Monday, April 14, 1997

Week of 04/14/1997

Pay-Per-Channel Service
A Consumer Choice Whose Time Has Come
- by David Matthews 2

Just last month I got a notice from DirecTV, one of two DSS subscribers I deal with. They claim that they have listened to the public and have decided to give us some new channels. I thought "Hey, good deal!"

Then I saw what those channels were. Chicago Superstation WGN? OK, that’s not too bad. It’s a WB network. No problem. STARZ2? I don’t get STARZ, why should I be impressed with STARZ2? Same applies with STARZ2 West. QVC? Why, is the Home Shopping Channel getting too boring for those compulsive spenders? Romance Channel? Well I may not have a social life, but that doesn’t mean I should deprive anyone else from one. Channel Earth? Wasn’t that a show on the Discover Channel? How do they rate into becoming a channel unto itself? Trinity Broadcast Channel? Well since Pat Robertson only has ONE channel compared to the 200 plus channels available, why not add this one. The TV FOOD NETWORK?

Then there are the FOX Sports Arizona, FOX Sports Midwest, and SPORTSCHANNEL Florida channels. Why not FOX Sports Hoboken? Or SPORTSCHANNEL Rhode Island? Matter of fact, why not have SPORTSCHANNEL Rhode Island WEST for those west coast fans of Rhode Island sports? Can we squeeze in another steroid-laden testosterone sports program? I think there are a couple of sports bars left that are still playing with rabbit ears! I’m still waiting for the ultimate in sports channel absurdity - the 24-hour fishing channel, where we can watch nothing but a couple of guys in an expensive boat catching fish they’ll never take home to cook, and using expensive gear that the ordinary fisherman can never afford never mind know how to use.

In case you couldn’t tell, I wasn’t too impressed with the bulk of these new channels. My question was just WHO did the suits at DirecTV listen to? Probably the same rocket scientists who do the Nielson ratings that decide which knock-off sitcom of "Friends" will be in the top 10.

But wait! That’s not all! There’s a catch to having all these wonderful programs added into our monthly bill. And that catch is DirecTV gets to put all the ENCORE movie channels that used to be part of our Total Choice service into their own subscription plan to go with STARZ, STARZ2, their west coast channels, the Romance Channel, and IFC! They call it Total Choice Silver.. to go with Total Choice Gold and Total Choice Platinum subscription plans.

People, this is nothing new. The cable companies were the original masters of this bait-and-switch reshuffling game. Give the people a ton of channels they like, then start to reshuffle them into separate more expensive subscription programs, and replace the gap with a bunch of channels you won’t watch. This was precisely the reason WHY people wanted to ditch their cable subscriptions in the first place! To have DirecTV pull the same game as cable companies is discouraging at the very least. It is annoying to have a company that prides itself in being the alternative to the cable companies start to think and behave like them.

With that in mind, I suggest an alternative, one that I think consumers would eat up like Jello because it would finally work to their advantage. It’s called Pay-Per-Channel, and here’s how it works: Instead of an arbitrary block of channels, you get to pay for each individual channel that you want to subscribe to. Take each channel and figure out how much each costs per channel. Say there are 100 channels available for $23 per month. That’s $.23 per channel. Now say you’ll only want to watch 50 of those channels. That’s $11.50 a month. That beats paying the full $23 for 50 channels you won’t watch.

The advantage of this is that you will finally have a choice in what kind of programming you want. The providers give you a wide option, and you get to pick and choose your individual package instead of having to subscribe to a block package. You like QVC? You get QVC. You don’t like QVC? You don’t get QVC and you won’t have to pay for it either!

Now I realize this doesn’t work in the favor of the satellite or cable providers. After all, they’re getting paid to air all these channels, which in turn they pass on to you, the subscribers. That is why I suggest this alternative - offer the usual block channel package, but give the people the ability to cancel certain channels from their service and from the bill. Again, if a channel costs the consumer $.23 per month, block out that channel like you do pay-per-view channels and deduct $.23 off their monthly bill.

Giving the consumers the power to subscribe or unsubscribe to certain channels will give whatever provider that offers it - satellite or cable - a huge edge. One that will certainly enable them to reap the lion’s share of viewers, as well as give them a more accurate determination as to what the consumers REALLY want.

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