Television reception, despite the switch to digital television, sometime proves spotty, and many consumers have responded to the change in broadcasting signals from analog to digital by investigating the benefits of basic cable television. Basic connections generally require no extra equipment, offer consumers local channels and special-interest programming, and seldom experience service interruptions due to inclement weather.
Basic Service Saves Money
Most cable companies must provide basic levels of service as required by the Federal Communications Commission, and exceptions to this rule only apply in markets that have very small numbers of subscribers. Consumers get basic programming that includes the major networks, local channels, PBS, government-access channels and popular channels like The Weather Channel, ESPN, ION and AMC.
- Cable companies typically try to upsell consumers by offering programming packages, extra features and premium channels, but consumers can elect to buy only basic cable service.
- Consumers might prefer to bundle television-programming packages with Internet and/or home phone services. The savings could make premium packages more attractive and affordable.
- Most cable companies include 30 to 40 channels of programming in basic service, and monthly rates range from $10 to $25 per month.
- Consumers can save up to $80 a month or more by choosing basic services. Customers still have choices of watching next-day rebroadcasts and classic reruns over the Internet. Thrifty consumers could also borrow recent movies from their local libraries.
New Rules Regarding Encryption
The FCC used to prohibit encrypting basic cable services, but recent changes in regulations address industry concerns about consumers stealing cable services. People easily split their cables and share service with other families in the same homes or buildings, so the FCC has responded by allowing service providers to encrypt basic service.
- Encryption means that consumers need cable boxes to decode the signals, so nonsubscribers cannot tap into cable lines illegally.
- Industry experts estimate that cable companies lose up to $5 billion annually due to people stealing cable services.
- The new regulations require cable operators to furnish decryption codes to third-party receiver manufacturers so that consumers need not rent boxes from cable providers.
- The changes in regulations might allow third-party companies to offer limited cable services under licenses granted by established cable companies.
Advanced Programming Offers Many Benefits
Premium programming includes custom sports packages, original shows, and Emmy-winning shows that push the boundaries of creative, adult television. Chips and parental controls allow parents to limit the programs that their children can view.
- Live boxing events, mixed martial arts programming and international soccer matches offer consumers broader choices for watching sports.
- Some cable providers offer concert events, Broadway shows, stand-up comedy sets and documentary films
- Special channels offer soft pornographic films or hardcore content.
- Most premium channels offer limited advertising and movies and shows that feature no interruptions for commercial endorsements during broadcasts.
Cable television offers high-definition channels without requiring special equipment, but busy people might have little spare time to watch television. In these cases, basic cable services offer plenty of choices at affordable rates, and consumers need not sign long-term service contracts, buy special equipment or spend lots of time hooking up broadcast-television antennas, video boxes, satellite dishes and converter boxes. Of course, the new FCC regulations might require leasing or buying converter boxes, but most cable companies have yet to make changes in their encryption policies.
Popular Channels for Basic Cable Programming
Consumers might want to explore the channels that different providers offer before choosing basic plans. Most cable companies offer local channels, but optional channels could prove important to many families. Viewing popularity in 2012 tended top favor the following networks:
- Bravo, Cartoon Network and Style advanced in the ratings among television viewers in 2012.
- The Lifetime Network rose 7 percent in viewership due to original series and movies.
- Comedy Central lost 15 percent of its viewers.
- The USA Network tops cable channels among viewers, and Disney and ESPN rank second and third respectively.
- Other top-10 channels include the History, TNT, Fox News, TBS, A&E, Adult Swim and FX channels.
Other popular channels for basic programming packages include SyFy science fiction shows, MTV music television, Discovery, Bravo, Comedy Central, Lifetime, Food Network, TLC for educational viewing, and CNN. Most cable networks carry these basic shows, but consumers might prefer home-shopping channels, foreign-language programming, premium channels such as Cinemax, Showtime and HBO or other viewing options.
Balancing Choices with Budgetary and Time Constraints
Choosing the best cable services depends on personal preferences, viewing habits and entertainment budgets. People who only watch television occasionally or want to save money might choose basic service, but those who watch movies, sports programming and premium channels get better deals by choosing custom programming packages.
Cable systems offer anywhere from 10 channels to more than 30 in large markets as standard cable channels. Many people supplement their television viewing with Web-based programs and movies, so choose a cable plan carefully based on which shows the family watches, bundling-services options and available digital broadcasts in the region. Basic cable service suits many families and offers plenty of channels for more than half of the nation’s television viewers.