Cable Channels Inspire Technology Advances

Cable, satellite and Internet television systems have changed the entertainment landscape, creating interactive communications services and expanding the number of cable channels to offer educational, artistic and foreign programs that consumers could never get from broadcast-television affiliates. Analog technology, which has been replaced by digital broadcasting, offered only a limited number of broadcast frequencies, so stations had to choose programs that appealed to the greatest number of people.

Specialty channels, educational programs, creative local shows, all-news networks and artistic shows had fewer chances to find audiences because of this shortsighted commercial strategy, but satellite, cable, Internet and digital broadcasters can now offer their customers hundreds of channel choices so that community groups, educational institutions, government authorities and creative entrepreneurs can find willing broadcast partners to bring their creative visions to consumers.

Leveling the Playing Field

Cable and satellite providers offer choices of basic and premium channels, pay-per-view movies and events and special features like high-definition programming. Both types of broadcasters offer access to local channels, but cable systems must include local channels as part of their service, but satellite systems can charge extra for local channels.

In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Consumer Protection and Competition Act. This legislation sought to encourage competition among cable television providers and encourage companies to expand their cable-channel program offerings. The law requires cable providers to carry local stations and advertising. Satellite broadcast systems, though not required to do so, offer local channels to stay competitive with cable providers.

Availability of Cable Channels Changes the Viewing Dynamic

Cable and satellite systems offer different benefits, and consumers often choose services providers based on how many channels they offer. Satellite television offers more channels, but digital television has increased the number of cable channels so that even basic cable packages offer higher numbers of program choices. Satellite systems don’t always include local channels in basic packages, charging extra for local programming.

Advertisers can choose the types of channels that carry their messages so that they can better target certain demographic audiences. For example, businesses that sell high-end products might choose artistic channels, stations that follow the stock market or programs that feature symphony performances, opera or ballet. Educational programs might feature advertising for student clothing, electronics and video games.

Choosing between satellite and cable systems will continue to cause a back-and-forth struggle for consumers. Satellite broadcasts offer lots of channels and extra options, and consumers can choose from a greater number of programming packages. Sometimes, satellite signals experience interference during severe weather, and consumers need to buy extra equipment to receive satellite signals and decode signals. Cable systems offer greater stability and high-definition programming without buying additional equipment, but their subscription prices are generally higher and customers get fewer channel choices.

Satellite television offers custom programming that suits every taste from sports enthusiasts to classic movie lovers. Of course, consumers can only watch television a limited number of hours each day, and even basic cable offers great diversity in programming choices. Digital video recorders can tape shows so that viewers can watch programs on their own timetables, increasing the channel choices for consumers.

Premium Channels

Cable channels fall into two basic categories: independent broadcasters and media conglomerates that offer dozens of channels. Premium channels include HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz and Encore channels that broadcast recent movies, critically acclaimed programming and classic movies. Both cable and satellite providers offer premium channels, and these stations offer multiple channels of programming. Consumers usually pay premium charges to receive these broadcasts, but different packages often include one or more of these channels in their lineups.

Risks, Policy Changes and the Future of Cable Channels

The broadcast market grows increasingly more sophisticated, and cable providers feel increased pressure to drop shows that fail to attract big audiences and advertising dollars. Many shows that face cancellations are considering moving to the Internet on high-profile sites such as YouTube. Of course, commercialization continues everywhere, and YouTube is considering starting a paid subscription service to take advantage of the demand for more broadcast outlets for specialty programming.

Several companies have tried to create interactive subscription services that allow customers to choose their own channels, but none of these efforts has achieved commercial success for television broadcasts. Hulu and Netflix, Internet-based services, offer wide varieties of movies, classic television shows, current network broadcasts and original programming. Regardless of temporary setbacks, cable channels promise diversity, educational programming, foreign-language choices and more creative shows to inform and entertain consumers.