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Cable providers aim to offer channels ‘a la carte’

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Cable companies just might do the right thing, for once. According to Reuters, some US cable operators have a secret plan in the works to force programmers to unbundle their channel offerings, which would make it possible for customers to subscribe to channels individually.

The move is a complete 180-degree turn from the cable industry’s position for the last decade. Cable providers have long fought tooth and nail to keep maintain the status quo of packaged channel offerings, despite outcry from customers. With increasingly formidable competition from online streaming video services, cable executives have succumbed to market pressures.

If the plan eventually goes through, customers would be able to opt out of certain channels. For instance, ESPN and ESPN 2 are currently the most expensive channels for cable operators to provide. Customers who don’t care about sports would, according to the plan, be able to remove these channels from their package, which would reduce the cost of their cable TV service.

While it’s easy to criticize cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable for failing to offer customers something they so obviously want, doing so does come with complications. First and foremost is the rising cost of programming, which has skyrocketed in recent years. ESPN, for instance, just signed a deal with the NFL that cost $15 billion for 8 years of airing rights – a 73 percent jump from the previous agreement. Cable providers worry that this and other similar price hikes will force them to pass the increases on to customers.

Fortunately for us customers, cable providers may have no choice but to change their ways if they want to stay alive. Comcast and Time Warner Cable have reportedly lost 1.2 million subscribers between June 30, 2010 and June 30 of this year. Considering the cable industry as a whole has approximately 100 million subscribers nationwide, that number isn’t much – but it’s apparently enough for cable providers to take notice.

[Image via IKO/Shutterstock]

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Andrew Couts
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