We begin our continuing coverage of our analysis of the “analysis” of one Laura Martin, champion of the basic cable bundle, and enemy of choice, with the news that there’s actual news in Washington on the A-La-Carte front. You’ll notice that the article states that this bill will most likely never reach the President’s desk. Martin will see to that.
Because in Martin’s ideal TV universe, it makes perfect sense for consumers to fork over 70, 80, 90, over $100 a month to have the ability to watch 135 channels or more but actually only partake of a fraction of them. Last time, we saw that when you agree to sign up for cable or satellite, it’s the only example in the marketplace where you’re forced to pay for what you don’t want just to get a smidgen of what you do.
You may be asking at this point, how did this basic cable bundle, TNT, QVC, FX, The Food Network, Spike, CNBC, Syfy, Disney, and HLN, and yes, of course, ESPN, come to be. Martin would tell you it was the compassionate understanding folks in the TV industry who want to make sure you had variety, that there was something there for every member of your family. They were being proactive and also, of course, saving you money because bundling all these networks together drives the per-subscriber cost way down.
Oh, if only that’s how it had happened.
But for the real story, Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1950, Lansford, Pennsylvania, where we find entrepreneur Robert Tarlton bringing Philadelphia TV stations to this isolated community by sticking an antenna on a mountaintop and running a cable down to the town. Yes, cable TV, or CATV (Community Antenna TV) began as way to bring regular old TV to places that otherwise couldn’t get it. Like the Diablo or Tri Valleys here in the Bay Area.
But since viewers who lived close enough to the major city could get TV by use of their own antenna, how to sell cable TV services to them? Additional programming had to be added, something these viewers couldn’t otherwise get. Something they’d be willing to pay for.
Flash forward to 1976 where another entrepreneur, this time a guy you’ve heard of, made his Atlanta-based independent TV station available via satellite to CATV systems across the country. That guy, of course, was Ted Turner, and thanks to him and Superstation WTBS, an entire nation was forced to watch Braves games.
Others followed. WGN, WOR, WPIX, and on the West Coast, our own KTVU for a while. Then along came specialty networks: MTV, USA, A&E, TLC, and Bravo.
And of course ESPN, which was originally slated to bring Hartford Whalers hockey to households throughout the Nutmeg State, but was revamped to instead focus on national sports prior to its 1979 launch. If you’ve ever wondered why the Worldwide Leader’s headquarters are in Bristol, now you know.
As more and more services were added to the mix, there was more there for viewers to want, and be willing to pay for. This eventually made cable TV viable in big cities.
But this original group of networks was not assembled together because they had anything in common. It’s because at the time, there was nothing else. Most early cable operators could offer up to 36 channels and they needed networks to fill those slots.
Music videos? Yeah. 24-hour news? Check. Cultural programs like operas and ballet? Believe it or not, that’s what both A&E and Bravo started out as. And of course sports, thanks to a little Connecticut-based network.
For most of cable’s history, the basic lineup was what you got, and the only add-ons were HBO, Showtime, TMC, and Cinemax.
I won’t bore you with the rest of the history. You get the point. Your basic lineup is a remnant of whatever your cable company started out with. They’ve augmented it a little over the years, but it’s mostly based on what was originally available, mixed with what new choices it can afford to give you, not what you want.
And Martin believes that if you get what you want, and only what you want, the whole system falls apart. And she has the number to prove it. Or does she? Next time, we’ll play with those numbers.
Follow Dave on Twitter and like him on Facebook, or click “+Subscribe” above and get Bay Area Media Examiner posts sent to your email inbox.