Bundle Up

On this week’s Extra Hot Great, Tara claimed not to be a crackpot for wanting fewer streaming services. Now that Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO GO and more are offering new original programming, much of that original programming gets lost in the noise of the volume of programming. And with OTT streaming services, it is a valid complaint.

Personally, besides cable TV, I subscribe to HBO, Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime. Amazon is mostly for the 2 day shipping, but the streaming and the Kindle lending library help to make it a good value. But Hulu Plus for yet another few dollars per month? Come on, that’s excessive.

Complaints about cable bundling have existed for a long time. Consumer advocacy groups have been demanding ala carte cable for more than 20 years. But would the golden age of television exist without bundling?

AMC became a major player in the prestige television market seemingly overnight by picking up and airing Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But if AMC wasn’t bundled into most basic cable packages, would enough people have been able to sample Mad Men to encourage others to want to watch it? If you had to pay an extra few dollars per month in order to watch a new show that you hadn’t heard of, how compelling would that show have to be in order to pay to sample it?

Without bundling would AMC, FX, Comedy Central, or any other non-ESPN basic cable outlet ever be able to draw enough eyeballs to develop and maintain quality programming? Or would non-bundled cable channels never reach more than small niche audiences?

In a world where most viewers pay for a cable bundle and also have access to programming on channels that they may not pay for ala carte, it does actually end up being better for omnivorous television viewers. Perhaps ala carte might save customers money, but it might lead to less choice or less adventurous viewing. By paying series by series on iTunes or Amazon instead of paying to subscribe to cable TV, I personally would be much less likely to sample new shows.

Of course, an ala carte world might create more intense brand loyalty. In such a world, I would be subscribing to Comedy Central and FX and sampling everything on those channels. But Bravo, the Top Chef and assorted crap network? Sorry Tom and Padma. From a creative perspective, perhaps bundling isn’t so bad. In the ala carte world, where choosing to watch a program requires paying a fee, television feels more expensive and discourages sampling.

So in the OTT video era, which ISP or device maker will be the first to bundle subscription services into the price?

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