Why Cable Channels Aren't Offered a la Carte

Cable subscribers may wonder why they aren't able to pick and choose which cable channels they wish to subscribe to, rather than having their television channels bundled into different payment tiers.

Cable television providers bundle their television programming into several types of basic and premium payment tiers. It gives television consumers a choice of many channels that offer both quality and value. Subscribers may pleasantly discover a new favorite television program on a relatively lesser known network offered at either the basic or premium level.

Cable television offers as many television channels as possible on each payment tier, giving everyone in a household an opportunity to discover a new network or program that appeals to their own personal interests. Often you don't know what those interests may be until you're flipping through the channels with your TV remote and land on something interesting that compels you to stay tuned and to watch.

If cable channels were priced as a la carte channels instead of as bundled packages, it would give subscribers the opportunity to purchase only the television channels they want to watch. Sounds fair enough, but would that option benefit cable television consumers? In theory, it would seem so. It would seem to allow subscribers to cut their personal cable costs by selecting and paying for only the channels they want to watch.

Unfortunately, the opposite was true, based on several studies conducted within the cable industry and by independent and government agencies. Delivering cable television programming through an a la carte channels system wouldn't benefit most consumers, the studies found.

Instead, the studies found that unbundled channel offerings would cause cable prices to increase, in some cases dramatically, forcing subscribers to pay more for less choice. Many networks offering niche programming would likely go out of business because they wouldn't have the financial support to help them grow, or the new subscribers who discover them by channel surfing.

Cable television bundling helps spread out the costs for the most expensive network offerings to every subscriber. If subscribers could choose to opt out of paying for specific cable channels, like ESPN or other sports networks, it would increase the viewing costs to sports fans who want to only subscribe to those sports channels.

Cable companies are continually making attempts to streamline costs in order to compete for subscribers against other providers, including those that offer satellite and streaming video over the internet.

Providing a diverse mix of cable subscribers with hundreds of channels to choose from benefits everyone.