Comcast Testing Theme-Based Cable Packages In CT; A National First For Choice?

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Comcast Testing Theme-Based Cable Packages In CT; A National First For Choice?


The Hartford Courant

September 28, 2011

Comcast is rolling out a theme-based cable TV menu - MyTV Choice - that allows consumers to fine-tune their channel selections, a step the company says is the first of its kind in the nation.

In Connecticut, the plan - a market trial - is being offered to customers who also buy Internet and digital phone service in bundled packages. Under the plan, customers get a discounted rate of either $93 or $110 a month for a bundle that inclues basic cable plans, and can add on any of four theme-based packages for $10 each: the 11-channel "Kids" package; the 20-channel "News & Info" package; the 31-channel "Entertainment & Lifestyle" package or the 16-channel "Movies" package.

Cable TV companies have long been under pressure from consumer groups and regulators to offer menu options, a so-called a la carte choice, so customers can pay less for a more limited set of channels that they want to watch.

"MyTV Choice allows consumers to create a tailored video product built around genres that appeal to them. For the first time in the U.S., this trial is bringing consumers theme-based packaging," Kristen L. Roberts, Comcast spokeswoman, said.

MyTV Choice does not replace the company's traditional packaging, which is still available. "It simply represents another choice for consumers," Roberts said.

Phillip Swann, president of the technology-oriented website, said Comcast's new option is neither a new concept nor a bargain.

"I have indeed seen TV providers offer packages that they will characterize as themed. They might offer a movie-lovers package or a sports-lovers package in which get basic channels and they add certain channels like sports or movies. In that respect, it's not really that new."

"When you look at this plan and starting adding it's a lot of money," Swann said. "The price tag is in the same ballpark as what they have offered as a promotion to new customers in which you get voice, video and Internet."

The difference in MyTV Choice, Roberts said, is that the rates are not a promotion that will expire after a year. "This is everyday pricing," she said.

Moreover, Roberts said, if a customer only chooses one or two packages, his or her monthly bill will be lower than the standard rate - so the packages are not add-ons to the standard rate, but true choices. "If somebody wanted all four theme packs, for them it's better to be in the traditional Triple-Play bundle," Roberts said.

MyTV Choice is currently available throughout Connecticut, except in the Branford, Clinton and Lakeville areas and the city of Shelton.

Swann added, however, "It's still far away from the concept of pick your channels because you're still paying for premium channels."

Reuters reported this week that some cable operators, as the number of customer shrinks, are trying to engineer a plan that would force programmers, such as ESPN, to "unbundle their networks and allow customers to subscribe to" individual channels. The news service called it a "complete reversal from cable operators" historical opposition to 'a la carte' programming, which would allow consumers to choose only the channels they view.

Roberts said Wednesday that Comcast has no plans to offer an a la carte system.

The cable industry has been fiercely protective of its right to bundle programming, rebuffing attempts by regulators to implement such a la carte programming. Industry officials say offering full menu choices would drive a lot of networks out of business and would be more expensive for customers.

Swann agreed that the economics of an a la carte system would "put a lot of channels out of business. They wouldn't be able to offer some channels like the military channel because very few people would buy it a la carte," he said.

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