The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’


This is me in the past, wondering why I couldn’t just pay for the channels, or specific shows, that I actually wanted to see.

Back when I was editorial page editor, Bud Tibshrany used to ask me out to lunch about once a year. That’s because he was doing PR for Time Warner Cable, and his job required that he check in with me periodically, and going to lunch with him was less of an interruption to operations that a full editorial board meeting. I had to eat anyway.

Each year, he’d ask me if I had any questions about Time-Warner or the industry. And I always had just one question: When will I be able to buy channels a la carte instead of having to pay for scores of channels I didn’t want just to get AMC? It was really all I wanted to know.

I knew I was being a pain, but he asked.

The answer was always the same: Not in the foreseeable future. The cable providers’ hands were tied by the contractual demands of the content providers, and so forth. Which was true.

True then, that is. Times are a-changin’:

Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.

The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan….

Talk about creative destruction.

Just last night, in response to an invitation via my Apple TV, I signed up for a free one-month trial of HBO NOW, which markets itself with the pithy tagline, “Now, all you need is the Internet.”

Well, that and $14.99 a month, which I probably will not spring for when the free month is up.

But in the meantime, it’s pretty awesome. We watched “Jersey Boys” last night, and enjoyed it. I see that I can catch up completely on “Game of Thrones” if I care to binge, starting with the first season. Or watch “The Sopranos” again all the way through, or any other series that has ever been on HBO. And I can send back that DVD from Netflix with the first episodes of “True Detective” on it. The whole series lies before me now.

Anyway, whatever I do going forward, I appreciate this brave new world…

5 thoughts on “The long-awaited collapse of the ‘bundle’

  1. Lynn Teague

    Now if only Time-Warner Cable would take more seriously the problem of people wanting to report a problem with their infrastructure. I will spare everyone the long sad tale of the Time-Warner line on the AT&T pole that a drunk took out next to my house, but I will say that I have never encountered a company so thoroughly insulated from public contact as Time-Warner. If you are a customer and want to report a problem with your personal service there are ways to do it. No other way in for the public. It’s nice to know that they are concerned enough about their PR to talk to editors. Now if they would just talk to the public.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Of course, that was back in the day, when people were paid good salaries to schmooze with editors, and editors were paid good salaries to, among many other things, stay in touch with the community.

      Now, if someone has the job that Bud once had, he would be hard-pressed to get anyone at the paper to make time for him. They definitely wouldn’t agree to an open-ended meeting.

      If you want time with an editor, you’d better demonstrate that you have answers to some burning questions that the editor wants answered, and answered NOW. Even then, it won’t be easy, because editors now have a terrible time performing the basic tasks of putting the paper (and the website) out at warp speed, and really don’t have time to talk to ANYBODY, even to get answers to burning questions…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Even back when we were flush with people, a meeting like that with Bud, even over lunch, was very borderline, as I think I indicated in the original post. Cindi would NEVER have agreed to it. She’s very task-oriented, and has always wanted to know exactly what she’s going to get out of a meeting before going into it.

        I was always more curious. I would agree to meet someone just to see where it went. If our governor or one of our U.S. senators or someone like that wanted to meet, of COURSE I said yes, even if they had no particular agenda. It was important to stay current with those people and maintain contact, and I almost always got a column out of such meetings. I just didn’t go into the meeting KNOWING what the column would be. The more free-wheeling the better. Cindi hated meetings like that.

        Of course, sometimes such meetings tried even MY patience.

        One Friday afternoon in the middle of the last decade, Joe Biden dropped by just to get acquainted. He was in town for some political do, and had the afternoon to kill. I had invited this by asking his good friend Fritz Hollings to set up a meeting for us when Biden came to town, because I hadn’t met him before, and I saw him being a potential player in the next SC presidential primary.

        Fridays were hell for us, the day of the week when we had the most to do. They were usually about 12 hours long for me, and there wasn’t time to say “hi” to anybody as we pushed, pushed, pushed to get those weekend pages out.

        But he came by on a Friday afternoon, two or three of us sat down to be polite, and ended up listening to him for more than two hours…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of course, that wasn’t nearly as bad as the time John Kerry came by on the Friday morning in 2004 that we had to have the primary endorsement DONE, when we tried so hard to get him in earlier. That was horrible because we couldn’t have our discussion to decide on the endorsement until he’d left, and THAT meeting lasted three hours.

          Of course, this is the opposite end of the spectrum from the Time-Warner meeting. We had no choice but to meet with Kerry… So I digress…

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