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Over the last ten years or so, the television industry has made incredible strides in programming. With the expansion of cable and the premium channel push toward original programming, the average weekly schedule during the year now contains at least a dozen programs that fall somewhere on the spectrum between very good and great. From Mad Men to The Good Wife to Veep, there have never been so many gritty, well-written and clever programs on television at once. Judged from that snapshot, one would assume all is right with the entire industry, but unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the case right now.
Despite the influx of quality programming, many subscribers are choosing to get rid of their entire cable packages, instead opting for the far more affordable and convenient Netflix. The choice might not give them access to most first-run shows immediately, but they’d rather be a little bit behind than shell out one hundred dollars or more a month. I firmly believe a majority of the defectors would return if a combination of good cable and Internet cost somewhere around $70 a month or so, but that’s very difficult to do for a wide variety of reasons. So, instead, let’s focus on things cable companies could do in order to keep all of the subscribers they have now happy. Let’s focus on ways the cable company could adapt to the modern world, stop the bleeding and become consumer-friendly companies.
These six suggestions wouldn’t fix every problem people have with cable companies, and to change many of them, the providers would need to work with the actual networks and alter the status quo. Changing even a few of these, however, would be a huge step in the right direction.
Give The West Coast A Live OptionYou know what’s really fun? Watching a television program along with millions of other fans on Twitter. You know what is remarkably less fun? Having to stay off of Twitter for three hours because you live on the West Coast and you’re paranoid about seeing The Mentalist/ Red John spoilers. And it’s not just Twitter either. Google News is a cesspool of big reveals. Some outlets will just straight-up write titles that include references to who went home immediately after the East Coast version airs, especially when it comes to reality competition programs like American Idol, Top Chef, Project Runway and Dancing With The Stars.
Once upon a time, people on the West Coast may have been fine with getting everything late, but the world has gotten way too interconnected for that. Cable companies should offer subscribers both East Coast and West Coast versions of the bigger channels. HBO already lets subscribers choose, and while doing so with the normal networks would make advertising a little more complicated, it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Because of work schedules, many would choose to still watch later, but there's no harm in giving people the option.
Make On Demand Less Random And ScatterbrainedOnce in a blue moon, my DVR will screw up and inexplicably forget to tape one of my shows. Other times, I will have to forcibly cancel the tape on something I normally watch if there’s a special event in primetime that takes up one of my three slots. It would be really awesome if I could simply go into On Demand the next day and manually select the show I missed, but unfortunately, trying to find a specific show through On Demand involves a lot of prayer and luck.
Some networks put certain shows on the following day. Other networks wait two days or three days. Certain shows never even go on at all. Why? I couldn’t tell you. If it’s an issue of advertisements, just insert commercials that can’t be fast forwarded. If my options are sitting through normal commercial breaks or watching the show on my computer, I will always suck it up and sit through the damn commercials, but thanks to the stupid complexities and seeming randomness of On Demand, most of the time I don’t even bother checking. Someday, you’ll be able to go into On Demand and choose any new program that broadcast on a major network within the last week, and it will be glorious.
Give Customers Easier Ways To Watch Their Favorite TeamsI love the Chicago Blackhawks, and I would gladly pay any amount of money within reason to watch all of their games. Unfortunately, I cannot do that because my cable provider doesn’t have NHL Center Ice. So, even though there’s no way for me to pay for the game to watch it, the channel it’s on is still blacked out on game day. The same thing goes for NFL Sunday Ticket. Only DirecTV is allowed to offer that goodness; so, more weeks than not, I’m shut out of watching the Bears.
More people than ever are moving away from home; yet, many still prefer to support the teams they grew up with. We have to give people a better way to watch these games. It is outlandish that AT&T doesn’t offer Center Ice, and it is outlandish that the NFL has agreed to an exclusive deal with DirecTV for Sunday Ticket. The goal here should be building fanbases, not maximizing revenues in the short-term. If there’s one thing a sports fan will never do, it’s cancel cable when he or she can watch their favorite teams play, but if they don’t have access to the games, they may very well take that option. In fact, professional sports leagues and the various providers should start working together to potentially offer an even wider range of plans that would allow people to follow only specific teams. For example: I don’t like the NBA enough to pay more than one hundred dollars to get every game, but I would probably pay $50 to get every Bulls game during the season.
Stop Acting Like HD Isn’t NormalA high percentage of us have HDTVs. It’s not some weird new-fangled scientific invention that a minority of early adopters have gotten on board with, nor is it some trend that may or may not catch on. HDTV is here. I don’t even know if you can buy a nice new television without HD capabilities anymore. Finding one would be like a Where’s Waldo hunt. So, why the hell do cable companies still treat it like some upgraded perk you’ve decided to get on board with? I pay $10 a month for basic HD and an additional $7 a month for top tier HD. Why not charge me for color picture while you're at it?
It’s not about the money. It’s just a slap in the face in the same way as getting charged to bring one bag on an airplane. You’re not doing anything special or weird by taking one bag, and you’re not doing anything strange by wanting to watch TV the way it’s now supposed to come. The cable company shouldn’t act like they’re bending over backwards to offer that service. I would rather be charged an extra eighteen dollars for the channels themselves than get pissed off every single time I look at my bill and see this bullshit.
Start Working Together To Stop Blacking Out ChannelsI know this sounds counterproductive, but in order to survive over the long haul, cable companies need to start working together to make coverage agreements. There are some specific ways they would need to do it to get around legal problems, but the basic idea needs to be done. Think of it like the food industry. Most companies have a specific price they sell their food to grocery stores for. It’s profoundly stupid that Time Warner and AT&T and Comcast and everyone else pay the same channels different rates. There are other businesses that operate that way, of course, but because of the specifics of television, this system leads to blackout periods in which angry subscribers will either switch to a competitor or even worse, cancel cable television altogether. If AT&T is going to pay Disney $5.00 per subscriber for ESPN, the other providers should lock in the same rate.
Everyone needs to start realizing they’re all in it together. The last thing cable networks like AMC need is for more people to bail on cable, and the last thing providers need is more people to quit cable entirely because they don’t have access to Mad Men. The goal here is to have as many people pay for cable as possible. Blackouts are embarrassing, and they hurt everyone in the long run. This is not the right time to be playing hardball.
Get DVR Boxes That Don’t Suck/ Periodically BreakMore than ten years ago, I bought a TiVo, and it was glorious. The product recorded every single thing I ever asked it to. It recorded other things it thought I might like based on my recording patterns, and in general, it wound up being one of the greatest things I ever spent money on. Not long after, most of the cable companies started developing their own boxes, and I decided to stop paying for TiVo and instead use their options. I think I speak for every last man, woman and child in America when I say they are significantly worse than TiVo. It’s not even close, frankly, and I’ve tried almost all of them.
They break for fun at least once a year. They randomly decide not to record things. Most of them don’t offer very good options for recording on a specific channel during hours that don’t necessarily align with the scheduled programing (a disaster if CBS football is running long on the East Coast). They don’t allow you to record enough things at once. In short, they suck. They’re a massive headache to deal with, and it is dumbfounding that the TiVo I bought ten years ago could still be better in many ways than a new box I just got from AT&T given how much technology as a whole has improved.