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Beating the cable company by finding other options

Updated: February 13, 2014 6:45AM

As consumers, we are used to having options.

If a store charges too much for a TV, we can look elsewhere for a better price with confidence we’ll find it.

That’s not true with cable bills, which double in cost about every 10 years, according to technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan.

But you probably already knew that if you have kept track of your ever-expanding cable charges.

When Arizona Sen. John McCain announced last year he was sponsoring a bill that would allow consumers to buy channels individually, also known as a la carte service, I was briefly encouraged.

There may be entertainment value in having more than 200 cable channels until you realize you watch fewer than 20. It doesn’t make sense to pay for all that. Yet, the charges have continued to pile on.

Reality quickly set in regarding McCain’s efforts: His bill is opposed by media giants that carry clout in Washington. These behemoths, such as Disney-backed ESPN, are behind those outrageous cable charges. “The networks don’t care about the customer,” Kagan said.

They don’t have to care because they hide behind the cable companies, middle men that pass on fees to customers. The bottom line for all companies rests with shareholder value, another way of saying the rest of us matter minimally.

There are differing views on when the cable business model will change. Some note it isn’t leaving us soon because cable makes live events and new programming immediately accessible to viewers while alternatives, such as Hulu and Netflix, do not.

But millennials and their younger peers are just starting to get a say in all this, and it will be up to them to propel change. I like their chances.

When asked about her favorite TV channel, my 14-year-old niece doesn’t mention the Disney channel. She talks about YouTube. This is the same girl who six or seven years ago could recite Nickelodeon’s TV lineup.

Technology will force change on cable companies and their network partners, or profit margins will plummet similarly to newspapers. The print industry was late embracing the World Wide Web and might never recover.

The cable model needs to be blown up, Kagan said, adding, “I don’t know any [company] that wants to do that.” Not yet anyway. But the time will come when consumers will win.

In the meantime, we canceled cable in our home in favor of old-fashioned antenna TV as well as much cheaper Internet-dependent subscription services. We opted to upgrade Wi-Fi service through a telephone company, not the monopolistic cable industry.

McCain’s bill, and the arrogant resistance to it from Hollywood and greedy corporations, is what made me think twice about steep cable prices.

Then last month a New York Times article described ESPN’s expanding offices and studios in Bristol, Conn., spurred in part by generous tax breaks, and noted the network charges 100 million households $5.54 a month, whether you watch or not, and that prompted this ESPN viewer to seek cable alternatives on the Web.

Using the menu options for Hulu and Netflix is not as convenient as flipping through TV stations with a quick click, and I miss some sports programming, but we’re spending about $85 less monthly. There’s a lot of convenience in that.


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