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Getting Closer to Cable a la Carte

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Until earlier this summer, I had been living with less than 30 cable television channels, one third in a language not spoken by me. I reduced my cable subscription a few years ago in an effort to save some money. When I moved into my new apartment, I was offered free cable for a year, so I took the offer. Now I have several hundred channels, including some programming I am interested in and a lot of programming I don’t find particularly interesting.

The reason all the unwanted channels are included is because the cable company can’t get the better channels without them. They call it “bundling.” For example, content providers like ESPN (owned by Disney) make it less expensive for the cable companies to receive ESPN only when it’s bundled with ESPN2, ESPN News, The Disney Channel, and perhaps even The Ocho.

The FCC is considering making it “against the rules” for content providers to bundle channels; soon, each channel must be sold separately, so the cable companies have more flexibility to decide which channels to buy and offer to customers. When I heard about “cable a la Carte” in the past, it was more along the lines of offering customers more choice in the channels they buy, to avoid useless programming and to focus on only the channels of interest. This possible ban of bundling by the FCC doesn’t address this issue at all.

Cable companies could sell channels individually at any time, but for the most part, the sell only bundled packages — just like the content providers they are fighting. This ban will do nothing for the end consumer. The idea that cable companies will pass their savings onto their customers is laughable.

FCC puts “a la carte” cable on the menu [USA Today]

Published or updated September 12, 2007.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I heard that the proposed Sirius/XM merger (which I haven’t followed, so I don’t know what’s up with it right now) was promising individual satellite radio channels.

Maybe if that goes through, then cable companies will be under more pressure to offer individual channels. I’d really like that, since I don’t have much use for the Spanish language channels or the shopping channel. But there are some that aren’t in the basic package that I miss from living w/my parents.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I think if there’s more competition from cable from either sattelite or internet TV, the consumer will benefit. Competition is always good.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

I am not sure if the FCC rule affects this:

Cable companies actually can’t off a la carte right now. Disney talks to the cable company and says, “we’ll give you ESPN for $6 per household, but it has to be in every package worth $30 or more a month” That way, they get mony from a bunch of people that don’t want it. If the cable company demands a la carte, Disney will only sell it for like $13 per household.

The number of people that actually want a channel drives the price difference. There are many channels we get for pennies that would cost a couple bucks on a la carte.

The bottom line is that they will get their money either way. If everyone pushes for a la carte, we will end up with a bunch less channels, but the same bill. Who relaly wants that?

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