Why Does My Cable Company Force Me To Subscribe To All These Stupid Channels?

If you’re like most people, you look at your “basic” cable line-up and think: “Why do I have all these stupid channels? Wouldn’t it be cheaper if I could just subscribe to the ones I actually like?”

You’re probably convinced that there’s a huge conspiracy going on to get you to pay for a bunch of crap you don’t want.

You might be right. According to the American Cable Association (an organization that is obviously quite biased toward the cable industry) it’s not your cable company’s idea to force “Lifetime Movies” on you, it’s the big media companies themselves that dictate cable line-ups through a technique called “tying and bundling.”

According to the ACA, big media companies “tie” certain less desirable channels to the “must have” channels. For example, if you’re a cable company and you want to offer ESPN, Disney says that you have to also offer a whole menu of other channels in order to get ESPN for a reasonable price. Big media companies will also mandate that these other channels be placed on the “basic” tier, regardless of how many cable subscribers are actually interested in the channel.

ACA says that in order to get the 13 most “desirable” channels, cable companies are obligated to distribute over 60 other channels. They say that this is preventing or limiting the cable company from offering more customizable options to the consumer. For example, if a cable company wanted to offer an expanded tier of kids programming, it might be prevented from moving certain stations away from the “basic” tier, because they had been bundled with a popular channel like Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel. The smaller the cable company, the harder it is to stand up to big media.

Here’s a few examples of bundled channels from the ACA’s FCC filing:

If you want: Disney Channel
You get: ABC Family, SoapNet, Toon Disney, ESPN Channels

If you want: USA
You get: MSNBC, CNBC, Sci Fi, Comedy Central, Bravo, Olympics surcharge

If you want: ESPN
You get:ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Classic, ESPN 360 (Internet), ESPNU

If you want: USA HD
You get: Chiller, Sleuth

If you want: Disney Channel HD
You get: ABC Family HD, Toon Disney HD, ESPN News HD

If you want: Fox Sports
You get: National Geographic, Fox Soccer, Fox Business, Fox Sports College, Fox Reality, Fuel, Big 10 Network, Fox Movie Channel

If you want: Food Network
You get: HGTV, DIY, Fine Living

If you want: CNN
You get: Headline News, TBS, TNT, WTBS

If you want: MTV
You get: TV Land, CMT, VH1, Nickelodeon, Noggin, VH1 Soul, CMT Pure Country, MTV Jam

If you want: Discovery Channel
You get: FitTV, Animal Planet, TLC, Travel, BBC America, Discovery Kids, Science Channel, Discovery Channel, Discovery Health, Discovery Home

The ACA argues that they’d be able to offer more cost-effective and consumer friendly cable packages if big media was forced to offer reasonably priced single channels and was prevented from dictating which channels they had to place on which tier.

What do you consumers think? Would you like to see more themed tiers? Do you trust the cable industry to provide more consumer friendly packages? Do you think things are fine the way they are?

Public Comments on the Review of the Commission’s Program Access Rules and Examination of Programming Tying Arrangements (PDF) [FCC]