Where the TV fight goes

My first bit of advice to pissed-off Cablevision customers in New York — who’ve just lost WABC right before the Oscars — I do recommend that you switch to Verizon Fios. You won’t get it in time. It’s not perfect. But for me, it has been a helluva lot better than Cablevision: more channels, better service, better broadband, good phone service, impressive installation. Switch. It will feel good. It will feel just. I spent years sparring with Cablevision to get what I paid for and I’m glad to be rid of them.

This doesn’t mean I side with ABC in this fight. They — like Fox before them — are trying to get us to pay for free TV channels. This was a point I wanted to make at last week’s FCC workshop on the future of media: It’s no longer true that broadcast channels are free. Fewer than 13% of Americans get broadcast channels over the air; the rest of us have to pay for cable or satellite to get access and now these channels — which got our spectrum for free — are trying to charge us yet more.

Who’s fighting for us? Not the FCC.

But I think that as these fees are fought over and granted to broadcast channels and passed on to viewers — adding up to a likely $72 for New York’s half-a-dozen commercial channels — then I still think that there will be a consumer revolt and the FCC will have the cause it seems to have wanted to require a la carte pricing for cable.

Then both broadcasters and cable operators and their parent companies will get their just desserts. I will not pay for 90 percent of the channels I am forced to pay for now. That will reduce revenue to cable. It will mean that many channels will no longer be subsidized. It will kill marginal channels.

And that will open the door for internet programming. More and more TVs will be directly connected to the internet. Program creators will be able to break free of the control of cable MSOs. We’ll be watching more programming on our mobile devices and pads and computers. Fragmentation? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I would invest in low-cost production of, say, home and food programs that can reach sufficient critical mass online. I’d invest in niche programming — see: TWiT et al — that can reach a very low level of critical mass and sell highly targeted advertising. I would not invest in cable companies or big, old TV companies. They’re just trying to milk the cash cow before she keels over.

  • we are thinking about the same thing this weekend jeff


  • Sick of getting screwed by these programming wars? Sign the petition to bring a la carte programming to the US. http://tvalacarte.org/


    Let the channels set the rate and then we can pick our own programming. Yeah capitalism!!

  • John

    We had the same thing happen in 2008 with our CBS affiliate. Before they shut off their signal to DirecTV which we were handing over $100+/month for, we shut off the service and switched to a HTPC. Now we have wired gigabit to every room and are streaming most everything off the internets. We put up an OTA antenna for the big networks and pipe that over the same network. HD OTA is much better than what DTV passes off as HD.

  • I’ve been using OTA HD for the past 6 months, and couldn’t be happier. Cost me nothing a month, and anything I miss can be downloaded later. The sooner the cable monopolies are unraveled, the better!

  • Matthew

    I’m dropping cable this at the end of this month and putting the money towards 30mbps internet. I’ll be getting the boxee box when it comes out, but until then I’ll just hook up one of my unused laptops to the tv.

    Of course I’m a “geek”, so what i do doesn’t matter, right? Maybe, but even my non-techy friend has ALREADY done this (without my suggestion), so I think there is some movement towards critical mass.

    Internet critics like Mark Cuban will point out the bandwidth superiority of cable networks. But I don’t think that matters. Some times having 1 killer feature is all that matters. The internet has that killer feature – 100% choice.

  • Brian Gillespie

    So you’re saying that if you have an antenna you can’t get these channels? Because if you’re not, then people who pay for “free OTA” are to blame.

  • I must say that Verizon Fios is a very good thing that happened to our home, and most especially to me. We switched on it right before Oscars occurred so we are able to watch it and we are very grateful to that, and very unfortunate for those who saw the glamorous Oscars. Love it. Thank Verizon Fios.

  • J.K.

    Despite the gazillions that Verizon has been spending on advertising on my broadcast t.v. for FiOS, the service hasn’t been available for the majority of New York.

    And is anyone forgetting about free broadcast television. We get HD television for free across the air. No problem with that.

  • Look at our children and their television watching habits. My 10 yr old watches cartoons on TV. My 14 yr old watches the Discovery channel and other type shows.

    But they both consume the heck out of YouTube.

    If given the choice between shutting down YouTube or cable/satellite the answer would be a no brainer. Goodbye television.

    So in our new house we are going to have it wired up like crazy and a computer attached to every television.

    And the dish may well be left behind.

  • Rick

    I’m with the thread except: C-SPAN likely goes away without cable support. Brian Lamb’s take on covering government as an opinionless silent observer is close to all that’s left of truth transmitted electronically, specifically because it works hard to be agnostic. Of course Brian Lamb won’t last forever but absent cable company funding C-SPAN will go the way of a commercial network (corporate agenda) or PBS (corporate agenda pretending to be opinionless).
    I would subscribe to C-SPAN for a reasonable amount even if I rarely watched. But too few will to sustain it in an a la carte world.

  • Chris

    >>It’s no longer true that broadcast channels are free. Fewer than 13% of Americans get broadcast channels over the air; the rest of us have to pay for cable or satellite to get access and now these channels — which got our spectrum for free — are trying to charge us yet more.<<

    It's not really true that "the rest of us" (87%) *have* to pay for cable or satellite to get access to the spectrum channels, is it? (typically affiliates of major networks, public television and the odd local syndicateds). With the urbanization of our country most Americans must be in range of OTA signals.

    Like some others in this thread I got fed up with $$$ and cut my cable tv entirely; now I do over the air with lots of channels in the DC area (with some of the locals beaming extra content including 24/7 weather) and internet for everything else. Hello, Roku.

  • Rick

    Also: it is almost impossible to DVR internet programming, and internet TV players are very good at preventing skipping of the commercials. Today streamed TV is much less cluttered than broadcast/cable, but how long will that last once the majority of the audience uses streaming? Argue that the commercials support the programming and I’ll count the number of commercials for products and services I will not or cannot buy (Boeing? ADM?) and in-house ads too repetitive to waste my life sitting through.

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  • jeff — what is the basis for that $72 figure? Is that an annual number? Do you mean $1 per channel per month? Steve Safran at Lost Remote is quoting estimates between 27c and 65c — andrew

    • Yes, the number I keep hearing is a dollar. I’m on bad connection now or I’d look up — was that what Time Warner raised its rates after the Fox deal?

      • $1 was the amount Fox Channel 5 sought from Time Warner. Time Warner’s counteroffer was 30c. I think they kept their compromise secret but presumably it was somewhere in between.

        • right but then the rate went up. do you know what it was?

  • Yes, my monthly Time Warner bill went up by more than $11 in January. Of that, the “basic service” went up $2.50 and the “standard service” also by $2.50. The rental of each converter box went up $1.65 and so on. I could find no itemization that unbundled the hikes channel by channel.

  • cm

    Nobody is forcing you to waste your time in front of TV.

    Turn the damn thing off.

  • Thanks for this information. I have been thinking of getting rid of cablevision as well. I am not really happy with their service for the amount I pay every month.

  • I have spent a lot of time researching fios and the cable and satellite alternatives. Does anyone actually consider that old school cable is actually better than Fios high speed internet? It seems that there is no competition between them when considering the actual network speed and funtionlality for viewing.

  • It’s very difficult to decide on the best provider when it comes to broadband internet, however based on a few things i have seen verizon fioshas several fantastic marketing deals going on today if you are luck enough this in your town.