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Killing the cable bundle won't destroy television

Jared Newman | March 27, 2015
The cable apologists have been out in full force these last few weeks, which is as good a sign as any that the bloated TV bundle is in trouble.

This isn't some new trend, even if Netflix's streaming-only approach is a bit more high-tech. HBO basically started the high-quality serial drama craze with The Sopranos, and it's safe to assume more people now care about Game of Thrones than they do about the "Home Box Office" concept that HBO built itself on. HBO reached this level of success not by burying itself in a bundle, but by charging a premium price for those who valued the content. Now, it's about to take that same model directly to users with its standalone streaming service HBO Now.

McArdle isn't completely wrong in defending bundles as a concept. After all, Netflix and HBO are both bundles of sorts, bringing together far more content than you could actually watch. Before either service could get into original programming, they had to convince people that their licensed content was worth paying for. A more typical cable network with big ambitions for original shows might not have it so easy.

But even these networks can turn to smaller streaming bundles like Sling TV, which costs just $20 per month for 20 channels, and offers several add-on packages for $5 per month. As a bundle, this is the best of both worlds. Subscribers can still discover new things, but have more control over what they're actually paying for compared to cable. It's another point that McArdle and her fellow cable proponents ignore, even though AMC — one of the top purveyors of high-quality programming — arrived on Sling TV earlier this month.

The problem, as I've written before, isn't bundling in general, but the cable bundle in particular. With its ever-rising fees, unfair equipment rental costs, and terrible customer service, this bundle isn't meant to serve the subscriber. Rather, it's built to feed a never-ending cycle of increasing prices for the same exact service you got the year before. It's a bad value by design, and it's only lived this long because we didn't have any other options. Now that we do, TV will be better than ever.

 

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