Why Are TV Channels Packaged?

Television providers have packages for various programming levels: basic, deluxe, and premium or by theme: movies, sports, music, and Spanish. This can be frustrating for consumers who may end up buying an entire package just to watch one channel or perhaps even one show.

Why is this? Why can’t we just buy the channels we want a la carte?

Although there’s a historical reason for this, there’s no longer any technical justification for bundling entertainment channels into packages.

With all service providers, every channel is present on the feed (be it cable, fiber optic, or satellite). When the feed reaches our houses, the items we don’t pay for are blocked.

When cable TV first came on the scene, it was analog and electronic devises were inserted to filter out various parts of the feed people weren’t paying for. These filters were imprecise and couldn’t be finely tuned to individual channels but did work okay for groups of adjacent channels. This resulted in the birth of channel packages.

Now we have digital and individual channels can be turned on and off at each house’s receiver. There’s no longer a technical reason to package channels and sell them as a group.

However, cable and satellite TV providers are used to the revenue provided by selling packages and not anxious to change that. Plus it’s easier to track and bill half a dozen packages for each subscriber, rather than hundreds of individual channels.

If entertainment providers were truly focused on their customers, they would allow for individual channel selection, letting us pick and pay for only the channels we want to watch.

How to Deal with Olympic Overdose

Although I don’t watch a lot of sports on TV, I get really excited every couple of years when the Olympics roll around (both the summer and winter games).

The Olympics gives me an abundance of sports, both in terms of variety and amount. I gravitate towards the contests that are quantifiable: points, goals, time, and distance, but not so much the judged events.

Each day throughout the Olympics I record 10 to 15 hours of sporting spectaculars, attempting to condense the best aspects into three hours of viewing pleasure each evening and a bit more on the weekends. Even so, I can’t keep up.

Aside from doing my regular work, I don’t accomplished much else during the Olympics.

Though I greatly anticipate the Olympics and excitedly watch the Olympics, I’m also glad when the Olympics are over and life can return to normal.

And normal is right around the corner for me — as soon as I watch the final 15 hours of recordings.

Super Bowl Game and Super Bowl Ads

By now, anyone who cares knows that the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl last night.  The Colts came out strong, dominating the first quarter and building up a nice lead.  The momentum shifted in the second quarter, even though the lead did not.  After a halftime show with the Who — great production, no so great performance — the Saints returned invigorated.  The game was close until the final few minutes when the Saints pulled ahead, winning by 14.

Now, what about the commercials?  In a word good: there were some duds, but several notable ones.  (See my top ten list from two years ago; I merely offered a commentary for 2009).

Here are my top picks from the 2010 Super Bowl:

Doritos – Casket
Doritos – Underdog
Doritos – House Rules
Timothy Richman – Cars.com 2010 Super Bowl Ad
Bridgestone – Killer Whale (but what’s with the “bachelor party” reference?)
E*TRADE Baby – Girlfriend
Budweiser – Bridge
Diamond Foods – Emerald Nuts & Pop Secret
Monster – Beaver
Bud Light – Voice Box
Bud Light – Lighthouse
McDonalds – LeBron & Dwight Howard (I missed this one, but saw it online — did it really air?)
Focus on the Family – Tim Tebow Ad was tasteful, cute, and not at all objectionable.  It is sad that some choose to condemn it without actually seeing it.

There were too many spots for cars and movies, as well as online TV, so many that they became a blur.

As far as Doritos’s customer generated content, those were the winners for me — and an innovative way to advertise, hinting at what might be to come.  The three ads that I picked as winners were all aired!  Plus a fourth one was shown for good measure.  Interestingly, my theory that ad views would equate to ad votes did not pan out.

(By the way, last night, my bride and I were at a coffee house with friends during the game, while my DVR recorded the event at home.  Lacking a TV, patronage at the coffee house was understandably sparse.  Also, the ladies significantly outnumbered the guys.  When our group dispersed, we then returned home, watching all the plays and commercials in about two hours.)

Doritos Consumer Produced Spots on the Super Bowl

I recently blogged that Doritos will be running consumer produced spots during the Super Bowl.  In January, voting took  place to determine which three of the finalists will be aired during the Super Bowl.  I watched all six and ranked them in the following order:

1) “Casket”
2) “Underdog”
3) “House Rules”
4) “Kids These Days”
5) “The Smackout”
6) “Snack Attack Samurai”

Although the Crash the Super Bowl website doesn’t show vote totals, it does show how many times each spot has been viewed.  I suspect there is a direct correlation between views and votes.  Here is how they rank in terms of views:

1) “Casket”
2) “Snack Attack Samurai”
3) “House Rules”
4) “Kids These Days”
5) “Underdog”
6) “The Smackout”

“Casket” was watched almost 20% more often than the second most viewed ad.  Interestingly, this ranking of views is the same now as it was a couple weeks ago.  One might infer that the voting rank also didn’t change over this same span.  Regardless, watch the Super Bowl to see which ads won.

If people agree with me, then it will be “Casket,” “Underdog,” and “House Rules.”

If views equals votes, then it will be “Casket,” “Snack Attack Samurai,” and “House Rules.”  Or it could be something else!

Doritos Ads to “Crash the Super Bowl”

With only four football teams left in contention, the Super Bowl is fast approaching — and with it Super Commercials.

This year, Doritos will again be running consumer produced spots during the Super Bowl.  Their Crash the Super Bowl promotion generated over 4,000 submissions.  The top six were selected as finalists and the voting has begun to pick the top three.  The top three vote getters will be run during the Super Bowl.

I’ve checked them out and all are good, but three are decidedly better.  Here’s how I rank them:

1) “Casket”
2) “Underdog”
3) “House Rules”
4) “Kids These Days”
5) “The Smackout”
6) “Snack Attack Samurai”

I will be watching to see if my top three picks are aired.

The Advance of Digital TV

Over the weekend, the final phase of the United State’s conversion to digital TV was completed — but not without some angst from angry viewers.

For my part, it was a non-issue, since I do my TV viewing via satellite.  Even so, I do have an antenna as backup and bought a converter box so that I could experience digital TV via terrestrial broadcast on my aging analog TV.  My early testing proved that I could receive and decode these new signals, so imagine my surprise on the day of the conversion I could not view one local station.

Based on online comments, many others experienced the same fate.  For me, rescanning the channels did the trick.  Others were not so fortunate, as they lived too far away from the broadcast station, still needed to connect their converters — or hadn’t yet bothered to buy it.

Of course, the media was able to find a few malcontents who claimed ignorance of the whole affair or wanted to blame the government for taking away their TV.  I even heard one person demand that the old signals be re-instated.

A personal side-note is that Friday evening, I lost part of the vertical deflection on my old TV (which is tech talk to say my viewing area shrunk).  Turning the TV off and back on, restored the full display, but it’s happened twice since, which means I will soon be buying a new digital TV — and won’t need the converter box after all.

Super Bowl with Not So Super Ads

This year, the Super Bowl was a great game, but the ads were not so great.

This game was even more exciting and interesting than last year’s, which was also an anomaly, with many past games being uninspiring blowouts.

Usually I watch just for the commercials, but not so much the game.  This year I did both — sort of.  I set the DVR to record and began watching about two hours later.  Since there is generally more than 30 second between the whistle of one play and the snap of the next, I would merely advance the playback 30 seconds at the conclusion of each play.  In this manner, I watched every play in record time and missed all the filler in between.

The only difficult thing was to remember to not zip through the commercials.  Alas, I was generally disappointed with them.  I planned to give you my top ten Super Bowl ads, but I can’t come up with 10 good ones, which is sad given that the airtime reportedly cost about 3 million for a thirty-second spot.

I did enjoy the Budweiser commercial of the Clydesdale fetching the “stick.”  I also snickered at the Doritos “snow globe” spot, though my bride was not amused.  The eTrade commercial was good, but not at a par with last year’s.  I also enjoyed the Cheetos ad with the pigeons.  The movie ads were all compelling, with me noting that I wanted to see each one, but at this time, I can’t name a single one.  Were those ads wasted on me, or did they plant a subliminal message in my subconscious?

Anyway, another football season is (almost) done (does anyone care about the Pro Bowl?) and I’ve discovered a faster and more satisfying way to watch football through my DVR.

Analog TV Gets a Reprieve

A few weeks ago, President Obama indicated that he wanted to delay the long-planned, mid-February date for discontinuing the broadcasting of analog TV signals.  This has been in the works for several years (I think more over a decade) and has been much discussed and promoted over the past year.  Yesterday, congress gave their approval to a four-month delay.

The plan was to phase out the analog signals in the US, allowing those frequencies to be reused for other communication purposes.  Theroetically, digital TV provides a better picture and audio quality, plus allows for auxiliary programming channels.  Consumers with new digital TVs are all set; so are those who watch television over cable or satellite.

However, consumers with old analog TVs and who watch broadcast stations will no longer be able to watch TV once the analog broadcasting has ceased.  They will need to upgrade their TV, switch to cable or satellite service, or buy a digital TV converter box (about $50 to $60).  For the past year, this fact has been heavily promoted.  Also, a government program provided coupons for $40 off the price of the converters.  Unfortunately, that program disbursed all their coupons and is out of money, but apparently some people still need the converters.

Frankly, most of the people who have not made the needed changes by now, will not likely make them in the next four months either.  They will continue to blissfully watch their TVs until they cease to function.  Then they will be outraged.  They will demand that “the government” do something about it.  Some will even get mad at our president and blame him.

Being able to watch TV is not an essential element of survival — housing and employment is.  In this case, we should just let the unprepared suffer the consequences for their lack of planning and move on to more important things.

Unfortunately, this could be another bailout in the making.

Online TV Viewership Doubles in Two Years

I recently shared my growing interest in watching TV online, noting the Relaunch of the WB — “An Online Video Network” and proclaiming this an indication of things to come.

Apparently, it is coming sooner rather later.  In a press release I received today, The Conference Board confirmed that online TV viewing has been gaining in popularity, with nearly 20 percent of American households who use the Internet watching TV online.  This doubles viewership from the prior year.  The report indicates that the top two destinations for online viewing are the official TV websites and YouTube.com.

The press release stated that “most consumers do not like a set schedule.  Being able to watch broadcasts on their own time and at their convenience are the top reasons users tune in online.  Other reasons include avoiding commercials and portability.”

Online viewership is broken down as:

  • News: 43%
  • Drama shows: 39%
  • Sitcom/comedy shows: 34%
  • Reality shows: 23%
  • Sports: 16%
  • User generated content: 15%

“The shift from appointment TV to content on demand is well underway,” said Michael Saxon.  I heartily concur.

In a related item, NBC made an estimated $5.75 million in online video advertising during the Olympics — not bad for 17 days!

The Relaunch of the WB — An Online Video Network

You may remember the TV network, The WB.  As I recall, a couple of years ago it merged programming schedules with UPN, to form CW.

Anyway, The WB website has just been relaunched as an Internet-based video-on-demand network.

In addition to new programming, it has past episodes of popular shows such as “Angel,” “Babylon 5,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Everwood,” “Firefly,” “Friends,” “Gilmore Girls,” “In Living Color,” “The Loop” “MADtv,” “The O.C.,” “One Tree Hill,” “Roswell,” “Smallville” and (my favorite) “Veronica Mars.”

It also has an interactive section and allows for integration with Facebook.

The WB is an indication of things to come, as video programming continues to move to the Internet.

Another case in point is Olympic coverage on NBCOlympics.com.  I used the site during the Olympics (though not as much as I expected), checking schedules, getting background info, and watching a few events.  In four years, I suspect that I will be watching most of the Olympics online.

A related example is Netflix and their “watch now” service and TV set top devices (see the Netflix Player).

Yes, video is moving to the Internet and even though I will not likely be a regular viewer of The WB (their target demographic is 16 to 34), I am ready to embrace this exciting technological development.