Cable Is a Bad Value For the Money

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"Cable Is a Bad Value For the Money"

Church deacon Mr. Brown, from Tyler Perry's "Meet The Browns."

It should surprise absolutely no one that a bunch of studies suggest that people my age-ish are thinking seriously about walking away from their cable subscriptions. Obviously, the development and spread of alternative distribution technologies weakened viewers’ attachments to the traditional watch-a-show-in-a-set-time-slot experience, not only by making it easier to watch programs effectively on demand, but by forcing shows that are currently airing to compete against ones that have been off the air for a season or even decades. Certainly, my plan to watch all of Cheers and Roseanne this summer, both of which I missed because we didn’t have a television in the house when I was a kid, means I’m spending much more time on Netflix and much less time with my cable. If having cable wasn’t pretty much an occupational requirement for me, I’d probably walk away from it.

But it’s not just the delivery mechanism for the product that’s a problem: respondents in the survey that article cites say they think cable is a bad value, and with good reason. The bundle of channels that come in a cable package are a truly random spread of things, and while that may seem like it provides a lot of choice, it’s not actually letting me pay directly for the things I’d like to purchase. No one would stand for a model where to buy George R.R. Martin books, I had to guy the whole Left Behind series. The music industry’s evolved to a point where I am no longer required to pay for the skits on hip-hop albums. Cable’s obviously much more dependent than either of those kinds of art on delivery mechanism, but if I were the strong, profitable, critically acclaimed network, I would totally gang up on the dead weight I was packaged with and insist on letting consumers do something like pick ten channels for a set price and then pay a la carte for extra channels. Channels could opt to be available in that initial tranche, or to stay independent like HBO, or participate in both.

I’d pay what I’m paying for cable now if I could just get BBC America, SyFy, USA, TNT, FX, Bravo, AMC, Showtime, HBO, and ESPN. I imagine those networks would be happy to take their greater share of my subscription dollars and use them towards nifty programming. But I don’t have that option. Instead, I’m stuck subsidizing endless spinoffs of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.

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