it now - this won't be true a-la-carte like Netflix but creating HBOGO as an offering bundled with Comcast, Time Warner, etc. internet packages.

Incorrect. That would be nothing new. It's already offered on a bundled basis with cable packages. What they are going to offer is an "over the top" service, which you can get whether or not you're paying for a cable package.

"It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," Richard Plepler, HBO's CEO, said at an investor conference in New York on Wednesday, adding that it will be "transformative" for the company.
posted by beagle at 9:48 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The argument against ala carte isn't very compelling. While I loved "Going Deep With David Rees", which is exactly the kind of show that would probably disappear in an ala carte world, it wasn't worth the cost of my cable bill. This isn't a sustainable market solution.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


HBO is currently priced at $16 per month, with a cable subscription. Are the people who want it unbundled really going to pay that, or more, per month?

I'd probably pay as much as $25/mo for it, and cancel netflix.
posted by empath at 9:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The idea that ESPN would have to become $30 is a common fallacy.

Will NFL and MLB lower their rates? Article says ESPN pays 2.5 billion annually in TV rights to those two groups.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:50 AM on October 15, 2014


JoeZydeco: Will NFL and MLB lower their rates? Article says ESPN pays 2.5 billion annually in TV rights to those two groups.

If the giant subsidy to the sports nets goes away, they'll have to, as there will be nobody else with that kind of money to pay the leagues.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:51 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd pay $5 a month just for a show of David Rees doing whatever he wants to.
posted by theodolite at 9:56 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It was a remarkable argument with the cable company to get rid of our tv subscription entirely. They wanted to insist that I must have some package. Took multiple calls, over several days, to completely eliminate it. I wonder how many of these worthless networks and shows are enabled because of people who, like me, don't want to watch, but unlike me, aren't dogged enough to avoid even $1 going to the "required" cable tv package?
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:56 AM on October 15, 2014


If the giant subsidy to the sports nets goes away, they'll have to

Which means the team owners will go crying to their public, stating they need new stadiums to bring in more revenue and stay competitive with the market and etc etc.

Gotcha.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:56 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think what's being mostly overlooked about this is that networks and even cable channels do not produce all (or most) of their content themselves: it's made by television production studios, who then sell the show to the outlet that will air it. So with, e.g., Community, even though it's become an internet show, it's still being produced by the same production company (Sony) that made it for NBC, so it should still, you know, mostly be the same show. Yahoo! just gave the production company enough money that they could keep making the show. In that sense the media outlet itself is secondary.

The biggest problem that cable companies and networks have is that, because of the internet, the services they offer are no longer necessary (like, say, record labels in the late 90s...). The smartest companies involved in all of this realized a while back that they needed to become content producers themselves, to stay ahead of all the technological and viewer consumption habit changes that remain in transition. HBO has done this brilliantly, and is why I think this move will work no matter what punitive reactions the cable companies may have. (Netflix and Amazon have gotten the memo on this, too.)

No matter how people get shows, or whether they watch "channels" or follow shows, or something else that hasn't hit yet, we will always be looking for good, original content. It has been said many times before, and better than I'm saying it here, but content is king. The creative work itself is what matters, and HBO consistently produces outstanding shows so will be OK through all this flux. I think they're very wise to make this move now.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:58 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


JoeZydeco: Which means the team owners will go crying to their public, stating they need new stadiums to bring in more revenue and stay competitive with the market and etc etc.

OK, but they do that now anyway. What's your point?
posted by tonycpsu at 9:58 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many of these worthless networks and shows are enabled because of people who, like me, don't want to watch, but unlike me, aren't dogged enough to avoid even $1 going to the "required" cable tv package?

My cable company (Comcast) pays me $10/month and higher internet speeds to get tv with my internet.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:59 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


How "over the top" will this service be, really? Will it include smell-o-vision and realistic (but easy to clean off) blood splatter? Will it come with an attendant in a tuxedo to help you react appropriately to confusing scenes? How about a disco globe?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:01 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually it will just feature the the classic Sylvester Stallone film Over the Top. Sorry for the confusion.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:03 AM on October 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Oh, rule of thumb; when the advertising industry hates an idea, and the cable companies also hates that same idea...

There's a pretty good chance that it's a good idea.
posted by el io at 10:05 AM on October 15, 2014 [17 favorites]


Heh. I get about one hundred sports channels and I watch about one sporting event per year. Our cable is bundled into a package deal with our condominium, so it's fairly affordable. But it still pisses me off knowing I watch about 4 HBO series per year, some PBS and local TV news for the weather report, yet I have to pay for 1000 channels of crap.

Anyone catch the new infomercial "Best Wheelbarrow Ever"?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:16 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


That AdWeek piece is insanely bad.

There isn't a universal cross subsidy scheme. There is a one-way subsidy paid by non-sports fans for the benefit of sports fan. And it isn't just ESPN -- it's the Big Four broadcast networks, whose affiliates command large retransmission consent fees pretty much solely due to their respective sports programming.

Also, it assumes that sports content prices are carved in stone, and that networks simply must generate that amount + operating costs to stay in business. In fact, sports programming trades at such a high price because ESPN and the networks have a huge pile of cash to use in bidding wars, much of that cash being provided by the license fees they extract from non-sports fans. Make ESPN go to 2x the subscription fee per household but on 75% fewer households -- the winning auction prices are going to drop by half.
posted by MattD at 10:31 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also -- HBO over the top may be the straw that breaks the camel's back on all-you-can-eat broadband. Every cable and fiber company in the country is plain bust if they had to live on only, or even mainly, their current broadband plans. To survive in a world of significant numbers of over-the-top only video customers, they have to meter broadband.
posted by MattD at 10:33 AM on October 15, 2014


JoeZydeco: Which means the team owners will go crying to their public, stating they need new stadiums to bring in more revenue and stay competitive with the market and etc etc

"OK, but they do that now anyway. What's your point?"


It's that old "why do dogs lick their balls? Because they can." argument.
posted by Melismata at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2014


"boo hoo, what happened to my favorite TV show on a B-tier network?"

Inevitably, a content delivery company will emerge to deliver subscriptions of B-Tier networks over the Internet rather than cable. It's not like this is killing business as a concept. With MeTV, Qubo, Grit, GetTV and others, there is a renaissance of broadcast TV right now, and though the advertisers are atrocious, they provide a lower-bound on the ability of networks to find viewers. Current cable content providers are not excluded from the model that allows for both high-quality and lowest-common-denominator providers to survive.
posted by rhizome at 10:37 AM on October 15, 2014


I will happily pay the UK Television License fee to get access to the BBC as a whole. Happily. I suspect many other in the US would do the same.

Right up until you find that out the BBC doesn't support whatever you happen to watch TV on because they are not a 'trusted corporate partner'. (Yes, I am still angry about the XBMC lockout while the chosen smartphones of the BBC executives were supported). I think you will find that the BBC is changing from the old BBC to one that is starting to slip into a typical TV network conglomerate. It helps that they now use the standard corporate revolving door and also commission productions from the same tv studios as commercial networks and let them impose onerous distribution restrictions. They are also starting to do viewer trust destroying mid plot cancellations like American networks. The BBC you want is one that the leadership of the BBC itself seems to want to kill.
posted by srboisvert at 10:41 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well that's obviously hyperbole, but A la Carte would in fact be disastrous for the cable industry the way it is now. And to be clear, "disastrous" doesn't mean "oh boo hoo, Kabletown makes less profit," it means "boo hoo, what happened to my favorite TV show on a B-tier network?"

What are the b-tier networks? Because I could be ninety-odd percent satisfied with the OTA networks, FX, AMC, and HBO. Are those A-tier? And possibly Syfy if they're in one of their have-their-act-together years.

Everything else is just this vast swamp of reality-show awfulness, so it can all die screaming for all I care. There's nothing good on Discovery any more. There's nothing good on whatever what-used-to-be-TLC is called this week except possibly reruns of How It's Made. There's next to nothing good on BBC America because it's 90% reruns of ST:TNG because hey one of the actors is British so close enough lol.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of these arguments sound very similar to what people were calling the death of the LP right around when iTunes starting selling individual songs.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:43 AM on October 15, 2014


Everything else is just this vast swamp of reality-show awfulness, so it can all die screaming for all I care.

I'm always late to the party for these things, but I stopped watching the History Channel the day they had a Pawn Stars marathon on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.
posted by Melismata at 10:46 AM on October 15, 2014 [14 favorites]


Incorrect. That would be nothing new. It's already offered on a bundled basis with cable packages. What they are going to offer is an "over the top" service, which you can get whether or not you're paying for a cable package.

It would be new since it would be bundled with internet only packages. Those who get internet but not any pay-tv service could get HBO GO as part of their internet. That is not an option now. You have to buy a TV plan with the right cable box in order to have the option of HBO, and therefore HBO GO.

An article published by EW listed this as one of the options proposed by the CEO, in addition to working with existing streaming and media services like Google and Amazon, or going completely alone.

I'm just predicting that HBO, and by extension Time Warner, isn't going to declare war on cable companies just yet, and the CEO keeps saying that they are working with current partners. This way Comcast still gets money for these new subscribers.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:50 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really would like it if either A: the rumors are true and ESPN is really going to start streaming NBA games to non-cable subscribers, or B: somehow, someway, Turner and the NBA finally fix league pass. The occasional basketball game in the second half of the year on NBC is the only reason I haven't taken my antenna to Goodwill. (I used to watch football but yuck).

I feel the same way about baseball and MLB.tv. Marvelous product... if only they didn't black out the local Cubs games I actually want to see because of rights conflicts.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cable bills are high and will remain high; it's because there aren't any new customers entering the market, so cable providers have to increase earnings in other ways. Time Warner Cable’s own COO Rob Marcus told Bloomberg that the company plans to provide “fewer channels and fewer features.”

That's 21st century capitalism all over, isn't it?
Lackey: Sir, we can't sell our product and / or service. No one wants it anymore.
CEO: The shareholders are demanding growth and I'm going to get my damned bonus. Make the product worse for our remaining customers and charge more for it.
Lackey: But won't that just make even more people stop buying product and / or service?
CEO: Institute a new training program to teach the salespeople to trick old people into thinking they can't get out of paying for it. Tell them they'll get fired if they close any accounts. That should keep it afloat long enough for me to get my bonus.
Both: Brilliant!
posted by junco at 10:53 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


is A la Carte the Worst Idea Anyone Has Ever Had?

No, don't be silly. Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire is the worst idea anyone has ever had.
posted by Naberius at 10:58 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Cut my cable earlier this year since the Dodgers games I was keeping it around for weren't available thanks to a dick-waving contest between TimeWarner Cable and the rest of the Los Angeles cable industry. A combination of Netflix, YouTube, and other sites combined with a Chromecast (not to mention a PlayStation) keeps me plenty entertained on my TV. There's also MLB At Bat to listen to Dodger games or several sports bars within walking/driving distance if I want to watch one.

Hell, I calculated I could go to an actual Dodgers game in person a couple times a month for the amount I'm saving getting rid of cable, including enough for Dodgers Dogs and parking.

All that said, if MLB.tv would carry my local games unblacked-out for a monthly fee, I would totally subscribe.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:03 AM on October 15, 2014


Also -- HBO over the top may be the straw that breaks the camel's back on all-you-can-eat broadband. Every cable and fiber company in the country is plain bust if they had to live on only, or even mainly, their current broadband plans. To survive in a world of significant numbers of over-the-top only video customers, they have to meter broadband.

It's interesting to note that the wireless companies who do not also have cable internet subsidiaries are very close, or at, unmetered data over LTE. It may be the end of last-mile hard connections for most users if the cable companies can't compete with where Sprint and T-Mob are clearly aiming to go.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


My cable company (Comcast) pays me $10/month and higher internet speeds to get tv with my internet.

Enjoy that limited contract while you can because your prices are going to double (or worse) when it runs out.
posted by dephlogisticated at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2014


if only they didn't black out the local Cubs games I actually want to see because of rights conflicts.

It turns out that once in a great while the big corporations do have your best interests at heart!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It may be the end of last-mile hard connections for most users if the cable companies can't compete with where Sprint and T-Mob are clearly aiming to go.

Current cellular technology isn't remotely capable of replacing wired broadband for entire communities. It may be eventually in limited situations, but that would require building many more cellular towers, at a minimum.
posted by gsteff at 11:08 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are probably a dozen other channels though that would literally disappear if that model came into place.

Almost nobody cares about those channels. So we'd be fine with that happening.
posted by Justinian at 11:10 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also, now we will see whether all the justifications people gave for pirating HBO shows and so on were true or just empty self-justifications for Getting Free Stuff. I'm betting on the latter.

My guess is the new refrain will be "HBO is price gouging! The cost is way too high! We wouldn't pirate if they charged a reasonable price!"
posted by Justinian at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


(warning, wonk talk ahead. I work in public access television, so I have a slightly unique view of this business)
Man, I love how a lot of myths about cable television (or subscriber television, which is a more accurate name) works.

Did you know that the current existing cable providers actually pay the networks to carry them? Yeah. That's the model. The reason cable companies fight so hard against a la carte is because right now, they take the subscription fees from their customers, put it into a big pool of money, and then negotiate with the content providers (i.e., the branded channels) to carry their content over their delivery system (the cable networks).

This is how the package deals "subsidize" the less popular channels. The channels themselves then court advertisers to finance their shows.

Also, when you see commercials on those cable channels, about half of them are from advertisers that the channels have, and then another quarter are from the cable providers themselves (you know, to supplement their income, by being able to sell ads space on their channels, which is where local market ads end up on your national cable networks). The other 1/4 of ad space ends up being a mix of the cable providers own ads (advertising their own products, etc) or channel branded ads (telling you what shows are coming up next, etc).

These numbers are very generalized, btw.

Of course, then you have Premium channels, like HBO and the other movie channels. They do not have ad revenue (but they do have contracts with movie studios, in order to have access to content). It is a crazy mess for them, but because the subscriber fees are billed separate from the main cable service bill (ever notice how your Premium channels are segregated on your bill?), that pool of money from the subscriber base goes almost directly to the coffers of HBO or Showtime (which is where they get their wads of cash to finance their own production studios). Of course, this might be different, depending on your region and cable provider.

The biggest problem is that a la carte would mean a massive overhead of billing for the cable companies. They would have to be able to track each and every customers individual selections, and be able to allot each customers payments to go only to the channels that they are subscribed for. The main reasons they have not done this is because of the massive clusterfuck of overhead. It is not simple to manage 1,000,000+ individual custom channel payments in a timely (and accurate) manner. You thought the customer service was bad now, wait until a la carte.

Also, what if you want to add a channel to your subscription? Right now, if you want to add something, you "order" your package upgrade (or downgrade), and when the next billing cycle rolls around, your cable subscription is changed (with the exception of pay-per-view, but that has it's own billing model). With a la carte, I am pretty sure that customers would want it to behave like Netflix, where you essentially sign up, and immediately have access to the content you want (or Amazon, or iTunes, etc). This is where cable providers are seriously unable to provider this as a service, simply due to the way their billing systems are designed to work (remember, these are accounting systems created in the late 70's or 80's, depending on market, and they are built on a package subscription model). So that's another major hurdle that would cost the cable companies several million dollars to fix.


Now, the very interesting thing (which some people have mentioned) is the "new" video delivery services that are coming out. AT&T, Google, Verizon, and CenturyLink all have their own video delivery systems that they have been building for the past few years. I like to call it Television 2.0, because the main advantage that these new players in the subscriber market have is that they are using IP delivery for all content. No more modulated electrical signals over coaxial cable. It's all IP delivery, for everything. And these companies have spent the last few years using their existing franchise contracts to overbuild massive IP networks, with the primary goal of displacing the entrenched cable television providers. The products they offer are amazing compared to satellite and existing cable networks, primarily because almost all of them are on new fiber networks, with massive bandwidth (which they are very eager to sell, but it sure ain't cheap).

I know that Centurylink is offering a channel spread that numbers in the several thousand channels, from all over the world, depending on what you, the consumer, are willing to pay for. And they have been aggressively pursuing contracts with every content provider they can to be able to provide full access to the content they are selling to the consumer, from home delivery to mobile devices.

But all of this is odd market dynamics, predicated upon a consumer base that has enough expendable income to pay for these services. They do not want to sell you access to a single channel. They want to sell you everything, for a monthly fee. It is the only way they can make money off of their invested infrastructure over build.

This is not to say that Comcast and the other entrenched cable providers are not also trying to keep their existing subscriber base. They have been replacing their existing lines with new fiber networks and upgrading their video delivery systems as well. And they have also been fighting hard to slow down the infiltration of other providers to the markets in which they serve.

Of course, this all is predicated upon a consumer base that can pay for subscription television service. And the players in the market really have no interest outside of their little playing field (which is, of course, one of the biggest failures of capitalism, the ability to ignore all externalities, even if those may completely destroy your market). It will be interesting to see just how this all plays out in the next 5 to 10 years.
posted by daq at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


The regulatory hill to die on is simply to ensure they don't start mandating cable TV packages as a precondition for Internet service, which at least at the moment none of them have really tried to do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM on October 15 [6 favorites +] [!]


Weeellll, Right now I have a "triple Play" that costs $89.99/month. If I got just internet that would be $55.00 /month on intro and $75.00 month after. Just Internet. In fact deleting a land line from the triple play is a whopping $5.00 per month savings. While not a pre condition tha relative pricing makes it seem like you may as well just get cable too.

In my eye's mind I see A La Carte via cable, via my cable box. Just let me pick and pay for the 16 or 20 that I watch.
posted by Gungho at 11:16 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


daq: cable providers are seriously unable to provider this [a la carte billing per channel] as a service, simply due to the way their billing systems are designed to work

I understand what you're saying here, and see why it is a real problem, but that's like the worst excuse ever. Maybe they could offer a la carte billing only if you sign up and manage your account online? Because "our current billing system can't handle it" is seriously weak sauce.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:22 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


From the last link: "there aren't any new customers entering the market, so cable providers have to increase earnings in other ways"

...because of course earnings ALWAYS have to be increasing, holding at a steady profit isn't good enough. No growth means the stockholders are grumbling, even if no one is actually losing money.

and of course this little gem: "[ESPN] pays $1.9 billion annually just for NFL football. About $700 million goes to Major League Baseball."

With the conclusion that it MUST remain this way, so ESPN absolutely MUST pony up this amount per year. Except, thinking like a normal, reasonable person might, what would happen if ESPN started offering less? Does anyone really think NFL and MLB would happily forgo that profit stream and hand them the games? No, of course not - but it's painfully obvious that SOME distributor would step in. There is fierce competition for sports broadcasts because they are huge moneymakers. Why do you think so many games have moved off network to ESPN in the first place? Major bowl games, national championship NCAAF games, so on and so forth - used to be the third-tier games were on ESPN and the headliners were ABC, NBC, etc. - no more. As far as I understand it, ESPN outbid them, same way Fox outbid everyone for NHL in the 90s and NBC has outbid everyone for Olympic coverage forever now. Maybe, just maybe, if ESPN can't pony up the scratch, the NFL, MLB, etc. might figure out there are direct profits to be made in streaming to the consumer. More streaming options means more opportunity to have me pay for what I actually want to watch. As it is, ESPN won't offer me a method to pay per game I want to see. Their only audience for streaming sports are people who can already watch the show at home without streaming. And I'm not going to pay year-round for a channel I only watch in the Fall. But hey, if they don't want my money, the bar down the street will tune in to whatever game I want, and happily give me a beer or three in exchange for the same money I would gladly have sent to ESPN to watch at home.

More streaming = good. Which brings me to this -

MattD: "To survive in a world of significant numbers of over-the-top only video customers, they have to meter broadband."

Or, you know, upgrade the networks and not leave us struggling to pretend 4 mbit at $80+/mo is "high speed internet". The congestion is not upstream, it's in the last bit, from local CableCo distribution centers down the pipes to homeowners. And CableCo conveniently forgets internet is a two-way medium, so for my high rates I get OK downloads and abysmal upload speeds, because profits.

Some company is dropping fiber down my street - lines were run within the last week, fiber to be strung soon - and I am itching to kick Comcast to the curb. 20x higher speeds for the same monthly rate? Who would turn that down?
posted by caution live frogs at 11:26 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the bright side, expect HBO to announce their support for Net Neutrality in 3.. 2.. 1..
posted by blue_beetle at 11:28 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem is that a la carte would mean a massive overhead of billing for the cable companies. They would have to be able to track each and every customers individual selections, and be able to allot each customers payments to go only to the channels that they are subscribed for. The main reasons they have not done this is because of the massive clusterfuck of overhead. It is not simple to manage 1,000,000+ individual custom channel payments in a timely (and accurate) manner. You thought the customer service was bad now, wait until a la carte.

A la carte cable tv is a bad solution to an easily solved problem -- just let me stream the networks I want over the internet. I'm not sure why the cable company even needs to be involved in what goes through my internet connection at all.
posted by empath at 11:28 AM on October 15, 2014


Enjoy that limited contract while you can because your prices are going to double (or worse) when it runs out.

Pretty sure this is the non-promo price, I've had it for coming up four years now.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:28 AM on October 15, 2014


No growth means the stockholders are grumbling, even if no one is actually losing money.

I recently read a book that was a rough history of Warner Records (which dovetails in with Time Warner) and it shows how the company that owned them really started to make huge mistakes when they focused on getting something like 10% growth each year. They ended up buying up companies they really couldn't afford, which made them vulnerable to being bought up by other companies.
posted by drezdn at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2014


All I wanna know is how much Turner Classic Movies is going to cost me because I will pay a lot for it.
posted by edeezy at 11:40 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


All I wanna know is how much Turner Classic Movies is going to cost me because I will pay a lot for it.

Give it five years, and it might be showing Pawn Stars reruns.
posted by drezdn at 11:46 AM on October 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


Gungho: "Right now I have a "triple Play" that costs $89.99/month"

Does it? Or did you forget to include the $8.99 modem fee, the $2.99 per digital-to-analog converter or $9.99 per digital box fees too? This is why we dropped cable to the absolute minimum - essentially local channels only - because they wanted me to spend the whole amount plus some BS nickel-and-dime fees to take the digital signal they sent over a digital medium to my digital TV. The lower fee allows me to convert this high-quality signal to a crappy one, and the higher fee allows me to get nearly the same quality I'd get for free using an OTA antenna. We have 3 HD TVs, if you count the little one attached to our treadmill. I should not have to pay an extra $10 a month to get the channel in the same resolution it's actually sent in. The $3 a month charge to downgrade the signal for older TVs? Fine, I guess, even if it amounts to a tax on people who won't or can't upgrade, but the sticky thing here is that you don't have a choice. It's one or the other. $10/mo per TV x 10 months = 3 Roku boxes, which is what we went with. HD where we want it, and no more monthy equipment tax.

(Only loophole now is the CableCard, which is apparently a "first one is free" option, and it works with our TiVo so I can actually use my own goddamned remote and not the CableCo POS they supply*)

As for modem, we bought our own, to avoid the monthly fee - savings meant it paid for itself in under a year, easily.

*Sorry, do I seem angry and bitter? I just hate the damned set-top boxes. There are zero reasons why we need them. Cable boxes are forced on us because they represent a user tax that gets rolled into your bill, and provide a conduit for pay-per-view purchases. They are universally crappy devices with shit remotes, almost never interface cleanly with other hardware, and needlessly duplicate features already built into the TV - features that generally work better are replaced with half-assed buggy ones. If some sort of signal conversion or decryption needs to be performed on the incoming stream, it could be done at the line level where the cable enters the home, or via a CableCard slotted into the TV or DVR itself. Gee, wonder why the CableCos have been actively fighting to block CableCards since they were first introduced.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


RedorGreen,
it's not the customer facing billing system that is the problem. It is the other side of it, paying the content providers. Their existing contracts will not allow it. And many of those contracts are multi-year deals, each with their own terms and other crap.

empath,
I'm pretty sure the overhead of each network having to create it's own scaled out accounting department, and creating a functional billing system for individual subscribers is one of those cost//benefit things that none of them want to even look at. Plus, the build out of infrastructure to encode, encrypt, and deliver the content to individual subscribers is a multi-million dollar overbuild, not to mention contracting a massive amount of bandwidth.

As it stands, they have to deliver their content to 4 or 5 major head ends, which then multiplexes their content out over the existing infracstructure (cable systems, and the newer IP video delivery systems). It all works really well, and a lot of the newer Television 2.0 stuff does offer a whole bunch of OTT delivery to mobile devices. But to pay for that infrastructure, there has to be more than passive ad revenue. Listen to me, I'm actually arguing FOR the cable companies. You see what you did there? And I hate most television.

Trust me, that technology is not cheap, nor is it something you want to even think about trying to reproduce a thousand times over for each content providers. I mean, yeah, it would mean a whole lot of really good paying tech jobs, but if we know one thing about capitalism, it is that corporations are loath to spend any more money than they have to, unless there is a guaranteed multiplier for the revenue they would receive.

Trust me, I know that as a consumer, we want only the things we like, and everything else can go to hell. But the bigger picture is way more complicated than your favorite content provider throwing a few video streams out over the internet. And if you thought it was annoying having to watch ads on youtube that you can't skip, or Hulu, imagine how they would have to pretty much have ads ALL THE TIME for individual streaming directly to consumers. It would be worse that the 30 minutes of commercials you have to sit through at the movies.
posted by daq at 11:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


gsteff:
"Current cellular technology isn't remotely capable of replacing wired broadband for entire communities. It may be eventually in limited situations, but that would require building many more cellular towers, at a minimum."
Maybe not in the US.

Korean carriers to launch broadband-shaming 300Mbps LTE-Advanced network this year

EU to team up with South Korea in global 5G race
(That's 750Mbps, roll-out targeted for end of 2015)

NetIndex is where you can see Ookla's speed data mapped out:
USA: 30.2Mbps/9.4Mbps broadband, 13Mbps/5.5Mbps mobile
South Korea: 56.1Mbps/49Mbps broadband, 23.1Mbps/9.8Mbps mobile

ZDnet has an article with some nice graphs illustrating the state of LTE/4G networks worldwide and the subpar performance of networks in the US.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


It is not simple to manage 1,000,000+ individual custom channel payments in a timely (and accurate) manner.

I do not really buy this objection. If the billing is the real problem, they should call up one of the phone companies — you know, those companies whose business the cable companies desperately want to get into? — and ask them how to do billing. I mean, phone companies have to figure out billing per telephone call, not just per channel / per month. And somehow they figured out how to do that shit back when the state-of-the-art in billing technology involved punched cards. Zero sympathy.

Back in the analog days, there was a reasonable technical argument for bundling because it made it easier to turn channels on and off to various subscribers. That's the justification that I always heard for "tiers". You had your basic service, and all those channels were grouped together, such that they could put some sort of low-pass filter on the line to block everything else. And then you had the extended tier, which meant a different filter on the line. And then the premium channels were separate from those. The channels were grouped into tiers because it wasn't practical to have expensive notch filters to knock out individual channels for each subscriber at the pole.

But that justification evaporated with addressable descrambler boxes, which at least in my market arrived in the early 1990s, and were certainly ubiquitous by the early 2000s.

I mean, hell, if the cable companies wanted to, with a modern digital box (which has two-way communications, using either a phone line in older models or the cable line itself similar to Internet modems) they could easily bill subscribers per channel and per minute. It's not really that difficult, again bearing in mind that the telephone business that they are all falling over themselves to get into works that way, and thus their billing systems already must support it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:51 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think that's a bit silly of an objection. Just think of it as a shopping cart with items in it, where each item is a channel. Someone can't handle a shopping cart with 100 items, billed monthly?

Their current system is way more complicated, with double plays and triple plays and promotions and first year discounts and sign-up bonuses and such.
posted by smackfu at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


That is not an option now. You have to buy a TV plan with the right cable box in order to have the option of HBO, and therefore HBO GO.

Comcast currently has this. I think it's called Internet Plus, or something, but we've got it. 20Mbps broadband, cable carriage of OTA channels, and HBO with HBOGO. $50/mo.
posted by hwyengr at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2014


One of the biggest hurdles is probably that most people don't have any way to get these services onto their TVs. Most people don't want to watch their tablets or laptops.

We use an old Wii to access Netflix, Amazon and Hulu on our TV. Lots of other setups are out there that do the same. It's still kind of messy because everyone uses a different setup but I'm sure the generic "tv streaming" boxes will be a common thing soon. If they aren't already, I haven't looked lately.
posted by emjaybee at 12:02 PM on October 15, 2014


As it stands, they have to deliver their content to 4 or 5 major head ends, which then multiplexes their content out over the existing infracstructure (cable systems, and the newer IP video delivery systems). It all works really well, and a lot of the newer Television 2.0 stuff does offer a whole bunch of OTT delivery to mobile devices. But to pay for that infrastructure, there has to be more than passive ad revenue. Listen to me, I'm actually arguing FOR the cable companies. You see what you did there? And I hate most television.

Trust me, that technology is not cheap, nor is it something you want to even think about trying to reproduce a thousand times over for each content providers.


There are companies out there right now that can handle every part of that. They wouldn't have to re-invent the wheel, just use akamai, etc. Most networks _already_ have streaming video solutions, anyway, including HBO Go.
posted by empath at 12:02 PM on October 15, 2014


Kadin2048,
But it's not the subscriber billing that is the problem. It's the payments to the content providers.

Yes, the technical details are pretty much a thing of the past, with the newer all digital delivery systems (which are still rolling out. Your particular market may have had them for a while, but in many places, there are still analog cable boxes in many parts of the country. Hell, there are still people who have CRT televisions).

But the biggest hurdle would be the contracts that exist with the content providers. Unless every cable company was able to say to every content provider they are buying content from "hey, we're only going to pay you for what people actually watch", which would breach so many multi-year contracts it would make your head spin, it is not going to happen.

They have no problem billing their subscribers, and yes, it would almost be trivial on that end (well, not trivial, but it is doable).

But, like I said in my first post, the cable providers are paying the content providers (the channels) to carry the content, not the other way around. And those contracts (many hundreds, if not thousands, depending on the market) do not all end at the same time, nor are the content providers willing to give up the guaranteed revenue based on the package model.

Yes, there are a ton of channels being subsidized because of the package model, but that is actually the majority of the channels on any cable delivery system.

I agree that it is a crap model, especially for consumers, and even more so for people who can't afford to pay $100+/month just to watch the few shows that they like. But it is how the system is, and wishing it were some other way will get you about as far as you can spit.
posted by daq at 12:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm always a little conflicted about a la carte channels. I mean, there are a few channels that I know I would subscribe too and a bunch that I have now that I would cut if I could but there are some channels on the edges that I wouldn't ever watch if they were a la carte but I occasionally watch now because they are included in the package.
posted by VTX at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2014


Gee, wonder why the CableCos have been actively fighting to block CableCards since they were first introduced.

I'm still not sure how the industry's non-adoption of CableCards hasn't prompted a massive anti-trust suit from the DoJ. Getting a CableCard that works is virtually impossible, despite being required by law.
posted by schmod at 12:06 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


empath,
I get what you are saying, but the problem is convincing every content provider to a) buy encoders, b) set up a massive billing and accounting system, and c) eat that cost.

Unless they can guarantee a return on that sunk cost, and that continuing cost to maintain the billing department, no one would be willing to do that.
posted by daq at 12:07 PM on October 15, 2014


Also, by encoders, I mean these bad boys, not some prosumer capture card and VLC to set up your UDP multicast stream, or some Slingbox (which are great, btw, but definitely not something that you can rely on to keep your stream live 24/7/365).

And speaking of technology, something I learned in the last couple years, doing an analog to digital conversion. IP video sucks absolute balls for live television. On the entrenched cable systems, there is a 5 second delay from the encoder to a subscribers set top box. On some of the newer Television 2.0 systems I've been seeing, the delay is up to 20 seconds. Which is "fine", I guess for most content. But the days of "watching it live" have been over for a while now. And that is a limitation of how IP video works, in general (encode, encrypt, transmit, decode). And all the failure points between it mean it is an utter nightmare to troubleshoot most of the time.
posted by daq at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


eriko: I will happily pay the UK Television License fee to get access to the BBC as a whole. Happily. I suspect many other in the US would do the same.

QI is worth the entire license fee; the Moffat-o-Tron and other shows are just gravy.

Sexist, racist, homophobic gravy, but gravy nonetheless.
posted by tzikeh at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


But it is how the system is, and wishing it were some other way will get you about as far as you can spit.

Well, no. It's not 1995 anymore. I can tell my local cable company to take their TV service and shove it, and pay them for nothing more than shuffling IP packets around.

Their refusal to come up with an a la carte pricing model has already cost them my business, and an increasing number of others'. Their excuses for why a la carte can't work are immaterial to me, except that it makes their offerings uninteresting versus their Internet-based competitors.

Despite the fact that on one hand I'd like to see nothing more than the cablecos crushed, driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of their shareholders, this seems like something of an unfortunate wasted opportunity. They have the technical capacity and skills to deliver television (including VOD/timeshifted stuff) better than just about anyone else; it annoys me on a sort of engineer-y level that all that stuff is having to be rebuilt, sometimes poorly, on top of TCP/IP because of their business-model intransignance. But as a consumer, that's not really my problem; I'm going to watch what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, on the devices I want to watch it on, even if requires some pretty ugly hacks (lookin' at you, Chromecast) under the hood to make it happen.

Eventually, I think the cable operators may try and close off this threat to their outrageous profit margins, by either forcing consumers to pay for TV in order to get Internet or crippling a la carte VOD services, and that's when we will have a really ugly knock-down-drag-out regulatory fight between the cablecos and the various Internet companies. It's a fight, though, that seems to get better for the Internet companies as they become more powerful themselves. Verizon and Comcast are big, but in a deathmatch against Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon...?
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:30 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


But the days of "watching it live" have been over for a while now.

Something that's fun to do is to compare your web feed of live sports with the radio feed with the tv channel. (This can be done fairly easily by going somewhere urban and listening to the cheering starting at different times in different apartments.)
posted by jeather at 12:33 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the biggest hurdles is probably that most people don't have any way to get these services onto their TVs. Most people don't want to watch their tablets or laptops.

I think we're right on the tipping point of that one. Even my aging mom has a Roku now. I think the technological hangups are going to fade fast when people feel like the only thing separating them from what they want is a $35-99 box and an HDMI cable.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Something that's fun to do is to compare your web feed of live sports with the radio feed with the tv channel. (This can be done fairly easily by going somewhere urban and listening to the cheering starting at different times in different apartments.)

I have as good friend who lives in Wrigleyville. He watches Cubs games with the windows open and when he hears the crowd make a ton of noise, he knows it's time to look over to the tv, because in 3-7 seconds, something interesting is going to happen.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Almost nobody cares about those channels. So we'd be fine with that happening.

Okay, and you understand Discovery Networks has 5,400 employees, right? Most of whom all vote for the same Maryland senators? Scripps Network, home of Food Network and HGTV, has about 2,300 employees in Tennessee. AMC Networks (IFC, AMC, We) has 2,000 in New York; Turner Broadcasting's got about 8,000 in Georgia and New York.

They care, and they're why there's 6 or 8 Senators right off the bat who will never allow a vote to force a la carte packaging to happen, and that's not even before we get into whatever those networks actually pay for lobbyists. You think Rupert Murdoch is going to, what, eat a total loss on the National Geographic Channel because you'd be fine with that?

I understand that "nobody cares about those channels" is a great line for favorites in this conversation, but forcing cable networks to drop channels and fire their staff because you don't like Restaurant Wars isn't ever happening legislatively, so realistically it's kind of a dead-in-the-water argument.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:21 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


edeezy: I'd love to know what proportion of current cable subscribers hang on to their subscriptions primarily because of TCM. I used to be one of those people; then Verizon FIOS slapped a sports network fee line item onto my bill and I cut the cord a couple of months later. Not going back any time soon.

HBO a la carte? That's great news - I love HBO Docs and some of their original films, but 90% of their 24-hour cable feed doesn't appeal much to me.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2014


XQUZYPHYR, all of those entities have channels or programming that people would be willing to pay a fair amount to watch, but those entities have no right to get a subsidy for programming nobody's watching. We shouldn't accept a status quo bias for that situation any more than we should for corn subsidies or Joint Strike Fighter suppliers.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:29 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


We shouldn't accept a status quo bias for that situation any more than we should for corn subsidies or Joint Strike Fighter suppliers.

And yet we are stuck with them, for pretty much the same reasons. Sigh...
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:32 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


empath,
I get what you are saying, but the problem is convincing every content provider to a) buy encoders, b) set up a massive billing and accounting system, and c) eat that cost.

Unless they can guarantee a return on that sunk cost, and that continuing cost to maintain the billing department, no one would be willing to do that.


Ultimately they aren't going to have a choice, because if they don't do it, they're going to go out of business.
posted by empath at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2014


Nobody wrote in the ten commandments that TV Networks as corporate entities have to exist forever. I see no reason for them to be around for another 10 or 20 years, personally.
posted by empath at 1:37 PM on October 15, 2014


tonycpsu: XQUZYPHYR, all of those entities have channels or programming that people would be willing to pay a fair amount to watch, but those entities have no right to get a subsidy for programming nobody's watching. We shouldn't accept a status quo bias for that situation any more than we should for corn subsidies or Joint Strike Fighter suppliers.
I'm not sure in what context you mean "we shouldn't accept", but... unless you have a viable way to dislodge or dissuade those legislators, all the "should" in the world won't do any good. XQUZYPHYR isn't talking about what's right; s/he's explaining what's happening.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:50 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Okay, and you understand Discovery Networks has 5,400 employees, right? Most of whom all vote for the same Maryland senators? Scripps Network, home of Food Network and HGTV, has about 2,300 employees in Tennessee. AMC Networks (IFC, AMC, We) has 2,000 in New York; Turner Broadcasting's got about 8,000 in Georgia and New York.

The thing is: Discovery Networks and Scripps already offer a ton of their shows streaming online. Roku/Netflix offers an ever-expanding array of streaming options for their content, too. Both groups have agreements with Hulu, too. Both groups also have various internet apps which could be expanded fairly easily.

The AMC group is a little trickier, but then, they also own a chain of movie theaters. And their IFC content now frequently makes more money for them on Pay Per View than on the channel proper. I'm thinking the people cashing the checks from Mad Men and The Walking Dead would find a way to get Don Draper and Daryl and Michonne into your living room without Comcast.

The idea that the switch to a la carte programming would kill these networks is ridiculous. TONS of people want their content and they're already up to their eyeballs in alternative distribution models making sure they have ways ready other than cable with which to give it to them.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom: I'm not sure in what context you mean "we shouldn't accept", but... unless you have a viable way to dislodge or dissuade those legislators, all the "should" in the world won't do any good. XQUZYPHYR isn't talking about what's right; s/he's explaining what's happening.

I couldn't tell if s/he was making a positive or normative argument, because it started out as "If anything, it will make some of those networks stop existing" -- as if that's something we ought to care about, and then became "well, it won't happen anyway", which is true until it isn't. Content producers, carriers, and the various streaming technology companies have their lobbyists too, some of them are even different divisions of the same conglomerates. I see no reason why we can't remove the network construct and still keep the content producer --> service that distributes the content --> consumer model going with very little loss to the companies involved. There will be individual winners and losers, but ultimately the system can only hold up as long as people are paying roughly for what they watch.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:01 PM on October 15, 2014


The thing is, people predicting the demise of this cable channel or that one if the switch to a la carte ever happens actually have the right idea, they're just off by an order of magnitude or so on which channels are strong enough to survive.

Would the Food Network make it? You bet. Discovery, too. Also, TLC. And Bravo and E! and AMC. The Weather Channel already makes more from its weather consulting than it does from the tv channel.

Would Logo make it? Ehhhh. Not in the same way TLC would. They wouldn't get a sweet deal with Hulu or Netflix. They probably wouldn't have their app hit the top of the Apple Store and Play Store charts. They could become a web only channel, though. That might work. Or not. They'd hardly have the same structure when they were done in any case.

Plenty of channels would dramatically restructure or fail. But not the ones people are trying to get your dander up about. Things like Current and Sleuth would be in danger. Not so much TNT.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:01 PM on October 15, 2014


The thing is: Discovery Networks and Scripps already offer a ton of their shows streaming online. Roku/Netflix offers an ever-expanding array of streaming options for their content, too. Both groups have agreements with Hulu, too. Both groups also have various internet apps which could be expanded fairly easily.

I don't understand how people keep making this argument as if the subscription fees paid for the cable networks isn't subsidizing offering second-run programming on streaming networks. It's like saying "who cares if Comedy Central went off the air tomorrow; I'd still be able to watch the Daily Show on the website." No... no you won't. The program wouldn't exist any more.

Unless you're saying you'd be fine with Hulu going up to $70 a month and/or having all the ads of a normal cable channel, this is like Underpants-Gnomes-level business modeling here: 1. eliminate majority source of network's income, 2. offer streaming subset for less revenue, 3. PROFIT!

I'm not trying to be condescending here but does everyone truly not get that it will not work this way? At all?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:05 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


This couldn't come soon enough. I will never pay for a full cable package but would happily pay for the two or three channels (or online content) worth watching.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:05 PM on October 15, 2014


Doesn't channel drift basically mean all these little channels are functionally identical anyway?
posted by Artw at 2:07 PM on October 15, 2014


I don't understand how people keep making this argument as if the subscription fees paid for the cable networks isn't subsidizing offering second-run programming on streaming networks. It's like saying "who cares if Comedy Central went off the air tomorrow; I'd still be able to watch the Daily Show on the website." No... no you won't. The program wouldn't exist any more.

That's not the argument I'm making at all. What I'm saying is, these networks have stuff people want and they're already experimenting with alternative ways of getting it to people. Should they lose their subscriber's fees, they'd be hurt, but only until they could monetize said methods (and new ones) to generate new income.

Would they produce all of the same shows at all of the same rates, making the same income and employing the same number of people? Maybe not. But would Duck Dynasty stop existing because they didn't get money from Comcast? Of course not. Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives? Nope. Trading Spaces? Almost certainly not.

Just as a failed network show can become a big deal on streaming media like Arrested Development did or like Community likely will, refugee tv shows from Discovery or Scripps would be premium content on Netflix or Hulu. Science, history, cooking, and cable reality programs are, by and large, spectacularly cheap shows. While the challenge of finding alternate revenue streams would certainly kill some of them, most of the popular favorites would just rework their existing revenue streams to keep on truckin'.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The AMC group is a little trickier, but then, they also own a chain of movie theaters.

No, AMC Networks is no relation to AMC Theatres. Unless you're talking about the IFC Center in Manhattan ... but are there other locations?

And their IFC content now frequently makes more money for them on Pay Per View than on the channel proper. I'm thinking the people cashing the checks from Mad Men and The Walking Dead would find a way to get Don Draper and Daryl and Michonne into your living room without Comcast. The idea that the switch to a la carte programming would kill these networks is ridiculous. TONS of people want their content ...

I dunno. I think sometimes people overestimate how many people watch these shows. This New York Times article is from 2012, but it says, "AMC collects $30 million a month in fees alone on a base of 80 million subscribers, which is pretty good considering that the last episode of Breaking Bad had fewer than three million viewers." Are all three million of those people watching Breaking Bad going to pay $10 to AMC each and every month to match the fees they get from the cable industry? And that's an established hit show! If 80 million people didn't have access to AMC in the first place, would that many people ever have discovered Breaking Bad? I'm sure a model will evolve to allow these shows to be funded and then discovered individually, on a more or less a la carte basis, but I sure don't think it exists today.
posted by Mothlight at 2:40 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just as a failed network show can become a big deal on streaming media like Arrested Development did or like Community likely will, refugee tv shows from Discovery or Scripps would be premium content on Netflix or Hulu. Science, history, cooking, and cable reality programs are, by and large, spectacularly cheap shows. The challenge of finding alternate revenue streams would certainly kill some of them. But most of the popular favorites would just rework their existing revenue streams to keep on truckin'.

Except this argument is a wonderful hypothetical that is countered by opposite examples in reality.

For just the most recent example, someone upthread mentioned the WWE Network. WWE Network is a full streaming service that in addition to the WWE library on demand, offers streaming access to Pay Per Views at a sixth of the cable subscription price. WWE's intent was to use this, as well as the subscriber success of the Network, to leverage a better subscription rate with USA for broadcasting their television programming.

What happened was that WWE wanted 1-2 million subscribers and got only about 700,000. At which point, they had to renegotiate their TV contract with USA for significantly less than projected. WWE's stock plummeted.

WWE did not respond by "reworking existing revenue streams to keep on truckin'." They responded by firing ten percent of the entire company to help get the share price back up. This week it was also announced that WWE Network will start airing ads during streaming programming.

This is what is going to happen with lower-tier networks losing subscription leverage in an a la carte model. It has nothing to do with whether or not you or I like it; it has everything to do with what shareholders will insist on.

"making the same income? Maybe not." is not a statement any of these networks' shareholders would suggest is bound in any form of reality. It simply isn't.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:41 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


A Brief Review of Your TV Model Will Never Work Arguments:
1) TV itself will never work. Because movies.
2) TV will die now. Because widescreen and color and 3-D and Cinerama.
3) Cable will never work. No one will pay for tv.
4) Premium channels can't work. No one will pay enough extra from them to afford to stop showing commercials.
5) Streaming services will never work. People already have cable and video stores.
6) Original streaming shows will never work. You can't build an audience without a network/
channel.

And now, 7) all of the cable channels will die without subscriber's fees.

Maybe the best lesson to take from all of this is: tv may not look like you're used to after the big change, but there's usually more of it. And there's usually some of it that's actually better.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:41 PM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


And if I argued any of those six, you'd have a point, but since I've been saying all along this is about how the a la carte cable channel model won't work, not whether or not cable or Netflix would, I'm not sure what your comment is about.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:44 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Youtube is becoming basic cable, in that a lot of micro content gives way to personality driven packages. Basic cable's wasteland is easily and better filled by Youtube's offerings. The 80s were an interesting time for basic cable in the United States. A strange brew of Canadian and English-speaking European programming, public access shows that attained creme status, and a mass graveyard dumping grounds for corporate entertainment's failed experiments. HBO changed everything with high profile films uncut, high production value sports offerings, and quirky originals. I'd argue the next seismic television shift was FOX as fourth and then first among networks. The rise of Youtube played out against the Prime of HBO with its BBC by way of New York long-form narrative storytelling.

Netflix's aggressive take-over of serial story-telling, well curated content customers crave, Marvel Universe cornerstone in 2015, and first run major motion pictures premiering day and date with IMAX. Should be an interesting couple quarters in subscription entertainment.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 2:44 PM on October 15, 2014


#7 is of course a complete straw man, as at no point did I ever say "all of the cable channels" and you know it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:46 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"making the same income? Maybe not." is not a statement any of these networks' shareholders would suggest is bound in any form of reality. It simply isn't.

Similarly, companies making internal combustion engine cars may find they have to restructure as more and more people want electric cars. This is reality. Technology evolves. Companies change. Some get left behind.

What's not reality is thinking that the onslaught of consumer demand for a la carte tv services and the accumulating snowball of online options providing exactly that can be stopped because of some motivated congresspeople in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Motivated congresspeople in California and New York attempting to protect the music industry against the tide of digital/streaming/download have accomplished precious little. Why would you think the people trying to preserve cable as we know it would do any better?

My argument is: nothing will stop the transition to streaming. Nothing. Most of the companies know this and have backup plans. Not all of these plans will work as intended. But by and large, content that people want to pay for will still get made, even if the mechanisms of paying for it change substantially.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:47 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really didn't mean to put words in your mouth on that one, I was just having a bit of fun with the Chicken Little-ness of it the larger ongoing debate of which you and I are just small voices.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyway, a hefty chunk of what we disagree on is half full vs. half empty stuff. I definitely agree that there will be intense shakeups and that not all of the companies will survive.

I just rankle at the idea that this will produce some kind of crushing blow to the amount and variety of our viewing options. We're about a century into it being a safe bet that even with change, there will be as many or more viewing options as ever. Most favorites will survive as long as people want them. New stuff will come out that's better than ever.

The idea that production and variety on the whole will plummet just doesn't fit with history.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:52 PM on October 15, 2014


This is what is going to happen with lower-tier networks losing subscription leverage in an a la carte model. It has nothing to do with whether or not you or I like it; it has everything to do with what shareholders will insist on.

I guess I'm unclear on why this is a problem. The problem is that people are being forced to pay for stuff they don't want. "What they don't want" being lower-tier networks. It pretty much goes without saying that a company that depends on money from people that don't want to buy the product are going to go broke when people are no longer forced to pay for it.
posted by empath at 2:53 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean I can kind of understand how JP Morgan Chase is "Too Big To Fail", but I'm not about to get on board with bailing out the WWE.
posted by empath at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


DOT, I don't really see where else this conversation can go when I'm explaining the current economic rationale with actual examples, and your response is variations of "you can't stop progress, man!"

I'm glad you believe "nothing will stop the transition to streaming." I imagine you'll be surprised when I say no one here, myself included, disagrees with you. At the current moment though, I guess I'll try once again to ask what the workable numbers are for changing cable's subscription model in favor of a magical land where every person in America gets only the channels they want for exactly what they'd like to pay for it and no less, because that is literally how people are describing the a la carte model here, and I'm still waiting for the numbers on how this alternative, you know, works. Again, I don't need to hear once again how awesome it's going to be to collect underpants.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR, I think we've settled into arguing as though we're a point/counterpoint situation when we're not. We may not entirely agree, but I'm certainly not saying all shows/channels will survive as we know them thank to the miracles of teh internets. Just as you're surely not saying they'll all die without subscriber's fees.

I'll try once again to ask what the workable numbers are for changing cable's subscription model in favor of a magical land where every person in America gets only the channels they want for exactly what they'd like to pay for it and no less, because that is literally how people are describing the a la carte model here

If you're demanding a specific answer, I'll cheerfully say I don't have one. Arguing that I did was never something I intended to do.

I will say though, that from where I'm sitting, there are programs Americans want. There is money to be had in these programs. I do not feel like I am making a radical prediction when I say someone will find a way to give Americans these shows and get that money, even if it no longer comes in the form of a subscriber's fee. The nature of this solution may change the number and nature of the companies providing it to us. But betting on increased variety and quality in tv has been a winning bet since the first time someone watched a broadcast on a picture tube. That isn't likely to change, even as the very idea of what "TV" is changes radically.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:02 PM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


ALongDecember: I'm calling it now - this won't be true a-la-carte like Netflix but creating HBOGO as an offering bundled with Comcast, Time Warner, etc. internet packages. That must be what they mean by working with “current partners.”

Like Xfinity SuperBlast! Performance High-Speed Cable Internet with SpeedBoost!, now with HBO GO!


This is already A Thing. I called comcast to do my typical whine at them i'm going to change internet providers so they give me a cheaper rate routine, and the cheaper internet deal they switched me to was some kind of package deal that included HBO go with the internet service.

For some byzantine licensing reason, they also had to mail me a cablebox... even though i don't have cable, and turn on basic cable for like one month without billing me(in theory, i'm waiting to see if that was a total lie).

You're spot on with this being what they're going to do, there's going to be some TurboInternet package they push people on to that bundles this.
posted by emptythought at 3:27 PM on October 15, 2014


On its face this sounds like pretty big news, but there is still plenty of wiggle room to keep this fairly constrained.

Lead engineer for WatchESPN. AMA!
posted by butterstick at 3:59 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will happily pay the UK Television License fee to get access to the BBC as a whole. Happily. I suspect many other in the US would do the same.

I would have in the past but now, not so much. It's kind of funny since it's been a great network for years but now they've come down to NBC level with nonsense like Doctor Who and Sherlock, and they cancelled The Hour, lost the majority of their live F1 broadcasts, etc. They still produce a great show from time to time, and they have a great music section that seems to be leaning heavily on content produced years ago at the moment.

At the time they should be great to possibly take advantage of a world wide subscriber model is the time they are at their worst.

It will be interesting to see if people are willing to pay multiple subscriptions to multiple services. I have Netflix and Unblock-Us, which helps to watch Netflix in all the countries it's in with all the different content. Surprised to hear HBO sold older shows to Amazon Prime instead of Netflix. I imagine we may see a future with a few dominant services that are distinguished by their content.
posted by juiceCake at 3:59 PM on October 15, 2014




Interesting timing on this, as in Canada, the CRTC spent some time last month holding hearings on the idea of pick-and-pay cable bundling. (The CRTC's summary notes on those hearings). I'm not sure if HBO was invited to or if they provided any type of response to the process.

No resolution yet, but it did lead to an interesting confrontation between the CRTC and Netflix. (2)
posted by nubs at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2014


OK. So. I went to the local Aldi (which is usually a Big Mistake) but they had a chuck roast on sale. I harkened back, and recalled Alton Brown's Good Eats had a whole episode on Pot Roast (who's protagonist was a hapless intern named "Chuck." LOL.)

Now, in times past, I'd have just brought up on the You Tube any given Good Eats episode - and one poster in particular seemed to have a clean and complete collection ("Like the Hat"). I can only speculate on Like the Hat's identity, but, wow, were those eps clean and clearly labeled.

So! I decide to revist the pot roast episode on You Tube, and I can! For $1.99, or I can buy a season pass.

I bought the season pass. Worth it...

... but how do i know it was worth it? i compared it to EVERY. OTHER. POT. ROAST. VIDEO. ON. YOU. TUBE.

On the gripping hand, if it weren't for my long-since-lapsed cable sub, how would I even know to GVS "Alton Brown Pot Roast"?

Land of contrasts and such. Iunno.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:31 PM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


My wife and I had to subscribe to Comcast when we moved; the other cable provider in town didn't want to dig up an entire side street to hook us up. Go figure. It would have also made us look like bad neighbors from the start, and nobody wants that.

We learned that the Sales department at Comcast, like any sales department desperate to make their numbers, will tell you anything you want to hear if it makes a sale. We straight up told them we didn't watch many channels; all we wanted was Turner Classic Movies and NESN so we could watch our Sox games. Oh sure! we were assured. Package X will give us what we need, though we'll have to pay an add-on fee (what) for TCM. Okay, we said, whatever, if that's what it takes.

Only it didn't take. When we hooked up the cable box and looked around, we found the TCM channel with a big screen telling us we were unauthorized to view that digital content.

Customer support confirmed we had Package X with Add-On Y ("and TCM is supposed to be on there") but after someone did some digging with our zip code, street address and physical location, we learned TCM was, for where we lived, available on a package two pricing tiers and a few add-ons higher than the one it was "supposed" to be on.

Every month or so we get a call from Comcast's retention department, who are even more desperate than the sales department to make their numbers. We politely explain that we are fine with their Internet service (it's the only service we can get) but no, we don't wish to sign back up for their television service. When pressed, we ask the retention person if they themselves would pay an extra $60.00 a month on top of their regular bill for a channel that's supposed to be on one of the basic tiers, and a half minute later we're off the phone happily going back about our business.


tl;dr I wouldn't trust Comcast to be able to handle an a la carte brunch menu let alone digital media.
posted by Spatch at 12:43 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree with the others who have stated that they think we will not see a la carte. My guess is it will be an online streaming service, that costs pretty much the same as cable, only you don't need a TV.
posted by greermahoney at 12:47 AM on October 16, 2014


(Yes, I am still angry about the XBMC lockout while the chosen smartphones of the BBC executives were supported)

That had nothing to do with executive smartphones and everything to do with the fact the BBC had invested millions in the development of Youview, a direct competitor to xbmc, but not in the mobile space.
posted by goo at 1:08 AM on October 16, 2014


Netflix Stock Price Crashes In After-Hours Trading

Because they didn't meet their predictions on subscriber growth, not the HBO news.
posted by smackfu at 7:24 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


emptythought: For some byzantine licensing reason, they also had to mail me a cablebox... even though i don't have cable, and turn on basic cable for like one month without billing me(in theory, i'm waiting to see if that was a total lie).
Make DAMN SURE they aren't charging you rent on that!
posted by IAmBroom at 9:08 AM on October 16, 2014


That had nothing to do with executive smartphones and everything to do with the fact the BBC had invested millions in the development of Youview, a direct competitor to xbmc, but not in the mobile space.

Ah but they only allowed a select few smartphone models to official access iplayer downloading. Fortunately, they were egregiously stupid about it and some saavy people put together getiplayer but it was shamelessly stupid to take a service that anyone could use and then selectively lock out all but 4 or 5 brands+model smartphone combinations. So it wasn't just the 'mobile space' distinction. It was that for some reason they favoured only a few request headers with unencrypted files.
posted by srboisvert at 2:06 PM on October 16, 2014


Initially, sure. It didn't take long before iPlayer was available on all smartphone platforms though.

I know your pain, don't worry - I know a couple of people who worked on YouView and I complained to them vociferously after they dropped iPlayer for xbmc (and got a YouView box to "pilot test" for whingeing, which nobody has ever asked me my opinion of and we still have like four years later). The BBC developed a competing platform; iPlayer for xbmc unfortunately suffered as a result.
posted by goo at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2014


My guess is it will be an online streaming service, that costs pretty much the same as cable, only you don't need a TV.

Not sure why it would be just one service. I mean, absent some complete victory by the cablecos allowing them to throttle everything and anything that competes with them to death, which is a risk, I guess, but one that seems less and less likely (at least in the extreme) as the Internet companies doing VOD stuff get more powerful.

What I think you'll see more and more of is people subscribing to a bunch of streaming services and/or buying individual shows and seasons. You end up getting a la carte by end-running the cable companies by streaming everything. Which as I've said earlier I find kinda hacky and inelegant, but it works.

If you add up a bunch of streaming plans you can arrive at a total monthly cost that isn't that far removed from cable. Netflix's 4-TV plan is $12/mo, Hulu is $8, Amazon Prime is $8.25 (though billed annually). So if you did all of those, which together get you most of the programming that I suspect most people actually care about from basic cable, you're paying around $30/mo for programming.

The money, quite a lot of money, is still there. When I ditched cable TV, it freed up a significant monthly budget for programming, which I used to subscribe to some different streaming services and also let me impulse-purchase movies on Amazon Instant without thinking too hard about it. The cable company's loss is Netflix/Hulu/Amazon's gain. There is still money to be made in offering people video-based entertainment, and in producing it.

But unlike the local cable monopoly, there's no lock-in for a streaming service. If Netflix tries to screw me and raise rates (as my cable company was wont to do), or inserts a lot of obnoxious ads, there are other services that I can watch with the same Roku box. And on the other side of the equation, if Netflix tries to keep too much of the profits to themselves instead of passing them along to studios, they risk losing contracts and having shows move to other services. So they are reduced to a middleman, trying to match up as many viewers with as many shows as possible in a very competitive environment. Doesn't seem like a high-margin environment. Bad for them, good for us though, and probably good for the studios who aren't producing dreck, too.

Yeah, there are some studios who are going to get killed in all this. The nature of channelized TV produces an artificial demand for enough programming to fill [number of channels] x 24 hrs, every day. You don't have that on streaming services. The only shows they care about are the ones that people watch, or they think people are going to watch. Not much need for filler, and it's really hard to see that as a bad thing.

And it may well be that there just doesn't end up being as much money floating around, coming from consumers wallets', at the end of all this than there was at the beginning. Lots of people (myself included) took the opportunity presented by ditching cable not just to reallocate the same amount of money to different companies with better value propositions, but also to reduce overall entertainment spending. Writ large, that means less money flowing to TV studios and less TV being created. So be it: an industry that depends on triple-digit monthly cable bills probably isn't sustainable anyway, given trends in Americans' disposable incomes. They'll just have to suck it up and deal like everyone else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:41 PM on October 16, 2014


« Older We could use a few pointers on prudence.   |   Selfie with Comet Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments