The FCC is on my Side

Regular readers know I’ve been battling Cablevision for some time now, mostly over their limited package choices (and in vain). As a result, you know how thrilled I was by the FCC’s push this week to force the cable companies to consider ala carte. They say it’s prompted by the proliferation of “indecent” material on the basic channels. It’s an age-old political issue easily solved by personal responsibility. We all know there’s an off button on the cable box and its a parent’s responsibility, not a bradcaster’s, to determine what’s watched in someone’s home.

Anyway, I could resist and wrote the following to Cablevision. I’ll keep you posted if I hear back.

John Bickham
President – Cable & Communications
Cablevision Systems Corp.
1111 Stewart Avenue
Bethpage, NY 11714

Dear Mr. Bickham,

Following up on my letter from the spring, I couldn’t let this week’s news from the FCC go without comment.

As I stated earlier this year, I feel Cablevision, if not switching entirely to an ala carte package, should take a leadership role (something it is unused to) and offer clustered tiers, similar to your existing Sports Pak. This way, viewers can at least build a service that would please them and still profit you.

While I have always agreed with Kevin Martin’s ala carte concept, I do recognize that this may prove too pricey to be useful. I suspect the jury is out on this issue but it does allow for survival of the fittest channels that have the programming people want, so they have enough viewers to keep the price low as opposed to specialized channels where the diehard viewers will be willing to pay a somewhat higher price. In turn, that gives the channel a very specific demographic which would allow them to profit by setting the appropriate ad rates.

You have a huge gap between Basic and your Silver and Gold packages. Knowing full well that the average viewer uses seventeen out of the hundred-plus channels, you need to start addressing these varied interests. In between the pricey packages you could offer a family tier or a Shopping Pak. If nothing else, a Bronze Package should offer the basic premium movie channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, The Movie Channel and Encore) without the dozen iterations of each channel so someone can be exposed to the full spectrum of feature films at a more affordable price.

You also push the On Demand channels. The selling point seems to be the ability to see a feature film sooner. If I’m paying $80+ a month for i/oGold, where’s the benefit of shelling out an additional $4.95 just to watch a movie three months sooner? On Demand doesn’t have anything compelling at this time, something that needs to be addressed.

While the thrust of the Congressional and FCC commentary was in response the “indecency” issue, something that has been debated since Philo Farnsworth broadcast the first signal, Cablevision shouldn’t lose sight of the customer dissatisfaction with current offerings. I certainly don’t want all the channels I currently receive and when you jack my rates up another 2% next month, I’ll resent it even further.

A final note from a customer: after the YES debacle, I hope you avoid fights over the Sports Channel New York and have it ready to debut when the Mets open their season on April 3.

I look forward to hearing back from you (as opposed to a clueless customer service rep, as happened in the spring).

4 comments

  • gormuu

    Yay!!!

    I’m totally with ya on a la carte, Bob. I’ve been living without cable now for two years (and TV altogether for about six months.) When I saw my cable bill had inched over $100, leaving all my other bills for gas, electricity, and water in the dust, I took a moment to reflect.

    What was I watching that was worth $60? (The part of my cable bill that wasn’t related to my cable modem access.) CNN, cable news, C-Span, Braves baseball, ESPN, local news and the absolutely fabulous madcap religious programming we have down here on Middle Georgia public access*.

    But in the last few months off my having cable, I was watching little to no cable at all. So I called ’em up and dropped it.

    For awhile it was tough. Not having access to cable news was hard, but ya know what? I have the internet. And I did miss my Braves games, but I caught their games for free on the radio.

    If cable comes out with an attractive a la carte package, I’ll come back. It’s not that I don’t like TV anymore, I do. It’s just that I refuse to pay for it on the terms they’re offering it to me. I don’t want to pay for all those channels I’m not watching.

    * Yes, I’d pay money to watch the Reverend Roosevelt Franklin preach about how to play the lottery and win! I just wouldn’t pay him!

    http://www.broadcast.net/pipermail/broadcast-airchex/2003-October/010920.html

  • Scavenger

    I’m unsure about the alacarte vs package debate…if it wasn’t being driven by bigots who are afraid of having “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” on their TV.

    Package deals help pay for niche channels..like Golf or Video Game or Food Network.

    I would like some latitude to customize packages. Get rid of some stuff like..the Golf channel and put in something like Boomerang or what not.

  • Michael A. Burstein

    I’ve made my thoughts clear on this before. While I like the a la carte idea, if we went for such a package I doubt we’d bother with Spike TV…and then I wouldn’t get Star Trek.

  • You can’t be 34668 serious?!?