Dear Cable and Satellite Companies, Hollywood Studios, and the People Who Make TV:
The thing is, we love TV shows. We love the comedy, the drama, the sports, the events, and even sometimes what you call “romantic comedy.” We remember fondly those days growing up as kids when the family sat around in the den watching our favorite shows after dinner. “Brady Bunch.” “I Dream of Jeannie.” “The Flintstones.” Those were the good old days of appointment TV, without having to figure out how to program a VCR or DVR.
Those days are over. Really. As time marched on, we as viewers gained more power with the ability to record programs, skip commercials and watch things on our time. No longer were we tied to your programming schedule. “Must see TV” happened when we wanted it to happen, no matter how clever you thought you were with the show that followed “The Simpsons.”
Not only can we now watch what we want when we want it, but we also have new streaming video services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video. Heck, Hulu was your very own creation, so you obviously know things are shifting. You kind of get it.
But there’s a problem: You are still wedded to the old way of doing business, forcing us as consumers to pay massive cable and satellite bills just to watch what we want. It was a novelty and a nice marketing line to say you were offering us 500 channels or more. How impressive! But if we only really watched five of those channels, and maybe a total of seven shows, why did we still have to pay $75 per month? Forcing people to pay for cable in order to get “TV Everywhere” online is like forcing people to buy horse and buggies to get a new car in the early 20th century.
Not Going to Take It Anymore
Listen, cable overlords, you had your chance as monopolists (or duopolists) in so many U.S. markets. Now, we have a choice and can get our TV shows in so many new (Netflix) and old-fashioned (over-the-air broadcast) ways — not to mention all the gray market and borderline illegal ones.
Our list of grievances is as follows:
1. We refuse to pay inflated prices to watch the TV shows we want. We don’t want to have 500 channels force-fed to us so we can watch the four networks we want.
2. We are tired of the poor service we’ve come to expect from cable and satellite companies. It’s become a widespread joke. Just calling someone for customer service is like a trip through the seven levels of voice-mail hell. “Press 1 for landline service, press 2 for technical support, press 3 for…” Just get a human on the line so I can tell you what’s wrong!
3. We all know the current cable trick that when the cable bill’s price goes up, you call and threaten to cancel your service so you get a special offer on the phone. How sweet. Why not just offer the cheaper price to start with instead of charging people who don’t know this trick more money? We all know that new customers get treated much better than old ones.
4. Enough with the “Triple Play” or bundle of services. How many people are now stuck with landline telephones because of some kind of bundle deal when they would be perfectly fine having a cell phone at home? Price them separately at reasonable prices. Why should broadband-only service cost $50 per month?
OK, we realize that cutting the cord to cable TV does not likely mean we can actually cancel all the services we get from you. We still depend on cable and satellite in many places to get broadband Internet access. So many people who cancel cable TV still end up getting their Internet service from you.
We are not out to shut down your businesses at all. In fact, we believe that your push for “TV Everywhere” could well be the answer to many of our problems. Our hope is that you can begin to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. And no, we aren’t going to buy into your warmed-over attempt at a pseudo-Netflix streaming service that requires a cable subscription!
Our list of demands is as follows:
1. We would like to watch the TV shows we want when we want on the device or screen we want. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We all know as cord-cutters that nothing is ever that simple. You often have to wait a day, a week, a month or a year to see a show that aired last night. Give us the shows we want when we want them and we’ll be willing to pay a fair price. Without a cable subscription.
2. We will pay for the shows and sports we want most. This is a business model you understand well: pay-per-view. Some people will pay $4.99 for a movie that just left the theaters and others will pay $50 for a top-flight boxing match. Just move that model over to TV, so that some people pay 99 cents for a regular season show, $1.99 for a season-ending show and $9.99 for a season’s pass. iTunes already offers this up, but this needs to be broken out of Apple’s closed system for everyone. Without a cable subscription.
3. End the blackouts for sports-on-demand. Ah, the most difficult one for you to pull off because of multibillion-dollar contracts between sports leagues and the TV networks. But consider the new revenues that would come in if everyone in the nation (or maybe the world, if you do it right online) could pay $1.99 to watch each New York Knicks game with Jeremy Lin playing. Or if you’re a fan of a hometown team, you could buy a season’s package to watch the games at home. We repeat: Without a cable subscription.
4. Yes, we mean one service that plays on all devices. If we rent or buy a show with one service, we expect to watch it on our big-screen TV, our smartphone, our tablet, our computer monitor, and on whatever invention comes next that has a screen. You’ve already been building such a system, called “TV Everywhere” or Xfinity (at Comcast). It’s great, but it assumes only people paying for cable can watch. All you have to do is come up with a fair fee for non-cable subscribers, and we’ll be hooked.
5. Good shows swim; bad shows sink. The argument from cable providers is that the only way to support quality programming is to have everyone pay for every channel. If they switched to a la carte programming, everyone would choose a few channels and we’d lose the diversity. And who would pay the “Mad Men” their escalating salaries? Guess what: The good programming would rise to the top, and the bad programming would go away. If the current crop of actors can only survive on $1 million per episode, we can probably find a new crop of actors who can survive on $10,000 per episode. More likely, the less middlemen who are involved in TV production and distribution, the more money that actors will get directly from fans.
What we’re asking for doesn’t sound radical: Give the people what they want! What’s radical is that you’ll need to break up entrenched business models, monopolies and outmoded ideas. We don’t need 500 channels, force-fed commercials or restrictions on what we want to see. We will pay a fair subscription or pay-per-view price for our TV needs, but are mad as hell and won’t take sky-high-priced cable bills anymore!
TV Watchers of America
If you’d like to sign this manifesto, I’ve created a petition at Change.org that you can sign. If we get enough signatures, I’ll send it along to the right cable executives.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+