Lessons from cable television

I’m one of the (I think I’m safely guessing) millions of Americans who feels taken advantage of by my cable TV company. Tired of paying $135 a month for cable and Internet, I called Cablevision yesterday and asked them to downgrade my service.

I dropped the $55-a-month “Family Cable” pack, which includes all of the popular channels such as A&E (no more “Intervention” and “Hoarders” … oh, the pain), USA, TBS, TNT, CNN, ESPN and the Comedy Channel (goodbye “The Daily Show”).
And I signed up for the $12.95-a-month “Basic Cable,” which is basically what you can get with an antenna plus some local access and state government channels.
(The problem is, $12.95 automatically becomes $22.95 a month because you are forced to rent a digital converter box and a digital remote control if you want those local access channels to show up.)
Then I had to sign up for an “iO package” for another $11.95 a month because the Nickelodeon Junior channel is an absolute must in our household. It has “The Wonder Pets,” ‘The Backyardigans,” “Dora the Explorer” … everything in this world that my 3-year-old daughter cares about.
But with it I get Great American Country, The Golf Channel, The Military Channel, Jewelry Television (huh?), Wedding Central, Euro News and a bunch of other channels that I would never want to watch.
Add it all up, plus a bunch of other dubious fees and the extra $5 a month I have to pay for high-speed Internet because I am not buying the more expensive TV package, and my Cablevision bill is still going to be more than $100 a month.
You can’t purchase a la carte cable television. You have to pay for a lot of crap to get the handful of channels you really want.
The technology must exist, or could easily exist – that’s just not how it works, because the cable TV providers are clinging to every dime of revenue they can.
With Web-based video delivery and other technology available, though, my question is, how long will it be before someone steps up and cuts them out of the process?
I bet that what I would be willing to pay Nickelodeon directly for the content that makes my 3-year-old a happy little girl is more than the fees that Cablevision is paying them to have me as a subscriber.
And to take it a step further, I bet Nickelodeon would benefit even more from the advertising they could sell around my family watching videos on their Web site all day long if they went the route of Hulu and others and streamed their programming for free online.
– – –
That’s a long run-up to saying that from the perspective of a frustrated consumer, I can see parallels between the cable television problem and the way that our business model is changing as a local news and information provider in print and online.
We are moving to partner with, bring in and distribute content from all kinds of community journalism and entrepreneurial sources. It will be hyperlocal to a particular neighborhood, and niche to a particular interest (i.e., parenting or high school wrestling).
The difference, I guess, is that we will not be charging folks to access this content, but rather selling advertising (alone and perhaps in partnership with some of the providers) around the many different eyeballs each specific layer of information attracts.
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