Some Thoughts About Television And How It's Changing

The not-so-old joke runs “We'll have a thousand channels cable TV and there will still be nothing on!” What's really funny is that it's closer to the truth than many realize.

According to Nielsen, the average American home receives 189 channels of TV by way of cable or satellite. (Here at The Manse it's closer to 270 channels.)

But of all those channels, how many of them does the average American family watch? 75? 50? 100?

The answer: 17.

At first I thought that number was way too low, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it's probably spot on. Here at The Manse I reviewed the channels that we actually watch on a regular basis and came up with a total of 22. If I include those we watch on an occasional basis, meaning only a few times a year, then the total bumps up to 27. We watch 27 channels but are required to pay for an additional 243 channels that we never watch just to get the ones we want. Our satellite bill runs about $79 per month. Subtract out the rental fee for the satellite receiver and it comes to $74 per month for the 270 channels we receive. That means we're wasting $66.60 per month on channels we don't watch and never will. That's $799.20 per year we're wasting on programming we don't watch. For others it's even more.

That sucks. That's an awful lot of money to pay to watch only a few channels.

Is it any wonder why people keep asking about á là carte programming, meaning they only pay for the channels they watch? It's the one question I heard again and again when I was acting as a technical advisor to our local cable TV consortium as they negotiated a new contract with the cable TV company.

It's no wonder more people are cutting the cord, using the Internet to watch the TV shows they like, or going old school and putting up outdoor TV antennas to watch the over-the-air transmissions from the broadcasters.

There have been attempts to make á là carte programming a reality, the last one being by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), but his bill died aborning as the content providers (not the cable companies...with the exception of Comcast who is both a cable company and a content provider because it owns both NBC and Universal Studios) lobbied hard to kill it, and succeeded. But if something isn't done soon, the falling number of TV subscribers will become one heck of a deluge as the content providers price themselves out of the market. That's already happened to Viacom, with a number of smaller cable companies dropping the Viacom channels because they were now too expensive to carry. (Viacom asked for a rate increase that was 40 times higher than the rate of inflation, meaning well over 30%.)