In Newsday, Marie Cocco explores the economics behind cable networks’ reluctance to dismantle their tier packaging scheme.
If we could shop for cable programming the way we shop for groceries - putting in our carts only those items we want - we would reach an immediate cease-fire in this hot new skirmish of the culture war. There’d be no need for government censors to regulate cable content if consumers could censor what they buy.
But a-la-carte cable shopping would alter the economics of cable, in which advertising rates are set not by how many viewers actually watch a cable network, but by how many homes the network reaches. That’s why small cable networks vie to be bundled into a tier with popular programming, such as ESPN. Prices might rise as cable operators are forced to make scramblers more widely available and to add representatives to guide consumers through their choices. But if program-by- program choices are too costly, why not create smaller packages of programs geared to specific audiences? Surely there are viewers who want every sport from curling to sumo wrestling. It’s unlikely they’re keen on gardening, too.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association opposes a new shopping scheme, saying it would be costly and disruptive. But isn’t the auto industry disrupted, from time to time, by changes in what people want to drive? Wasn’t Hollywood forced to adapt to the era of home videos? No business is immune to market changes - except, maybe, the cable business.
Cable TV’s dirtiest word is still choice, Newsday.
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