Tuned In

Paying for TV, One Way Or Another

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I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but sometime this month Apple is likely to announce its giant iTouch, which will singlehandedly make people fall in love with reading again, persuade them to pay money for electronic publications and thus save journalism. Crisis over! Problem solved! Screw all you guys, I’m going to be rich now!

TV, though, still has business problems. It’s true, that, unlike with the news, people are not likely to stop watching The Office in order to read an unpaid blogger on the Huffington Post sum up The Office in three paragraphs. But more people are finding ways to watch TV for free online, skip ads with TiVo, or otherwise undermine the old TV business model. And as some recent network-vs.-cable-company fights have shown, the TV business is still going to try to get you to pay for TV somehow. Even for the “free” stuff.

Over the New Year’s holiday, Time Warner Cable and Fox reached a deal in which TWC will pay Fox to rebroadcast the local affiliates that carry Fox broadcast programming, i.e., the stuff you could get for free with an antenna. Cable providers have long paid for the privilege of carrying cable channels (and passed that privilege along to you). Now, increasingly, it looks like broadcast networks and stations, who have a bad case of cable-business-model envy, are going to try to get a piece too.

Which means that you can watch shows for free on Hulu if you like—well, free for now, anyway—but the cost of TV is like a bubble in an air hose: squeeze it in one place and it pops up somewhere else along the chain, in this case, your cable bill. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter has a good analysis of the situation today.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that cable creep will start driving people away from cable providers altogether, especially if they have other ways of cobbling together a schedule of their favorite programming. Is there a limit to what you’ll pay for cable? And if you’ve already cut the cord, how are you getting TV?