It's hardly the dream-fulfilled of pick-your-own (or "a-la-carte") channel bundling, which some TV viewers have been craving.
But Cox Cable's plan to go national with its bargain priced ($25 to start, $35 after six months) TV Economy service, eliminating the mighty ESPN and other pricey channels, certainly represents a crack in the cable industry's wall of wills.
And it's most especially a step in the right direction for viewers who only get interested in sports events which have the word "Bowl,""Series" or "Championship" attached.
Designed to retain financially pressed customers faced with paying either their cable or heating bill, the TV Economy bundle looks significantly better than the $20 a month "lifeline" (essentially local channels) service which Comcast provides here, or the $30 a month Digital Economy Service that the same company offers quietly and selectively (and not yet in my Philly hood) to new customers who know to ask for it.
Comcast's cheap alternatives don't let you order pay-per-view movies and sporting events, or layer on movie channels, or use a fancier DVR cable box with on-board recording - features all available with TV Economy in the communities where Cox operates. (The closest being in Northern Virginia, sorry.)
TV Economy's mix of channels looks pretty good - including standard definition and HD versions of local broadcasters, a couple superstations (WGN, TBS) and C-Span, plus "enhanced basic" channels AMC, Animal Planet, BET, Cartoon Network, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, Disney Channel, E!, Food, Fox News, Galavision, History Channel, Lifetime, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, TV Guide, TruTV, the Weather Channel, TV Land and USA.
Missing though, are the sports-centric ESPN (the highest cost channel for a cable company to carry at $4.69 a subscriber) and TNT (which duns them $1.16 per month), plus the likes of ABC Family, A&E, Bravo, CNBC, ESPN2, FX HGTV, MTV, SyFy, TLC, The Travel Channel and VH1.
Cable's mantra has always been that letting customers "cherry pick" just their faves (like selecting dishes in a cafeteria) would kill off dozens of special interest channels that rely on their pennies per subscriber. (And also serve to impress you with the cabler's promise of "200+ channels.") Clearly, there's some worthies among that bunch, not just cheezy shopping channels, with more in the pipeline. Comcast alone has committed to launch 10 new minority-owned and focused channels over the next eight years, as part of the deal it made with the FCC to approve the NBC/Universal acquisition.
But now there's a growing sentiment that cable's got to change its tune, make its offerings more customized and affordable, not only to retain current customers but also to lure in young adult viewers. We're talking a generation that doesn't even own a TV set, that pretty much gets the content they need on demand on their computers from low cost (or free) streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Apple.
By saying to ESPN that "you're not essential," Cox is acknowledging this reality, taking the first gold brick from the wall.