One of the many people Mark was able to catch up with at Blogworld last month is Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3. Amidst talking about online video in general, and Revision3 specifically, the pair of them got off track for a bit on a fantastic tangent about 4G connectivity and a la carte purchase options from cable companies.
Unbundling Cable TV - I'll Take A Side Of ESPN With That
Louderback spends most of the clip talking about a company in Vermont, where he owns a home. This company, named Vermont Telephone, has already endeared themselves to Jim as a customer by running DSL to his house—Vermont is a tiny state full of hills and mountains and forests, and connectivity of all kinds is a frequent problem.
Additionally, the company secured a grant and is planning to install a fiber network covering the state. Most ambitious of all, Vermont Telephone plans to push for an a la carte cable option for their customers, using a letter sent to customers to imply there may be a legal means to that end (Louderback, one of the customers who received the letter, talks more about it on his blog).
I'm fascinated by the prospect of a rebellious new telecom provider who wants to buck the system and give his customers total choice over their TV package. I don't know that he has a chance in the world of succeeding, but the sentiment is laudable.
Like Louderback says in the clip above, a la carte is where technology has been driving every media format:
"When technology allows for consumer convenience, that technology ends up winning. And the story of the Internet has been all about unbundling, right? It's been—like the CD. Why do you have to buy thirteen bad songs to get the one good song? It's about newspapers. Why do you have to buy the entire newspaper if all you want is the sports section? And that's why we have blogs.
Think about television now. You don't have to watch all of Saturday Night Live. All you've got to do is go watch your favorite clip on Youtube—or Hulu, or wherever. You don't have to sift through all the bad crap on Saturday Night Live to get to the good stuff. Well, I think that, because technology allows it, unbundling will come.”
Amen, brother. I want to believe. It's an interesting time for me personally on this subject, as I am just a few weeks shy of a deadline I had set to cut the cord on my own TV service. I've decided there's too much money going to that portion of my monthly expenses, considering how few channels I actually make use of. With few exceptions, I can get everything I need through Netflix or another source. But the idea of an a la carte option might be enough to keep me around.
And the cable companies have demonstrated some willingness in the past to adapt their services when the marketplace changes. That's why most of us now have cable companies offering phone service in addition to television and Internet. So if technology demands some kind of shift in the way television channels are bundled—or if they're bundled at all—then I'm sure cable will adapt in some way. But I don't see them moving straight to an a la carte system anytime soon, as much as I would welcome it. And if they ever move in that direction, it would be accompanied by their kicking and screaming.
But this interview's got me thinking. We've seen technology (or, the Internet) kill or transform the established business models of the music industry, the publishing and print industry, and even the film industry. Television will be revolutionized by technology too, in one way or another. It may be a la carte, or something else altogether.
We spend so much time debating and discussing cable versus no-cable. We talk about cord cutting and Netflix and Hulu Plus. But what if cable's got one more card to play before they're truly extinct? Think about it. If you're one of the supposed millions considering cutting the cord and ditching cable—would you stay with cable if they were to offer an a la carte option? Because I would. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think Louderback is right. Not only is a la carte cable television a possibility, it could very well be cable's one last shot to stay relevant and keep hold of their customers before a mass exodus of cord-cutters actually does begin.