Two leading cable TV providers in the United States, Cablevision and Verizon, are publicly pressing media companies that own programming to stop pushing them to distribute unwanted channels. Cable viewers have long complained about paying for channels they never watch; what’s changed now is that cable companies, facing losses in subscriber counts, are beginning to agree, and are pushing the content companies to change their tune.
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If successful, the efforts could lead to cheaper options for consumers and a sea change in how the television industry has done business — and protected its profits — for more than two decades.
Such change has become necessary, Cablevision and other cable companies argue, as more Americans cut their cable cord in favor of cheaper Web-based video provided by Netflix, Apple and Amazon.com. Today, 5 million households get their television solely from the Internet, up from 2 million in 2007, according to Nielsen.
But Hollywood and media companies have said that breaking up the bundles would lead to the demise of smaller niche programming that does not have mass-market appeal.
Analysts say it is too early to tell whether the spat between cable firms and their media partners will lead to lower bills or the long-sought goal of consumer advocates: a la carte TV. Even the federal government has failed in its efforts to persuade the television industry to charge viewers only for what they watch.
The dispute is being closely watched because it has broad implications for consumers, as well as for the way television is funded and created.
This is the beginning of a long battle, and it seems like it will be a long time before providers like Charter Communications and DIRECTV are able to offer a la carte programming. But in the end, it should be the consumers who will win out, as it’s the only way the pay TV industry can survive.