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US cable TV may unbundle to stem tide of Internet video

updated 12:30 am EDT, Wed September 28, 2011

US cable TV wants channels unbundled

US cable and satellite providers signaled Tuesday that they wanted to unbundle their channel packages to stave off the incursion of Internet video and a tough economy. DirecTV, Mediacom, Suddenlink, and others are pushing the FCC and others to alter retransmission fee systems and let them sell access by the channel so that they can lower the actual cost of selling TV services. At costs as high as $4 per month just for ESPN and now with normally free-to-air networks charging for access, they argued to Reuters and others that they were forced to charge high prices.

Among the complaints was that requirements for local carriage meant broadcasters could lord this over TV providers to make them carry premium channels they didn't otherwise want.

The FCC hasn't formally responded to the calls.

Cable and satellite providers haven't been entirely innocent in the debate. Many of these firms often institute yearly or twice yearly rate hikes, even if their profit levels continue to expand. They have also frequently been the staunchest opponents to net neutrality. Some of the biggest firms, such as Comcast, are also now intertwined with TV studios whose corporate owners might object to a la carte channels as it would force them to cut niche channels or lose exposure.

Even incumbents, however, have acknowledged that they may need to lower the practical costs of TV subscriptions to keep users. While very rare declines in recent months were first explained away as those hit by the economy, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have eventually had to acknowledge that at least some of the 1.2 million customers they lost in the past year had decided that iTunes, Netflix, and the web were providing enough TV at a much lower price. Even multiple season passes on iTunes can typically cost less spread out over months of viewing than TV packages that can sometimes break the $100 mark each month.

Studios and close partners like Hulu have tried to prevent cord-cutting, or switching from legacy TV to online viewing, by blocking free access on TV-friendly devices or by preventing services like iTunes and Netflix from getting access either to every show or in a timely fashion. The tactic has so far had only muted success as they sometimes encourage piracy or hacks.

By Electronista Staff


  1. msuper69

    Professional Poster

    Joined: Jan 2000


    Make this happen!

    It's ironic that a downturn in the economy might end up saving cable TV customers some money. I've always detested paying for channels I have absolutely no interest in.

  1. Lifeisabeach

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: May 2010


    Agreed! Let's do it!

    Cable/Satellite TV is riddled with channels that no one cares about, yet they keep adding them to justify the price hikes. I could certainly get down with paring my channel selection down to a half dozen or so. It may also force a lot of these channels to step up their game and work on providing some real content rather than a bunch of filler fluff.

  1. lamewing

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Aug 2004



    I added back in our U-verse 200 for about 3 days and then dropped it back to U-verse Basic because the extra $35.00 isn't worth it for all the c*** when I only want 1 or 2 stations.

  1. efithian

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2004


    Dump Cable/Sat

    I dropped cable TV in the 1970's, bought a satellite dish and a good antenna system. I now get HD which is better quality than cable from over the air TV stations, in my case about 70 stations, some of which are not available on cable. The new satellite systems, not Dish or DirectTV, are free-to-air, include HD, and cost nothing. There are some 1200 channels that I can receive legally, including live sports, news, and other entertainment. If there is a show that is not on over-the-air or free-to-air, I can always watch it on the internet or on iTunes.

  1. Eriamjh

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: Oct 2001



    I have been begging for this for years! No more low-def stations. None of the c*** I never watch.
    Bill me by the channel I watch. Find a way to let me pay for a week or month for a single channel, then take it off if I don't watch it again.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: Jan 2007


    Of course you all know

    the rates for a la carte watching will just raise up to meet the shortfall in revenue, right? I do like having the ability to discover new things, both local and non-local, just by changing channels. It's there when I want, whenever I want.

    I do NOT like, however, paying money for package channels supported by long advertisement breaks in the shows. 5 minutes of show 10 minutes of commercials (at least it seems like that :P ).

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