OK, now, how many of you signed up mainly because you wanted access to one or two specific channels, such as ESPN or HGTV, or perhaps you wanted to see BYU games or Jazz games or watch the History Channel?
If my guess is right, your house is a lot like
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mine. We have well over 100 available channels and watch maybe five consistently. The rest are about as useful to us as most of the stuff you find at yard sales.
And yet you have to pay for it all if you want to see your five favorite channels that can’t be had for free over the air.
The Internet age, that disrupter that can’t be bargained with, is likely to put an end to that. I’ve written this a few times over the years, without any real evidence it was happening. But a lot has happened lately, capped off by Dish Network’s announcement Monday that it is offering a new streaming service providing only 30 or so prime channels over the Internet for $20 a month. Add this to newly available stand-alone streaming services by HBO and CBS, and Netflix’s continued popularity, and it looks like a movement is underway, however glacial.
Why does this matter to you? Even if you don’t subscribe to cable, if market forces ever got a true foothold in the television industry, family programming likely would improve and grow, and you could get it for little cost.
Or, at the least, no one would force you pay for junk you don’t want just so you can watch the stuff you do. Cranks are fond of telling families that if they object to programs, they don’t have to watch them. They’ve never been able to explain why you still have to pay for them, however.
But as positive a sign as this is, Dan Isett, the director of Public Policy for the Parents Television Network, said it isn’t time to break out the non-alcoholic bubbly yet. When I reached him by phone this week, he acknowledged the recent changes in the marketplace are good, but said they don’t really constitute full consumer choice. Not yet. Dish’s plan still gives you 30 channels whether you want all of them or not. Television content still is dominated by a handful of large companies, and they have resisted changes all along. “But there are now cracks,” he said.
Isett agrees with analysts who say young people, the Millennial generation, are forcing these changes. They watch little live TV. They aren’t interested in large cable packages. They are used to having access to only the things they want.
Not all of those things are what you might like. But that’s the nature of a market.
“Is there a market for raunchy stuff out there? Sure,” Isett said. But there also is a largely untapped market for family friendly programming, as well. And as for the many current channels on your lineup that might not be able to survive, “What gave them the divine right to exist? Why should cable programming be different from the rest of the marketplace?”
When I last wrote about this, the issue was whether Congress would step in and force cable to unbundle itself, something that seemed about as likely as finding your teenagers watching the government access channel. Only Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., seemed interested.
Now it seems as if Congress might not be needed, except to stay out of the way.
Isett doesn’t know how long it will take to transform the entertainment landscape into a true market. He predicts that five or 10 years from now the industry will be “much more granular; much more user-generated.”
Meanwhile, every month cable companies get millions of dollars from people paying for a fire hose of objectionable stuff they don’t want. Millennials, at least, may not stand for that.