Cable math.

Monday, January 4th, 2010

While I was busy playing around making cool graphics for the nascent WTBS/WTCG, I often overheard the suits in the hallways on West Peachtree Street talking per-sub rates…the money cable companies were willing to pay per subscriber, per month, to cablecast the SuperStation (ask for it by name!) These were negotiated, of course, and back when there were hundreds (thousands?) of independent cable companies it was quite a process…and the deals seemed to rely on schmoozing and wheedling as much as on plain old marketing.

CNN’s price per sub, according to a 1984 New York magazine article, was, back in those olden times, between 15 and 22 cents per sub, although Ted Turner cut the subscription price (the article says) to as little as 3 cents per to get the cable operators to start carrying CNN.

Now, large mega cable companies like Time Warner, Comcast, Cox, and Charter negotiate (and wheedle) with large mega content providers like Fox, Scripps, Viacom, Disney, and, uh, Time Warner and Comcast/NBC/Universal, eventually. It’s fewer entities talking to fewer entities and therefore the negotiations take on a more apocalyptic tone—when millions of cable homes are at stake at once. Then, they sit down, add all these fees up, and pass a hefty cable increase on to you.

In this morning’s Times, Brian Stelter does the modern math and the range and imbalance of the numbers surprises me: Food Network averages 8 cents (Scripps, the network’s owner wants a raise up to closer to 25 cents per month) and ESPN gets $4.10!?

This is, of course, why many cable companies (and content providers) fear a no longer so hypothetical future world where people get their content a la carte. At our house, we’d probably pay more for the Food Network and none at all for ESPN.

Hand me a tablet to figure it out….actually, I mean hand me the mythical end-of-January Apple tablet and let’s see if that device coupled with an iTunes-like TV-type entertainment-like system behind it can create a world where we can easily duct tape together the entertainment we want and avoid paying for the stuff we, well, avoid.

It’s what’s causing of the content providers and resellers to do some new (year’s) new math of their own.