The Corner

Putting the “a la” before the “carte”

Lots of readers write to complain about my post on a la carte cable, saying that they don’t care if the price goes up — they’d love to be able to buy channels individually just to streamline their cable systems.  I sympathize, as my cable offerings go up to almost 2000 (and yes, there’s still never anything on), with a lot of repeats, channels I can’t access at all, Spanish-language variations, and, of course, cruddy programming that I’m only slightly more likely to watch than vote for Hillary Clinton. 

So here’s the thing: My problem isn’t with a la carte in any circumstances, it’s with Congress mandating that cable companies offer it.  This is pretty basic free-market, don’t-mandate-a-business-model stuff. We’d think it was silly if Congress forced the Post to offer the Styles section separately; the same goes for cable. 

Others are skeptical about the pricing increase.  I explained things in a little more detail in this piece last year, but the simplified version is that much of the cost of providing cable is simply getting your area and then your individual home all wired up and connected.  So it doesn’t really cost the company significantly less to provide you with fewer channels, and it’s more efficient for them to offer a selection of packages rather than customized offerings to every household.  And being forced to offer a la carte service would add to the overall expense in a way that would, according to at least one study, probably drive up the cost of the original, fixed packages for everyone else. 

But if some TV provider, cable or otherwise, thinks it can find a niche in the market selling custom, individual-channel packages, then I, of course, think they should go for it.  (Although at this point, I suspect TV-on-demand over the net will probably come first and do away with any real issues people have here.)

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