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Cable TV

A system of broadcasting television programming to private subscribers by means of coaxial cable.

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More and more of us are opting out.

  • Nov 18, 2010
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A recent article by Matthew Garrahan in the Financial Times discloses that the number of people subscribing to cable television in the U.S. has just suffered its biggest decline in 30 years.  According to Garrahan "tech-savvy viewers led an exodus to web-based operations such as Hula and Netflix." Furthermore, a new survey conducted by The Diffusion Group (TDG) found that people who use or intend to purchase an iPad are significantly more likely to cancel their cable or satellite TV subscriptions.  The numbers tell the story.  In the third quarter of 2010 the total number of American households subscribing to cable television plunged by 741,000. For those in the industry this is an extremely disturbing trend that seems to portend a very uncertain future. In fact, while doing research for this piece I discovered that there is even a website called www.cancelcable.com.

It seems that the problem confronting cable operators is much broader and deeper than just the matter of younger folks migrating to more innovative and less costly new media options.  As the American economy continues to flounder and the unemployment rate hovers in the vicinity of 10% many of us are making the decision to cut the cable as a way to save money.  Sensible people still consider cable TV to be something of a luxury and in tough times many households opt to drop the service altogether or cut back to "basic" cable.  I know because I have done this myself on a couple of occasions over the years. Secondly, many individuals continue to object to the way cable television is marketed in this country. The moguls at the studios in Hollywood and in the cable TV industry continue to lobby hard against legislation that would mandate that operators offer what is known as "a la carte" service. This option would offer consumers the chance to fashion their own custom package of individual channels rather than having to accept the broad tier of programming preselected for them by the cable provider.  While I recognize that this was probably not possible 25 years ago I am quite certain that the technology now exists to allow for this option.  I for one am tired of being forced to subsidize all of those channels that I have absolutely no interest in (Spike, FX, E! etc., etc.) or find objectionable (MTV, VH1 among others). And over the years I have noticed a rather precipitous decline in the quality of programming on networks that I used to enjoy like AMC, History, A&E and The Travel Channel.  I say let the subscribers choose the channels they really want and let the free market decide who the winners and losers are.  I suspect that many mediocre channels would ultimately disappear in the process and that would be just fine by me.  Meanwhile, the price of cable TV has risen to the point where it is simply no longer affordable for an increasing number of people.  Furthermore, Congress and state legislatures are not helping matters any when each time they want to fund some new program they tack on an additional fee or tax to your cable bill.  Add to all of this the fact that operators have been systematically cutting back the number of channels being offered on the popular "extended basic" tier and you can certainly understand why many consumers have come to the conclusion that cable TV is simply not that great a deal anymore.

In my view if cable television is going to remain viable the industry is going to have to make some rather substantial changes in the way they conduct business.  In order to lure back lower-income households some cable companies would like to offer cheaper cable packages.  But content providers like Walt Disney Co. and News Corp won't license their channels one by one so customers are essentially forced to take the more expensive packages if they want service.  That is going to have to change.  And I believe that the industry is ultimately going to have to drop their opposition to "a la carte" options for their customers.  That would make the product much more attractive to a whole host of people.  For example, I have wanted Turner Classic Movies for years but under the current system I would be forced to pay an additional $40.00 per month to upgrade to the so-called "digital cable" package which I have absolutely no interest in.  No way, Jose!  Yet I would be more than happy to pay $10.00 per month for this channel alone if it were offered on an "a la carte" basis.  The fact is that is that I have been seriously considering cutting back to just "basic" cable again.  I feel that the quantity and quality of what is being offered on "extended basic" has deteriorated quite a bit over the past several years. In my opinion, spending over $60.00 per month for this level of service is no longer a good value.
More and more of us are opting out. More and more of us are opting out.

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September 21, 2011
The cable bill is large enough to cause consumers to pause- especially in a tough economy.
December 09, 2010
I didn't have cable growing up or watch much TV ever, so it sounds like I haven't been missing out on much :P I only recently got it again because of my internet bundle setup, but still pretty much never watch it. Thanks for sharing a very interesting review, Paul!
December 08, 2010
Great review - I'm seriously considering the same thing - as long as I can get a couple of news channels, everything else I can receive through Netflix, Amazon or HuluPlus.
December 08, 2010
Bob Dylan said it well, "The times, they are a-changing!"
December 08, 2010
Great review. The interesting part of this is also that the cable companies, who own most of the internet connectivity, want to charge or block access to streaming media, similar to NetFlix, which competes against their OnDemand/Movie services. Which probably contributes to the eroding of their customer base.
November 19, 2010
Timely review Paul, we're canceling our cable as soon as our contract expires. :) Actually, I'm in the middle of an experiment with my daughter. She was watching about 2 hours of cartoons every day (even though before I had kids I vowed I wouldn't let them watch TV until they are 5). So it has been more than a week, we've covered the television set with a sheet and she stopped asking for it. Her behavior improved drastically and we have much more quality time together. She is also playing independently now for longer stretches of time. I'm loving it and don't want to ever turn the TV on again (expect for maybe watching a movie with my husband after the kids are in bed)! :)
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Cable television is a system of providing television to consumers via radio frequency signals transmitted to televisions through fixed optical fibers or coaxial cables located on the subscriber's property, much like the over-the-air method used in traditional television broadcasting (via radio waves) in which a television antenna is required. FM radio programming, high-speed Internet, telephony, and similar non-television services may also be provided. The major difference is the change of radio frequency signals used and optical connections to the subscriber property.

The abbreviation CATV is often used to mean "Cable TV". It originally stood for Community Antenna Television, from cable television's origins in 1948: in areas where over-the-air reception was limited by distance from transmitters or mountainous terrain, large "community antennas" were constructed, and cable was run from them to individual homes. The origins of cable broadcasting are even older as radio programming was distributed by cable in some European cities as far back as 1924.

It is most commonplace in North America, Europe, Australia and East Asia, though it is present in many other countries, mainly in South America and the Middle East. Cable TV has had little success in Africa, as it is not cost-effective to lay cables in sparsely populated areas. So-called "wireless cable" or microwave-based systems are used instead.

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