11 November 2010

Why I don't have cable TV

Hard-hitting, incisive, important commentary here at Glomarization Central today. Cable TV!

Subscribers are fleeing cable television in droves. But because cable providers appear to have given up on the theory of supply and demand, rates are still going up. Around these parts, basic cable plus internet starts at about $150 per month after a promotional period.

I have two reasons why I don't have cable TV, other than the obvious problem of price. One, my local providers don't offer CBC, CTV, or Radio-Canada. Two, you can't get à la carte service.

See, no Canadian channels means no Hockey Night in Canada, no extensive French-language programming, no non-U.S. news analysis, no comedies that aren't Two And a Half Men, and no Don McKellar. And also we're stuck with NBC or their Windows-only website for Olympics coverage.

But that's almost OK. I can catch up on a lot of Canadian TV and movies by scouring the local independent film screenings -- few and far between though they are -- or dig deep into Netflix/Hulu/iTunes, or look for Olympics stuff on the BBC website. The bigger issue for me is that you can't pick and choose what channels you want to have.

Say I want to make a fruit salad. I figure I'd like today's salad to include an orange, some grapes, a kiwifruit, a banana, and a cantaloupe. I go to a grocery store, and at the store I can buy an orange, some grapes, a kiwifruit, a banana, and a cantaloupe. The store doesn't restrict me to a choice between the "preferred fruit salad combo" (pears, pineapples, mangoes, and maraschino cherries) versus the "premier plus triple XF fruit salad bundle" (yellow and ruby grapefruit, navel and valencia oranges, three varieties of apple, and a lime), neither of which packages includes the exact combination of fruit that I want.

Or say I want to paint a few rooms in my house. I want a green livingroom, a red bedroom, and a yellow kitchen. So I go to the paint store and buy a gallon each of green, red, and yellow paint. The paint store doesn't require me to buy a bundle of six cans of paints (green, red, yellow, as well as blue, white, and orange) -- or worse, two bundles with even more unwanted colors -- just so I can get my green, red, and yellow. And the one paint store in town is owned by the only grocery store in town.

But this kind of coercive bundling by a limited number of companies is exactly what happens with cable TV. Maybe all the TV I want is Animal Planet, Showtime, and Fox Soccer Plus. Animal Planet is part of basic cable, which includes a hundred other channels I don't want; Showtime is a channel you can get only with another cost-added bundle; and Fox Soccer Plus is available with one of the two local cable providers, but not the other. And I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but you'd have to be one seriously naïve cat to believe that the TV media giants don't discuss this kind of thing between themselves every once in a while.

Call a spade a spade: this isn't merely coercive bundling; it's called tying, and in any industry other than cable TV it's unacceptable, if not outright illegal under the Clayton Act. Though apparently the Ninth Circuit disagrees with me, I'm still not going to get cable TV until I can pick and choose my channels. I want my Hockey Night in Canada!

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