For years, I’ve told people that they were paying a huge portion of their basic cable bills for just one channel: ESPN. Long the trump card that’s been used to squeeze cable operators, most are paying somewhere in the $5-7 range per subscriber every month for the ad-supported network. In addition, the package will reportedly drop TNT, TBS, and/or the USA network. Time Warner Cable has been marketing a package for $39.95 in the New York area that includes broadcast, AMC, Bravo,CNN, HGTV, Lifetime, and MTV among others. The package was created specifically for people saying that they can’t afford to continue paying for cable.
Britt hinted that the service, which includes local channels, 12 of the top 20 Nielsen-rated cable channels and some other programming, was on its way via comments he made during the company’s third quarter earnings call. “We’ve heard loud and clear that customers would like more flexibility in video packaging, particularly in availability of smaller packages,” Britt said at the time. “We think it’s important for this broader industry, the programmers and distributors, to be responsive to that.”
I think he’s absolutely right. Customers have been crying justifiably for years about skyrocketing cable costs combined with the fact that they’re forced to pay for dozens of channels they never watch to get a handful of what they do. Stations like Bravo and AMC often reside in the second and third tier of programming, and by using the money that would otherwise be spent on sports on less testosterone-fueled fare, it also becomes attractive for the minority that never touches the stuff
Of course, while doing good for the consumer, TW Cable is firing the opening salvo in their next round with Disney, who owns ESPN, ABC, and many other cable networks. Repeatedly in the past, Time-Warner has gone to the verge of having to turn off their ESPN feed completely, and having a block of subscribers that don’t need or want their services, and a package ready to go for everyone else certainly strengthens their position at the bargaining table. It’ll be very interesting to see if other cable companies follow suit, and whether more options will open up at the top. There’s a lot of upper tier channels that can be fit into the money space you pay for sports, and wouldn’t it be nice to have some freedom of choice in play, even if it is just among the pricier networks?