Leave it to an industry in its death throes to finally start getting creative to try and save itself. As more subscribers cut the cord, pay-TV providers are starting to realize that they need those paying customers to stick around. While several news articles have cropped up describing ‘cord shavers’ as the newest threat to cable TV, at this point, cord shavers are seen as preferable to cord cutters. As a result, skinny bundles without major channels that were once hushed up by cable companies are now being pushed more aggressively, particularly by AT&T and Verizon who have added goodies like HBO and Amazon Prime to sweeten the deal. Proposals have also surfaced in the US and Canada to unbundle the big cable packages, letting consumers choose channels à la carte. Verizon is also working on a web-delivered pay-TV service that is rumored to offer channels à la carte, which has long been a request by cable subscribers fed up with high bills for hundreds of unwanted channels.
Industry executives warn of dire consequences if cable is unbundled. The price of top networks like ESPN would skyrocket, they say. Meanwhile niche channels that are currently able to reach homes by being tacked on to larger bundles would find themselves without an audience and unable to remain viable. But as cable bills continue to climb, many consumers say they’re ok with that, not wanting to pay more for their favorite channels just to subsidize ones that are quite simply not profitable. But while many cable subscribers are ready for extreme measures, the scenario painted by cable and network spokesmen isn’t a very pretty one. Short term cable bill relief would be welcomed by many, but if many channels simply disappear, the end result will be less choice on TV, and less content in total as development for those smaller and more specialized channels would stop. While nobody watches every channel on TV, there’s always somebody who wants to watch each one, so chances are that with à la carte cable, many subscribers could see at least one channel that they actually want be taken off the menu. And if the price of individual channels shoots up without the bundles, customers could end up paying near the same amount just for 30 or 40 top channels, essentially getting less than before for around the same price.
With traditional cable, even the solution that so many are asking for in the end likely won’t make them very happy either. It’s reasonable for cable customers not to want to pay for content that they don’t watch, but the current TV business is built on this idea of bundles. So how can consumers achieve the perception of value without so many unintended consequences? Believe it or not, the answer may be in further unbundling. Individual shows are what consumers want to watch, not the network that they air on itself. Channels are little more than bundles of shows, arranged into a schedule. That may have made sense when television was primarily broadcast over the airwaves, but in the 21st century, that format is no longer necessary. It’s been familiar and convenient, but as consumers seek savings, it makes much more sense to pay for just the shows one wants to watch, rather than to have 24 hours of content piped into a household that watches just a few hours of TV a day.
Going à la carte with individual shows rather than channels puts consumers in control of what they watch and what they pay for. Under such a scenario, most shows would be ad-supported and thus free to watch. Newer hit shows could command a premium, but even at a few bucks per episode, you could pay for entire seasons of several shows and still pay less than you would for cable. This would also give niche content a new path to viability. By breaking up this idea of channels and networks, a lot of the barriers to getting on TV would fall. In a pay-TV landscape based more on video-on-demand, content would just need to be hosted somewhere, rather than battling with dozens of other shows for a decent spot in a network lineup. This would also allow for more targeted advertising based on the content of the show. Going on-demand and à la carte would mean both that content-creators would be forced to price their products reasonably, and that the most in demand programming would no longer be used to subsidize or sell less popular content. Lower barriers to entry would mean that more content could get on TV in the first place, but that content’s survival would depend solely on its merits.
At FreeCast Inc, we recognize the direction that the entertainment industry is moving in, and the desires of consumers, and by harmonizing the two, we’ve created our product Rabbit TV. For only $10, it gives users access to everything the web has to offer, including most of what’s on TV now. Most is available for free, and what is not is usually available à la carte. Best of all, thanks to our recent project to create original content channels, both viewers and content creators are now able to create their own channels, no matter how unique their interests are.