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Time Warner Cable Lite: Stripped Down Basic Cable Package Tests in NYC, NE Ohio

Phillip Dampier November 18, 2010 Consumer News, Editorial & Site News, TWC (see Charter) 16 Comments

Time Warner Cable is among the first cable companies in the country to recognize there is still a Great Recession for many of their middle class customers.  After major cable companies lost more video subscribers than they gained for the last two quarters in a row — a first — the nation’s second largest cable operator has developed a budget-minded basic package to meet new economic realities.

Time Warner Cable’s TV Essentials Package will deliver about 50 channels of basic networks and local broadcasters to subscribers in two test markets starting Monday — New York City and northeastern Ohio around the cities of Akron and Cleveland.  New York residents will pay $39.95 for the package, $29.95 in Ohio.  But both packages will be sold to customers for only one year as a special promotion and are missing many popular networks.  Despite that, Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Maureen Huff says the packages represent significant savings for consumers.  The retail value of the package is $50 per month.  Several cable analysts suspect the package is revenue neutral for Time Warner, which hopes to hold onto customers and put them back on traditional cable packages as economic conditions improve.

But for those contemplating Essentials, compromising over the likely loss of several networks is required.  Sports fans in particular will need to look elsewhere — all of the expensive basic cable sports networks, including ESPN and MSG are not included.  News junkies will have to live with several C-SPAN networks, CNN and Headline News.  Fox News and MSNBC are excluded.  Several Viacom-owned cable networks are also not covered, notably Comedy Central.  TNT isn’t either.

In fact, no HD networks of any kind are provided, free video on demand is not included, and customers will be banned from obtaining DVR equipment to record shows for later viewing.  Also, customers participating in this promotion are prohibited from receiving any other discounts from the cable company for broadband or phone service, so it is narrowly tailored to appear only to current analog basic/standard service customers.

Although Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt said, “the public would like to have more choice and have the option of paying for less programming,” it’s clear the cable company has also developed the package in a way to protect its more expensive Standard Service from being cannibalized by customers looking to save money.  The lack of HD programming and DVR availability, in particular, will deliver a clear message to many subscribers the package involves uncomfortable sacrifices.

Some of the networks dropped from the Essentials package are not even that costly to Time Warner Cable.  Comedy Central and MSNBC are much cheaper than other networks in the package.  The loss of the former is likely to keep younger households unhappy, and Time Warner would likely have been accused of bias had it included MSNBC’s left leaning nighttime lineup while excluding right-wing Fox News (which is more expensive than CNN and MSNBC combined).

Everything about the Essentials package screams “retention offer” — marketed quietly to customers intending to depart from the cable company for economic reasons.  With 2011 rate increases forthcoming, it is logical this type of package will be offered as a last resort.  But don’t expect Time Warner to heavily advertise it to current customers, where it could trigger a downgrade avalanche.

Currently there are 16 comments on this Article:

  1. Tim says:

    Worthless package. Bundle up all the stations nobody watches into a package that costs too much for the minimal content.

  2. Tim says:

    Tim here too! LOL

    I would have to agree with the guy of the same name. And no HD? I could see channels exclusively on cable but for locals too come on. I really hope WebTV takes off because these cable co’s really need a reality check. People need to cancel their cable and get an antenna and get free OTA HD local channels that also transmit in 5.1 DD audio! I get around 30 stations in my area and they come in crystal clear, not like analog. With the new media boxes that turn an ordinary TV into a web enabled TV, you can probably find and play on your TV anything you pretty much were watching on cable and for a lot less. I admit there is a learning curve but it really isn’t that much harder than using a Windows based PC, actually probably simpler.

  3. James R Curry says:

    Barred from using a DVR?

    What if the customer already owns a DVR? Can Time Warner stop them bringing their own equipment?

    What a joke.

  4. FrankM says:

    This package, along with the “family values” packages on dish network, are just a way to have an unsuccessful, lower-priced package and draw conclusions that “a la carte would never work”.

    Meh. set your prices, and give me a la carte. If the chicken littles of the world really think that all channels will be $5 each, and low-viewed networks will disappear — they’re something called the free market that will take care of that.

    • Tim says:

      Absolutely, and the competition would be good for the consumer in the end. Also it would stop a lot of these networks going to cable companies for more money ,year after year after year, driving up prices not for the cable companies but the end consumer. Networks don’t want it because they would have to lower prices to get viewership. Cable companies don’t want it because they wouldn’t make as much as they are now gouging consumers.

      • Karen Fedrow says:

        Fabulous!!! We all have different TV viewing needs. I have been asking Comcast for an alternate package for years. We do not use the expensive sports channels and feel that offering various packages would certainly help many families keep their cable service.


        • I would be thrilled to find a sports-free package and lop a dozen dollars or more off my monthly bill. I watched golf once and required intense therapy to regain the will to live.

          I grew up in a home where touching the TV when football was on was punishable by death. From as far back as I can remember, I was livid waiting for the damn game to end (with the claimed five minutes of football play remaining — which really meant at least 30 minutes) because it was blowing into NBC’s Wonderful World of Disney — no Daniel Boone for me!

          Later in life, it made recording 60 Minutes and Murder, She Wrote (I was probably the youngest person alive that loved this show) nearly impossible unless you put the VCR is super long play and just recorded everything for four hours.

          Our television had football on it exactly once, and that was because my cousin was over here watching it.

          I’d love to be rid of all sports from my lineup if it meant saving some cash.

  5. Scott says:

    Still too expensive for what you’re getting, plus you’re arbitrarily restricted and now allowed to get HD or a DVR…

    This isn’t a service offering from them that they intend for customers to save money with, it’s only an offering to capture new low-tier customers that may sign-up who don’t already have cable service.

    Also, this bundle can’t be combined in a bundle deal with internet…

    The cable companies still don’t get it, and they never will. They’re going to keep tightning their grip till there’s nothing left and blame companies like Netflix for stealing their bandwidth, for customers pirating content, and for content partners charging them too much.

    • I think their bean counters got it, which is why this package was created the way it was. Everything about it says it is designed to punish the people with it. If a cable company made a package with local broadcasters and the top 12 basic cable networks, which would include TNT and perhaps Comedy Central, and priced it around $25, people would run to sign up.

      But not passing through HD, even for local stations, is petty.

      I don’t see a lot of people taking them up on this offer, which itself will be used as industry propaganda telling Congress people just don’t really want limited channel packages.

  6. Loons In June! says:

    “But not passing through HD, even for local stations, is petty.”

    Are the local stations not available through Clear QAM?

  7. Tony says:

    When will they wake up and let video go the way of audio. I want to buy alacarte! How about we pay per channel? Get only whT yoand get only what you want? Don’t want sports, don’t buy them. Want Fox and not CNN, knock yourself out. Want a movie channel and not the History Cannel, go for it.

    Get it, I wonder how many customers will show up for that flexibility? Buy channels instead of bundles like MP3’s instead of whole albums.

    Choice is not some bundle picked by someone who has no clue what I like.

  8. Margaret Thornton says:

    If you wanted to give us what we want you would give us a la carte service. I love my DVR but will be giving it up because I am being forced to buy down to what I can afford and that doesn’t include a DVR. I probably use about 15 to 20 of the 300 channels I have just so I can have the DVR that I have gotten hooked on. I also would love a no sports line-up.

  9. William The Great says:

    Time Warner just plain sucks.. I do not have their service nor will i ever have their service..Had it once and every bill i got was for a different amount..Never the same once..Nothing ever changed on my end but something sure did on their end..They think they have us by the short hairs as they are the only provider in my area.. But they forget the Internet also includes all the shows i want to watch..So they can shove cable up their hairy behinds until they get decent pricing and service!!

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