Cable Companies Should Trust Their Customers

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Decades ago, cable television promised commercial-free TV – but that promise evaporated. Today, cable television is TV of abundance, with hundreds of programs offering something for everyone – with plenty of commercials. Programs are bundled together forcing consumers to pay for channels never watched just to get the few that are watched.

Some consumers might like bundling as a way of obtaining many programs for a flat charge, while others would prefer a more focused approach. One simple solution is for the cable company to offer both and trust its customers to choose.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

But Internet TV – though promised for years – is slowly making progress. With Internet TV, the consumer accesses TV programs over the Internet by going directly to the program provider, or some ingenious intermediary. Television is watched over the Internet on cellphones, portable tablets and computers. Thus far, watching on a big-screen home television set has not been easy, despite continued rumors about a coming Apple TV. Standards and set-top boxes complicate the matter.

The cable company provides the Internet access that might compete with its core cable television business. A response to Internet competition would be to change flat data charges to the usage sensitive pricing that consumers seem to despise. If cable companies set up roadblocks to Internet TV, then detours will be found and detours lead to innovation and change.

As boring as most of the content on cable TV seems to be, the future of television continues to be uncertain and exciting.

A. Michael Noll

About A. Michael Noll Professor Emeritus of Communications at University of Southern California

Tags
business
television

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