Technology

Cable TV Just Wants to Be Loved


For some truly strange advertisements, look no further than the National Cable & Television Association’s Hole Saga, a website consisting of several pro-cable video sketches. The videos, which have been running for just over a week, discuss the hole in people’s hearts that is formed by an absence of cable.

The concept is strange in that it’s based on people having a loving relationship with a cable provider. I’ve met a few cable customers whose take on the issue would slightly different. And the videos are beyond strange—they show people getting eaten by sharks, bitten by mutant rabbits, and creeped out by large bugs because they haven’t been able to access information, via cable, that would have allowed them to avoid these fates. It’s really campy, but not in a funny way.

Still, we should probably give cable a break. It’s not the best time to be running a pay television company. Cable companies lost 687,000 subscribers in the last quarter. Many of those people moved to satellite television or fiber optic options offered by telecoms, meaning that the industry lost 113,000 subscribers over that period, according to analyst Craig Moffett.  It seems the cable companies have been driven to inanity by the very real trend of people getting rid of their cable because, well, the Internet.

The organization wasn’t eager to discuss the campaign, with a spokesperson offering this statement in reply to an interview request: “The vignettes are intended to demonstrate how cable provides customers with useful services that make their everyday lives better.”

Notably, the nature of this life improvement does not primarily have to do with watching television. NCTA takes credit for hotel review sites and video chat, along with Shark Week and CNN (TWX). This gets to the cord cutters’ Catch-22: your Internet probably comes from your cable provider. You can reduce the price of your bill, but you still send those slightly smaller checks to the same address.

The cable companies’ best chance of insulating themselves from cord-cutting-related disaster won’t come from persuading people that they love cable, but from developing a better business model to tap into the market for Internet video. The incoming chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave the industry a boost last week, when he said it is premature to stand in the way of what’s called usage-based pricing, whereby cable companies charge customers according to the amount of Internet they consume. Experiments with such charges are still in relatively early stages, but they could end up offsetting some of the financial advantages that come from canceling a cable subscription. So long as they control the tubes on which people’s Netflix (NFLX) travels, the cable companies’ fight for hearts and minds is somewhat beside the point.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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