HBO promises a giant leap towards killing cable with a la carte channels


Bitching about paying for cable channels you never watch has become a national pastime, right alongside bitching about baseball and apple pie.

When you look at the numbers, the cause of our frustration is painfully clear. “Last year, U.S. cable subscribers got a record average of 189 channels in prepackaged bundles but watched only 17 of those channels, according to a report this week by Nielsen,” says the Washington Post.


And check out these numbers in the L.A. Times:

The Needham report estimates that it costs media companies an average of $280 million annually to run an entertainment cable channel. (The costs to program a sports channel — with big-ticket sports — are much higher).

That means a channel requires at least 165,000 viewers over the course of a year to break even.

“By implication, [if viewers could order channels a la carte] about 56 channels would survive, and 124 channels would disappear, based on 2012 viewing levels,” Martin wrote.


  1. Apparently 124 channels are lazy moochers who depend on handouts from harder working, more successful networks.
  1. A cable network apparently can expect to make about $1,696.97 annually off each viewer in the form of cable fees, advertising, etc.
  1. If I could just get a Kickstarter going for $280 million, I could get my own TV network!


But it’s the first point that’s relevant here. We the Paying Cable Subscribers are subsidizing 124 channels that are too weak to survive on their own merits and viewership.

When will the glorious future arrive when you can order your favorite cable network a la carte rather than paying for a bloated package deal?

Right about now.

In fact, I’m already doing it. Every month I pay for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime… which are increasingly producing their own original series supplemented by a slew of syndicated reruns. You know, just like USA, AMC, TBS, Comedy Central, SyFy, etc.

The big news now is that HBO–always an a la carte channel anyway–is plotting to transform its HBO GO streaming service into a full-fledged Netflix-type platform.

This could mean all the Turner stations could pull their content off Netflix and offer it exclusively to HBO GO, and (if Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes gets his way) maybe other networks as well.

That may elicit a kneejerk “NOOOOOOOOO!!!” from Netflix subscribers, but I’m all for it. It’s a step in the right direction towards the day when I can order a handful of streaming a la carte channels and cancel cable altogether.

Paying for $8 each for five individual streaming services is a hell of a lot better than paying $100 for cable, especially since streaming beats the hell out of watching live TV anyway.

We may even reach the point where the Turner networks family, the MTV networks family, etc., no longer even bother to put their channels on cable at all. Dare to dream.

Of course, how long then until we start bitching about having to pay for an entire network when we only watch 5% of the shows on it?

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