Tag Archives: cable television

TV Everywhere and TiVo Expansion

TiVo Devices

In an era when cable television subscriptions are declining, many of the largest providers are working together to promote the TV Everywhere concept. Comcast, Mediacom, HBO, and others are making a concerted effort to educate their subscribers about the existence of TV Everywhere. Research studies have shown that over 25% of cable television subscribers are unaware that they have access to the various platforms which allow them to watch both network- and cable-produced shows on their computers and mobile devices. The companies developed the system in an effort to stem the tide of cord-cutting customers who are canceling their cable video services and flocking to streaming video providers, such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime.

A number of issues have haunted TV Everywhere since its development. The most serious issues involve live television broadcasts. As it stands, only a limited number of cable channels have agreed on retransmission terms that allow for their content to be carried on mobile devices at the same time that it airs on TV. The major broadcast networks, comprising CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, have yet to agree on terms for TV Everywhere, in large part due to issues surrounding regional affiliates and geographic overlap. Although they are considered secondary issues compared to transmission rights, problems with user authentication and passwords remain a stumbling block for TV Everywhere, according to an industry report published in late 2014. Cable companies are working to resolve these concerns and streamline the overall experience for customers accessing TV Everywhere on their phone, computer, or tablet.

Despite the adversity facing cable companies, TiVo has seen increased revenue and subscriber totals as a result of its Roamio OTA DVR. This system is designed to locate and record the freely-provided television shows disseminated by TV stations. For around a one-time cost of $50 and a monthly subscription of $15, users are able to watch live television on their TV and stream it to devices on the same wireless network. Furthermore, TiVo’s DVR system boasts integrated streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu Plus, so that consumers have access to their subscription services on the same platform that they watch broadcast television, a prime example of the type of streamlined integration TV Everywhere has yet to achieve.

TiVo has reached out to the smaller cable companies that offer both broadband internet and cable TV packages in an effort to create new working relationships. In particular, TiVo is targeting these companies so that they can generate revenue by leasing the Roamio DVRs to broadband-only customers. While this sort of arrangement is unlikely to be as lucrative as individuals subscribing to a full cable package, it could provide some economic relief for cable companies that are hurting from cord-cutter abandonment. So far agreements to establish this leasing program have been reached with Frontier and WideOpenWest (WOW), while ongoing talks continue with other providers across America.

FCC Reclassification, Broadband Access, and OTT: Does it Mean Anything?

Collection of rainbow-colored internet cables

One of the biggest hassles that people experience when they move is finding new cable and internet providers. While there are a bevy of cable packages to choose from, the options for broadband providers are not always as plentiful. With the recent FCC decision to reclassify broadband as a Title II utility, coupled with its change in what constitutes broadband, services with speeds of 25 Mbps or higher, the process of selecting a provider by a new homeowner has gotten even harder. The issue at hand is that for the vast majority of American households, there is only one, if any, Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can supply true broadband. The latest statistics are that 19.7% of American households do not have access to an ISP offering the 25 Mbps speed, while 54.3% have access to only one such ISP.

 

While the broadband provider issue appears to be changing with the development and expansion of fiber networks throughout the country, Roger Lynch, CEO of Sling TV, is stressing that consumers may see an increased strain on their finances as they purchase internet access. In particular, Lynch believes that those consumers who are broadband-only subscribers, the type who thrive in the expanding Over the Top (OTT) ecosystem of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus, will feel the pinch as cable companies attempt to offset their loss of TV subscribers by raising the price on single-use consumers. While OTT-only dwellings remain a small part overall, the percentage is growing and has now reached 10.5 million households, up over 15% from 2012. This expansion is occurring at the same time that pay TV subscriptions have declined over 0.5% since the start of 2015, the largest decline ever recorded.

 

Although Lynch’s claims must be taken with a grain of salt, considering that Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network and a competitor to the cable companies, there is no denying that the new OTT offering is seeing early growth. Since its February 2015 launch, the $20 per month service has expanded to over 250,000 customers. While this is a fine showing, it is not a surprise to industry analysts who predicted a fast start but see Sling TV’s subscription numbers slowing down quickly. With its focus on offering smaller channel bundles and the option to add other thematic bundles for an additional cost per month, Sling is trying to develop its own niche, no doubt assisted by the existing relationships that Dish Network enjoys with broadcasters. However, Sling’s sustained growth, especially from those consumers interested in a variety of sports offerings, of which the OTT service has limited access, remains the question.

 

Ultimately, all of the talk about falling pay TV customer totals, increasing costs for broadband-only subscribers, and the increase of OTT offerings means that consumers need to be aware of what services are available in their area before they sign a lease or close on a home.

Video Streaming Services Cut into Cable Subscriptions

Hulu Plus and Netflix logos

The way that consumers watch television and movies is changing. For the last few years attention has focused on the members of the ‘cord cutting generation’ who do not want to pay for cable television service. To fill in this void there have been two major developments: Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and Advertising Video on Demand (AVOD) services, like Hulu. Although these are the services most people are familiar with, there are other providers in the ever-growing Over The Top (OTT) service industry. Recent statistics related to this burgeoning industry suggest that cable companies need to act quickly and change the way they present their future content if they want to remain viable in the face of OTT competition.

 

Cable providers have looked cautiously at the latest  quarterly earnings release for the industry which the Leichtman Research firm says provides no concrete evidence that consumers are preparing to switch over completely to OTT and leave behind pay TV. However,  other experts claim that these findings undervalue the record low customer growth of only 10,000 across all the major cable companies. Parks Associates, another research firm, believes it has evidence that cord cutting has reached a new level. The latest estimates are that around 7 percent of American households, approximately 8.5 million homes, have high speed internet and OTT services, yet they are not subscribed to a pay TV service. With this number set to increase there is little wonder that upwards of 84% of all internet usage in the United States by 2019 will involve video streaming. Further supporting the belief that cord cutting is a growing trend, Limelight found in a recent survey that over 50% of the 1220 people they interviewed were willing to go completely OTT and cancel their cable subscriptions.

 

It comes as no surprise in light of all of these recent polls and studies that cable providers are attempting to find new ways to engage with this cord cutting generation. Although TV Everywhere systems have been developing for the last half decade, new providers are throwing their hats into the ring, including Sky, Rogers Communication, and Dish Network. The hope of these companies is that they will be able to tap into the OTT market while recent changes in local regulatory practices will allow them to lure some consumers back to traditional cable packages. With less overview necessitating uniform programming packages in the same geographic region, it is possible that cable providers will create even smaller, more focused packages to convince people to not cut the cord. In the meantime, it is a prime market for consumers to shop around and determine what channels and programs are most important to them, whether or not they need a cable subscription, and if they can go fully OTT.

 

FCC removes local regulation rules

FCC logo

While the much-discussed March 2015 decision by the FCC upheld the idea of Net Neutrality, there is a change taking place at the local level that cable providers are hailing as a victory for streamlining the distribution of content to their customers. For the last twenty-two years, local, city, and state committees have possessed oversight of the basic programming packages provided by the cable companies. Now, after a unanimous 5-0 ruling by the FCC to remove this restriction, the providers will be able to determine all the details of their programming packages without having to receive the approval of local authorities.

 

Up until now, the oversight provided by the local committees as part of the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act not only dictated which channels could not be excluded from the basic programming packages, but also how much those packages could cost. The new FCC ruling determined that the regulation was no longer necessary because of changes in the market that have created an elevated level of competition for the cable providers, in particular through the expanding footprint of services provided by companies like DirecTV and Dish. Another factor in the FCC’s decision was that since 2013, 220 of 224 requests for exemption from local rate-setting restrictions were approved. With such a high success rate for receiving exemptions, the FCC believes that it is simply removing an unnecessary level of red tape.

 

Cable providers state that with the removal of uniform package requirements, they will be able to present consumers with a variety of service and channel packages, ultimately providing more choices for service packages that don’t include the higher cost premium channels. At the same time the cable providers have cheered the latest FCC decision, broadcasters have been critical of the claims that satellite companies provide reliable enough competition to all parts of the United States to justify this victory for the cable providers. As a result of this rule change, and contrary to the cable companies’ claims, there is a fear among broadcasters that basic TV station signals will now be placed in costly service tiers, ultimately lowering the viewership of local programming.

 

The concern over the FCC ruling is not confined to just local regions, but also the halls of power in Washington D.C. A representative for the National Association of Broadcasters remains perplexed why the one defense available to safeguard consumers from skyrocketing prices has been removed so easily. Furthermore, members of Congress have questioned the FCC’s ruling, stating that this decision will result in increased prices and fewer channel choices for residents in rural and remote areas.

CUSTOMER DISSERVICE: Can cable hold off the demand for a la carte?

Don’t look now but your cable television bundle is breaking your bank. That sizable bill that tips the scales at or around $200 seems like the status quo when it comes to cable television, phone and internet service through your local provider. Sure, some companies will give you a decent promotional deal if you start new service or switch, for example, from Comcast to Verizon FIOS or vice versa. Beyond that initial special buy or introductory offer, the cable industry is loving life, and some would argue at your expense. Literally.

The slow and steady rise of alternative methods of television from the likes of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and specialized programming from the WWE Network or Major League Baseball haven’t usurped cable’s stranglehold on the communications and entertainment industry, but it has given customers a reason to start rethinking how they spend their money on cable TV and internet. The savvier and less complacent crowd isn’t afraid to start shopping around and mixing and matching services, like perhaps going bare bones with cable, adding internet and then buying the $8 per month Netflix as a means to enjoy movies. The consumer is starting to realize that with great buying power comes great responsibility to their own bank account. In short, they’re slowing starting to ask cable to listen to their demands.

Perhaps the most common discussion from customer to cable is the need to break up these bothersome bundles and start selling television the way a vendor sells hot dogs: one at a time. Realistically, the cable industry would likely lose way too much money to start giving customers free reign over how they buy. That doesn’t mean the consumers who are asking for this can’t dream, right? It would be quite the welcoming change of pace if the average customer would tell their cable company that all they really watch is network television, and throw in an ESPN and USA Network, and a little Lifetime for the wife and Nickelodeon for the kids. Any chance you’ll see the cable a la carte system? This probably won’t happen in our lifetime, but the mounting pressure from satellite and streaming services might expedite this process.

Truthfully, cable needs to broaden their thought process and think about how consumers ultimately would buy channels if they could pick and choose at their convenience. Who knows, maybe if cable simply offered paying per channel as an option, consumers might be so overjoyed they’ll end up buying just as much, or more, than if they didn’t have this as a choice? That’s called giving customers what they want and them returning the favor in the form of loyalty to the product. Maybe if those same consumers look at cable through a different set of eyes, they’ll be more inclined to stay put or return as customers.

Flipping the switch: Life without cable isn’t all bad, just not that great

If you’re ready to quit cold turkey, go ahead and give it your best shot. No, this isn’t about kicking the smoking habit or reforming your eating plan so that summer isn’t quite so scary when it comes to shedding clothes to sit by the pool. This is about your love and hate relationship with cable television or satellite providers.

You love watching television and admitting to that is perfectly acceptable. You might even have a few HD boxes in your home, and even a couple DVR boxes so that you can record shows and watch them later, if your schedule permits you from checking out everything on your entertainment docket. Cable and satellite television is a lot like eating out in a restaurant. You look over the menu, order without a care in the world, including appetizers, main courses, drinks, desserts and anything else you see that catches your eye. Everything at the dinner table is going fantastic until the bill finally hits the table. Then, the eyes widen and the grumbling begins. That’s how most consumers view cable.

We love watching our shows and having access to OnDemand libraries and our recorded shows, along with high speed internet where applicable until, of course, the bill hits the mail or your email. The eyes and grumbling return to form at that point. And with that, you begin to research how to say so long to cable and start living a more modest lifestyle when it comes to television. You convince yourself that you can stream just about anything your heart desires, and that includes television, movies and sports.

Plenty of applications for your smart phone and tablet give you those capabilities, and you’re ready to tell the cable company or satellite folks that you’ve had enough of the high bills, and you’re done with them. It’s the breakup speech you’ve practiced over and over in your mind a thousand times. But something strange happens when you get to the point of cutting the cord altogether. You just can’t do it. You love the convenience of the shows waiting for you at home. You don’t want to lug around a laptop or tablet every where you go and try to find a quiet “hot spot” that doesn’t give you the cold shoulder. And there are plenty of network applications that won’t allow you to watch your regimen of television if you aren’t a cable subscriber.

A lot of what ails the consumer when it comes to cable is not wanting to incorporate change, and the cable and satellite companies package everything so nicely that it is hard to walk away without feeling at least a little sense of disarray. What you should consider over and above a complete quit is modification of services or implementing a mindset that is logical (i.e. canceling cable in the summer since maybe you won’t watch as much). Using the all or nothing thinking might work for some when it comes to cable, but for the masses its a major swing and miss mentality.

CUSTOMER PREFERENCE: Will cable a la carte ever exist?

If cable or satellite TV existed in a perfect world, customers ultimately would have the say in how exactly their service was setup. More specifically, customers might choose to treat their cable or satellite needs more like a cafeteria style buffet, rather than ordering directly off the menu, minus the substitutions.

Traditional cable always came with a centralized package of sorts that included a certain number of channels for a flat fee, with the ability to add additional entertainment and thus changing the price point as you would see fit. But most everyone has paid their cable bill and wondered exactly why they’re paying between $150-200 per month and either rarely watch television or only have a few channels that they actually watch. The key word in that sentiment is “actually,” because the majority of consumers who are paying $50-60 for their basic cable package might only be paying attention to a few of those 100 or so channels that you get as part of the deal. And that fact begs the question: Will cable ever transform to an a la carte business?

That answer almost seemingly will gravitate toward “no,” if you think realistically from the standpoint of the cable and satellite companies. Why would they want to mess with a good thing, even with cable and satellite facing increased competition from streaming internet based services? The cable company most likely is never going to tell customers that they can pick 10 channels that they love and watch most, and can have just those for a lower price. Granted, most cable companies, including the heavy hitters like Comcast and Verizon FIOS, offer an “economy” type package that may give you local channels and a few cable ones, but they’re the ones telling you exactly what’s part of that deal. It’s not your call to piece together the perfect entertainment deal. It’s theirs. But the cable and satellite providers don’t want you to get the wrong idea. They’re not doing this to spite you, but rather make sure you don’t lose the channels that you love most. If cable all of sudden decided to stop bundling channels together, the least watched channels might fall off the entertainment grid altogether, forcing the other basic and cable networks to pay more. In addition, as some concluded, would be elimination of jobs as well as advertising revenue for the networks taking a huge hit. Once you weed through the superlatives of the cable communications and satellite sector, you can draw one simple conclusion: picking your channels as you sit fit isn’t going to happen.

There is too much money to be lost by blowing up the bundle idea and starting from scratch with a pick and pay as you go mentality. Well, at the very least, it’s an idea that won’t ever go away as long as consumers are content on complaining about their cable or satellite bills. It’s that slim to none chance that a la carte might happen that still gives you hope that television viewing may one day change for the better.

Life Before Cable

Who here can remember life before cable television?  I know I can, and at the risk of sounding overly idyllic, I think that life was nicer, if not better, way back then.  Sure, sure, television viewers were saddled with “only” four television channels, those being the local affiliates for NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS; and some communities had to make do with only three, or less of those four.  You know what though, most of us never really felt deprived, or shortchanged; it was simply what we knew.

It is all too easy for those who aren’t old enough to remember life before cable to criticize the quality of the television shows way back then (it was only about 35 years ago), but you know what?  I used to be critical of the early television shows that my parents used to watch too; so the idea of quality is a relative thing.

Here’s another thing that I remember from in that long ago ancient time, before we were blessed with hundreds of television channels, if people felt that there was nothing worth watching on, then many people simply turned the television off and actually did something.  I know, that is a shocking concept there, but trust me it did happen.  Let me ask you a question, how many times have you simply scrolled through the channels hoping that something good will magically appear that piques your interest?  I know I have done that – too many times.  I remember on nights when “nothing” was on, my family would turn-off the TV and breakout the board games and spent quality time together.  For all of the cable/internet generation, when was the last time your family did that?

Of course I realize that we cannot go back, cable television is here, and honestly there are several cable networks that I enjoy watching.  No, I am not advocating the abolition of cable, but I do have a little lamentation for the days of yore from time to time.  Maybe I’m just getting too damn old, or maybe it is because I was tired of scrolling through all of those channels and muttering that there is absolutely nothing on.