About Slim Cable Bundles

August 26th, 2015

So the story goes that, someday, but maybe not very soon, Apple will debut a subscription TV service. Let the world hold its breath, because it’s going to turn the entire industry on its ear.

But first, Apple has to make the proper deals with the TV networks to provide a different experience, so the stories say. One rumor suggests that Apple, sensibly, wants to include your local stations. But to do that, they’d either have to negotiate with hundreds of U.S. stations, or directly with the networks with which they are affiliated. Some stations, however, have no network affiliation, so what about them?

In any case, it’s nonetheless true that the growth of cable has slowed, and that’s blamed on so-called “cord cutters” who want to do without. One key reason may well be that younger people, millennials, are no longer interested in subscribing when they finally leave home and move into their own places. They may seek out free streaming services, such as YouTube, or low-cost alternatives, such as Netflix and Hulu. If they aren’t wedded to appointment TV, or attached to any particular shows, they no longer have traditional TV fare on their radar.

And, of course, the state of the world economy reduces discretionary income, so even a discount cable bundle may not be enough of a discount. They will need an Internet hookup, but that’s all. The landline is gone, replaced by a smartphone, which also is used to watch streaming content.

So with fewer viewers, TV networks are seeing their main audiences skew older. If millennials give up the habit of watching traditional cable/satellite shows, even as they age, it will only get worse.

I sort of wonder if that isn’t one reason why CBS, whose most popular shows tend to have older audiences, is making a huge investment in “Supergirl,” which, ahead of its premiere, already has a large online following, particularly among younger females. This is the sort of show that might have otherwise been presented on the CW network (jointly owned by CBS and Warner Bros.), which has long catered to a relatively youthful audience.

Regardless, the real question is what Apple can bring to the table. So far, all that’s being reported is that there will be a package of 30-40 channels, available for less than cable or satellite. But how is that different from basic cable anyway? In each case, you get fewer stations, but does that make it a better package? I’m not considering the delivery system.

Dish Network is selling Sling TV, a streaming service with a reduced channel lineup. There are extra tiers if you want more. I don’t see how that differs, aside from the delivery mechanism, from their basic satellite deals, other than the lack of DVR capability.

The other question is the choice of channels in these slimmed down packages. If they suit your needs, it will be perfect. If not, are there options to add or replace channels with the ones you want?

Remember, a high-end cable/satellite deal in the U.S. offers over 300 channels. While not all of them get stellar ratings, each has an audience. If you are a part of that audience, would you want to give it up?

Sure, I suppose Apple will want to choose the channels that will reach the largest portion of their user base, so there will be less incentive to stick with what you have. Maybe you give up a few channels for the greater good — the lower price of admission.

A real solution would be a la carte, but cable/satellite providers have balked at such deals. Sure, you can get a few channels via direct streaming, including premium fare, such as HBO and Showtime. But if you just want to turn on the set and have the channels you want always available, perhaps Apple will give you a choice, and if they do, it would be the main advantage over the competition. You get what you want — and only what you want!

I’d even be tempted, because I normally watch no more than a dozen channels routinely, consisting of both broadcast and cable. If I could get these — and only these — for less money, I’d be tempted, particularly iff Apple fleshes it out with a premium channel or two. I’d still like to watch Ray Donovan on Showtime, and Strike Back on Cinemax if I could. Still, I can see the potential for a great deal here.

If Apple can make it work, and that requires the cooperation of the networks who normally offer bundles of channels to cable/satellite networks for a single fee, sign me up.

Of course, I’m probably an outlier among candidates for cord-cutting. Television programming these days is far better than it used to be, with superior production values and acting. It’s not uncommon for Oscar nominees and winners to appear in a TV series, even if only a limited series with a dozen episodes or less. TV is no longer the wasteland for the performer who really wanted to be a movie star.

Unfortunately, the issues of channel choice and selection aren’t being given the attention they deserve in the media. That needs to change, and it still remains to be seen what Apple will do to make their subscription service, should it come to be, the go-to place for TV entertainment.

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One Response to “About Slim Cable Bundles”

  1. dfs says:

    I didn’t have any response to this piece until last night, when I was partway through watching an episode of Netflix’ “Boss” (damn, is Kelsey Grammar good!) on my smart TV and the transmission stopped when the stream froze. I couldn’t get it restarted but fortunately was able to complete the episode by switching to my Apple TV. Point is, my wife and I are reasonably light consumers of streaming TV and yet experience glitches like this a couple of times in an average month. I don’t understand the ins and outs of streaming technology, but I get the impression that in comparison with cable it’s still a trifle half-baked. All the other arguments about cord-cutting pro and con to the side, I wouldn’t consider going that route until I was convinced that the technology has become robust enough that I could depend on its rock-solid reliability, the way I do with cable. And experiences like I had last night lead me to think we aren’t there yet.

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