Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


March 12, 2014

Bigger bills only part of cable’s changing future

GLASGOW — We’re getting a frustrating glimpse these days into the realities of our cable bills, which, according to officials with local cable providers, might soon require more willpower to open.

Managers with the Glasgow Electric Plant Board and South Central Rural Telephone Cooperative told the Daily Times last week that a series of negotiations this year between cable providers and several heavy-hitting content providers are expected to result in bigger monthly payments for customers. There’s also the potential for vanishing channels, in the event the National Cable Television Cooperative, which negotiates on behalf of the local utilities, can’t reach agreements with some of the media conglomerates.

The anticipated rate hikes come at a time when television consumers already have more options than ever to obtain much of the content delivered through traditional cable systems. We can use online, subscription-based services such as Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu on an array of devices. Gadgets such as Apple TV are gradually winning favor with some networks, which are making content available through app-based interfaces. Earlier this month, Dish Network nailed down a deal to deliver a number of channels owned by Disney entirely over the Internet, and similar agreements between other content and service providers are probably imminent, according to published reports.

Some industry observers believe Internet-based TV could open the door to so-called a la carte subscriptions, which have been discussed for years but haven’t gained traction with lawmakers or media companies. EPB Superintendent Billy Ray told the Daily Times last week that he’s in favor of the a la carte model, which would allow consumers to subscribe only to channels they want, rather than paying for the blocks of programming required by contracts with content providers. From a customer’s perspective, it’s hard to argue against this approach.

What this all really means is that the rate increases we’re likely to experience locally are hardly the most significant change to how we buy and watch TV in the coming years. As consumers become more comfortable using Web-based services – and as those services become more expansive and reliable – the industry will gradually drift away from the current delivery format. It wasn’t that long ago that over-the-air antennas were the primary delivery device, so it won’t be all that long before DVRs join bunny ears in TV museums.

So, short-term, it appears fans of cable TV must brace for heftier payments. But long-term, especially if personalized subscription plans become reality, there’s reason to be optimistic that the future of TV could be friendlier to our checkbooks.

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