Cable TV–Why Isn’t the Customer Always Right?

Millions of people have dropped cable and satellite TV in the last few years.  Some have done it to save money during a recession, and others because they are tired of ever increasing cable bills, or being forced to buy TV channels the don’t watch.  Recent news reports say the average American is paying $100 a month for TV, that it will be $123 by 2015, and $200 a month by 2020.

Even the people who continue to subscribe to cable and satellite services complain about too many channels, bad service and growing bills.  When will the pay TV industry wake up and think, “Hey, the customer is always right!”  A friend of mine got mad when his cable company charged him $50 to fix his cable service he was paying over $100 a month to use – shouldn’t something you buy be in working order?  He wasn’t ready to quit cable completely, so he took his service down to the $29.95 basic rate.  He’s still mad and thinks of giving up cable completely.

I gave up cable because I got tired of paying for a zillion channels I didn’t watch.  I wanted a la carte pricing but cable companies want to bundle their services.  If you want to know why, look at this chart I got from “Hate Paying for Cable? Here’s Why.”  You’ll probably need to click on the image to see the larger version to read it.  This is an example of what cable/satellite companies pay for each network to get all those channels they offer.


I don’t watch sports, so I would be paying over seven dollars a month for sports channels I don’t watch.  WTF!!!  I recently tried to get U-verse to sell me just Turner Classic Movies (TCM) which this chart says this cabled company pays 26 cents a month per subscriber, but I’d have to pay AT&T $80 a month to watch the one channel I wanted.  Sure I’d get 200 other channels, but I only wanted TCM.

By the way, that chart is old.  A newer article says ESPN is $4.69 and TNT $1.16 (“How ESPN Is Making Your Monthly Cable Bill More and More Expensive”).  This is like going to Target to buy toilet paper and being forced to buy a pair of pants, a quart of motor oil, a bottle of shampoo, a comb, a gallon of Clorox, and 200 other items just to be able to leave the store with butt wipes.

But you can see why cable networks want cable companies to bundle their stations.  Take ESPN.  For each million homes forced to buy ESPN, they contribute $4.69 million per month to ESPN.  However, if we went to a la carte pricing and only 500,000 per million wanted ESPN, and ESPN wanted to make the same amount of money, then they would have to charge $8.38 a month to the people who wanted it.  Which would probably make many of those 500,000 subscribers think even more about if they really wanted ESPN.

If we have a la carte pricing, I doubt Comcast or U-verse would sell me TCM for 26 cents.  But I’d be willing to pay $10 a month for TCM, but I’m not sure how many other TCM fans would be willing to pay that much.  But for a la carte to work, instead of shaking everyone down for 26 cents a month, TCM fans would have to pony up more, maybe a lot more, or TCM would go out of business.

If we had a la carte pricing, many cable stations would go out of business.  Bundled pricing is keeping  these channels afloat.  If the goal is to have hundreds of television networks, bundling is the way to go.  But most cable customers bitterly complain about buying channels they do not want, and it’s the reason why cable bills keep growing and growing.

Cable and satellite companies need to get right by their customers.  What they need to do is provide a base service, say $19.95 that provides a  HD DVR/modem box and the local stations.  HD is standard with free over the air stations, so quit being a dick and charging extra – and it will simplify things for both the customers and you.

DVRs should be standard too.  Quit finding ways to charge extra for what should be standard, that only annoys the customer.   And don’t charge for fixing the system when it’s broke.  We’re renting a service from you, it should be reliable and high quality.  Even at $19.95 a month for the base system with just local channels, pay TV services should be able to make a profit at this level.

Then offer an onscreen menu that customer’s can control from home that shows all the channels, pay-per-view, on-demand channels and other services with the monthly costs for each.  Let them sign up with their clickers – no annoying phone calls.  I bet you can make the same profits or more by pricing the channels individually.  The only downside will be that the total channels will go from 200-300 to maybe 50-100.

Since I gave up cable TV I learned just how good 1 channel can be.  I have a home built DVR (HTPC) and what I mainly record is PBS.  It offers more top quality TV than I can watch.  If you distilled hundreds of channels, with mostly crappy content, into dozens of channels with mostly quality content, the perception of your product will vastly improve.

I think most homes will be happy with 10-20 “a la carte pay” channels.  Having fewer channels makes watching TV less stressful.  To much choice can be painful.  Their cable bill could be as high or higher than it is now, but it would reflect exactly what they wanted.

If such a system was available I’d go back to being a cable subscriber.

In the future there are other changes cable companies could make to make their customers happier.  Get rid of the cable box.  That would reduce clutter and a clicker.  Work with TV manufacturers to make smart TVs work with cable/satellite feeds and develop standards.  DVRs should be built into TVs.  A SSD drive would not take up much space.  It could be user replaceable.  Or make TVs with 128-256gb SSDs built-in, with a slot for customer’s to add an additional drive.

A TV could be built to do TV, Internet, video games and music that uses one clicker plus game controllers.  One cable, from a cable/satellite/broadband company could provide all content.  And build your systems with self-diagnostic awareness so we won’t have the aggravation of feuding with your company over intermittent problems.  There should be no reason to send a cable guy to see what’s wrong.  Your system should know what’s wrong, and if it’s involves something in the house, notify us to pick a time for your guy to come by – otherwise fix the outside stuff without bothering us.

And why fight Netflix – make it part of your lineup.  Right now I have over-the-air stations I use the TV clicker to manage, and then HTPC content, which I use a wireless keyboard, and then Amazon and Netflix through a Roku box with another clicker, and watch Blu-Ray/DVDs with another box and clicker.  Plus I manage sound with a receiver and another clicker.  That’s a HUGE PAIN IN THE ASS!  The next TV I buy should have all that crap built-in, requiring only one clicker.

If Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other Internet TV services can work with TV manufacturers to get their content  built right into the TV, why can’t cable/satellite/broadband companies?  Sorry Roku, but it’s obvious that your 2 ounces of electronics could easily be added to a TV set.  And why not a computer and stereo receiver?  If such integration happens, and TVs are moving that way now, having an external cable box is just stupid.  I’m not an inventor but I can see which way the electronic wind is blowing.

Lastly, Hey TCM, go the Netflix/Hulu Plus route and set up your own Internet TV service.  I’d gladly pay you $9.99 a month, but you might get more subscribers at $4.99 or $7.99.

JWH – 4/15/12

I Try to Buy One TV Channel from AT&T U-verse

I gave up cable TV awhile back and I haven’t really missed it except for one station, Turner Classic Movies.  I love movies from the 1930s and TCM has more movies from the 1930s than any place else except the 1930s.  I grew up watching old black and white movies late at night.  In the summertime my parents let me and my sister stay up late and watch the all night movies – it kept us quiet during the day time.  One of the most intense nostalgic feelings I have is for watching old black and white movies in a dark room with the TV creating an eerie flickering light.  Now that’s escapism.

I’ve been really missing TCM.  I can’t duplicate their movie lineup with Netflix, nor can I buy the films I want from Amazon.  TCM’s vault of old flicks is truly amazing.

Today, my wife and I went to the AT&T store to talk turkey.  Their website is appallingly bad, and the only way to get good help is to visit the store and talk with a sales person.

We walk in the door and a lovely young woman is standing right there.

“Can I help you?”

I hold up one finger, “I’d like to get one cable channel please.”

“Are you an AT&T customer.”

“Yes, we have U-verse for internet and phone.”

“What channel would you like to have?”

“Turner Classic Movies in HD.”

“Let’s go look that up.”

We follow her to the counter and she begins going through her computer and foldout of TV plans.  A sales person, an older lady, at the next terminal who is selling a smartphone to a customer takes an interest and offers to help.   She tells the young lady that TCM is part of the family plan.

“That will be $59 a month,” says the younger woman.

“What is the real price after the promotion?” I ask.

“It will be $80 a month,” she replied.

I didn’t hear the exact figure, all I heard was the eighty part.  “But I just want one channel.”

“But the family package comes with 200 channels.”

“I can’t get just one?”

“No, sorry.”  She was very nice.

“Oh well, that’s more than I want to pay.  I just want one channel.”

I wasn’t mad or anything.  I had hoped they would offer me their cheapest package and tack on $10 a month for TCM, but that’s not the way it works.

I check when I got home.  They would be almost as much money and they don’t seem to have TCM HD.  I was willing to go $40 a month for TCM HD, but not $80.

I wish TCM would offer a pay channel on my Roku, or an internet deal like Hulu Plus.  Or even offer DVDs for $15 each at their web site, but their DVDs are more expensive than that and they don’t sell the movies I want to see.  For example, here’s a great lineup of films I’d love to see that will show April 6th.  You might need to click on the image to see a larger readable version.


I’m thinking of asking my friend Janis who has cable if I can come over to her house at 5am that day.  I’d take a vacation day.  I wish I had a time machine.  Wouldn’t it be great to go back to those years and just watch those movies in the theaters?

How weird is this?  I wonder how many people are like me and love old flicks like these?

I’d go back to cable TV if they offered a base package of no channels and a set-top box with DVR for $15 a month, with an on-screen menu listing available channels and monthly prices and I could pick exactly which channels I wanted.  And no bullshit about charging extra for HD – the world is HD now, it shouldn’t be extra!  I’d really want more than 1 channel.  I’d like CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, TCM and maybe a couple others.  Maybe not either.  I hate seeing channels I don’t want to watch.  I doubt a la carte cable TV will ever happen, but it’s what many people want.

I’ve got more TV than I can watch now with Netflix.  TV I really, really want to watch.  It’s just sometimes I’d like something Netflix doesn’t offer, especially movies before 1940.  I can buy some, but strangely the oldest movies are often way more expensive than the latest movies.  Careful shopping on the web can find me a few bargains, like double feature DVDs of pre-code Hollywood films for $15.  But all to often, like the Warner Archive DVDs, they want $25 for a single movie.  That’s nuts.  If Amazon sold digital copies of the old movies from TCM for $4.99 each, I’d buy them like crazy.

JWH – 3/31/12