An ode to on demand

Here it is, a picture perfect Seattle June weekend, and what am I doing? Sitting inside with a pot of mint lemon tea, a bowl of dry Cheerios, and blogging about TV as I miss today's SIFF flick. I hate being sick.

I killed my cable in January, when the most recent rate hike put my Expanded Basic—no premium, no digital, no PPV—over $50/month. Since I only watched a handful of shows regularly and also had a TiVo subscription to grab eps at odd hours (TiVo rocks), it just wasn't making sense when I could get box sets on Netflix.

That was the rational financial justification. The emotional justification is I was tired of giving $50/month to a company that ticked me off.

For a couple years now, I've been seeing articles about the cable industry being pressured to provide a la carte programming. (Google for back story.) It's a great idea, supported by both the FCC and various consumer groups, and the technology is already in homes.

The cable industry's line is that it will cost consumers more. Now let's set aside the obvious question "Since when did a cable company object to fatter bills?" and look at the economics. Yes, it is efficient for a cable company to bundle offerings into a few tiers for administrative purposes, and presumably some of that efficiency is reflected in my bill. However, since the first thing many of us do when getting cable is delete a bunch of channels, we've already gone from 60 to perhaps 40 stations. Maybe, just maybe, that 40 via a la carte would cost me as much to get as 60. However, the 40 stations are just the ones that I don't detest, not the ones I actually like. Think about the shows you'd be willing to directly pay for, and you may end up with only 6-12 channels in your personal a la carte lineup. Now that dozen channels would definitely be more than the bundle price of ~$1/station, but it would be nowhere near $55/month which is what the cable industry claims. Likewise, the money you'd be paying would be directly supporting the channels you care about, versus the current model where a disproportionate amount of your bill goes to ESPN, MTV and other "big" channels.

The cable industry's ongoing resistance also strikes me as short-sighted given the shifts in entertainment distribution. While the pricing needs a little tweaking on iTunes ($1.99 for an episode of Lost in Space?) I'm delighted by their ever-expanding library. People like Mark Cuban are questioning the existing film models with simultaneous theatre/DVD releases. Movie and TV studios are releasing everything new and old that they can, and it's only a matter of time before they stop bothering with physical distribution and go straight digital.

Life is good for a media junkie. All I need are Stargate episodes close to broadcast date and reprints of my favorite Juzo Itami flicks. I expect my wait is going to be short.

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