On-Demand Television

23:58 Tue 28 Oct 2008. Updated: 17:26 28 Jan 2009
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I haven’t had a television feed for a few years now, ever since I decided that cable television just wasn’t worth paying for. I was paying more than fifty dollars per month for something that I almost never used, and worse, that I mostly didn’t like using when I did watch it.

There are times, however, when I miss it, or rather, specific chunks of the content it (might) provide. The content in question tends to be sports, because anything else can be picked up later on DVD. Sporting events, though, I generally want to watch live. (There are some exceptions.)

For example, I’d like to have the option of paying to be able to watch television feeds of the NFL playoffs, and particularly the Super Bowl; of Yankees playoff games (and perhaps late-season games, depending); of World Cup (and possibly Euro) matches; and of a large number of tennis events: all four Grand Slams, the year-end championships, and to a lesser extent the Masters Series tournaments and possibly some lesser events as well (I’d probably be willing to pay to watch anytime Federer is playing).

Naturally, a certain amount of this content is available online, but both service quality and audiovisual quality can be poor and unpredictable. Traditional television is still far better, and more reliable, as a delivery model—no bandwidth issues, generally higher quality, etc. Eventually I think the Internet versions of these services will get there, but for the moment, they’re not good enough.

What I would really like, if Internet delivery isn’t yet acceptable, is to be able to just pay my cable company for narrow content. I’d be willing to pay $50 for each of the Slams and the TMC, which is $250/year for them right there. I’d probably be willing to pay $30 for each Masters Series event, which is another $270. I’d pay $10 or $15 for the Super Bowl, or $35 or so for the playoffs if I were in the mood for them. And $15 for each Yankees playoff series. That comes to at least $550/year, more if the Yankees are doing well. I’m not guaranteed to do this every year, or for every event, which is problematic for them, but let’s say I’m likely to do it for 70% of the events, so they’d get $385-$600/year, depending.

I’d be willing to pay a monthly fee of $5-$10, too, to “stay connected” to their network, or something, because that seems like it might be reasonable. Let’s say that’s $120. That brings their income from this hypothetical scenario to $505-$720/year.

As it was, they were getting about $600 from me. The answer here is not that I should go back to paying for cable, because many of the events that I want, they don’t have or would force me to pay extra for (mainly the tennis). There must be plenty of people like me, though, who have niche interests.

I suppose the real issue is that most of the people with these interests already pay for television, consider that to be a basic service, and wouldn’t dream of giving it up, and would instead just pay extra. The cable companies are probably afraid that if they made it easy to tailor services, many people would cut their basic subscriptions to the bone. That’s why they’ve resisted a-la-carte for years, and what I want is essentially a version of that, except with more month-to-month flexibility.

I like to think that eventually we’ll get there, though. Eventually, the Internet services might be good enough to do the job, at which point bad things might well happen to the cable companies. Which would be a tragedy, of course.

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