TV a la carte

This past week, I attended the Wade H. Hargrove Media Law and Policy Colloquium featuring David Cohen, the Comcast Executive Vice President. He addressed a number of topics including net neutrality and the possibility of unbundling cable packages. While net neutrality is a topic I know we can’t get enough of recently, I was more intrigued by his discussion about unbundling.

Unbundling a cable package simply means that a cable company (aka Time Warner or Comcast) would offer individual channels to consumers instead of making them pay for a package of channels. Some people only watch ESPN – they would only pay for ESPN. Some people only watch MTV – they would only pay for MTV. Think of it as TV channels a la carte.

This kind of service is already available through the TV services some people choose to use from the Internet. Hulu, Apple TV and individual stations’ websites are examples of this. So wouldn’t it make sense for cable companies to follow the trend?

Cohen said no, and that unbundling channels might make cable more expensive. I did some further research since this was all new to me, and I found there was some legitimacy in Cohen’s point. For example, according to The Atlantic, an ESPN-only package could cost $30 per month – more than an entire month of bundled cable. The same goes for many other major networks including AMC. The reason for this is because every cable subscriber won’t be paying the subscription fee to each channel, and therefor to sustain income, individual channels would have to raise their fees per person.

Another argument, however, is that these individual channels would find a way to downsize according to their new audience size. Of course, I couldn’t find a single article on how this would be possible.

As for me, I have no desire for unbundled channels on TV. Although I don’t watch must TV on a television (I usually go to NBC.com or Netflix), I find myself watching a different channel every time I turn on a TV. I know I’m not the only person who does this – I’m not a crazed sports or politics fan, so I really watch TV for different shows – all of which air on different networks. If cable companies completely unbundled their channels and didn’t offer the standard package at the same cost, I would give up cable altogether.

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