Rich Warren: Will latest lawsuit improve cable menu options?

Rich Warren: Will latest lawsuit improve cable menu options?

An enticing new restaurant opens in town. With high hopes you sit down at the table to peruse the menu. The plank-roasted red snapper served with basmati rice catches your eye.

However, there's an asterisk next to the snapper that notes that in order to order the snapper you must also order liver and onions with mashed potatoes. So you move on to the lightly pan-fried grouper when you observe another asterisk that indicates it's only available with braised tripe. At which point you lay down the menu and leave the establishment.

Yet when you subscribe to cable, the cable company decides the menu. You only want sports, but instead it shoves the History Channel and OWN down your wire. Or perhaps you only want to view movies, but the cable company insists you also pay for MTV and Fox News. Or worse, perhaps you want Fox News or CNN but must take the home-woodworking channel and the cleaning-your-stainless-steel-cookware channel.

Enough is enough. Last month, Cablevision (which once upon a time was the Champaign-Urbana cable provider), filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Viacom, one of the largest cable content providers. Cablevision claims that Viacom is doing that much damage by insisting that in order to carry popular channels such as Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, CMT and VH1, cable and satellite systems also must carry such also-rans as Neopets, Gametrailers and Scratch. (The actual bundles vary, and these channels are listed as possible examples.)

This is not the first time a cable or satellite company challenged Viacom on this issue, and Viacom is not alone in forcing unwanted channels onto transmission systems. The suit might be public relations brinksmanship between Cablevision and Viacom, or it might ultimately change the way you subscribe to cable or satellite.

I don't subscribe to cable or satellite because I refuse to pay $30-plus per month for 30 channels, including 25 in which I have no interest. I would not patronize a restaurant that insists all my dinner choices be accompanied by foods I don't like.

It reminds me of the Jack Nicholson's diner scene from the movie "Five Easy Pieces," where he simply tries to order toast.

Another cable absurdity comes from a reader:

"I live in Champaign near Hessel Park. We aren't able to get U-Verse, or I'd dump Comcast tomorrow. I've been without channels for weeks at a time. On March 7, I finally got a tech to come out, and it was a disaster. He finally agreed that the problem is outside; according to him, there is a bad section of aerial cable. He decided to check the aerial cable drop but came in and informed me that the pole was unsafe and needed to be replaced by Ameren IP. He then told me that another tech was down the street and he might have a fix for my problem.

"Well, that didn't happen. I've been without TCM, channel 33, for over a week and also lose other channels intermittently daily."

After reading this letter, it seems that Lewis Carroll helped pen it, and I don't mean that as an affront to our reader. Talk about passing the buck.

OLED televisions getting closer

If you're waiting to be the first on your block with a large screen Organic Light Emitting Diode TV, your wait is almost over. LG promises its 55-inch OLED set this month for $12,000. Since LG announced no retail promotion or marketing plans, it probably will be summer before you actually can own this set.

While OLED offers some alluring benefits (such as blacker blacks), rest assured that the technology fails to offer four times the quality of a conventional LED-illuminated LCD TV.

Buy a top-of-the-line $3,000 55-inch LCD set now and buy $9,000 in Blu-ray disks with which to enjoy it.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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vcponsardin wrote on March 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

I got so tired of cable TV I finally dropped it altogether two years ago.  No kidding.  I returned all the equipment and told them I had had enough.  I got tired of paying $60-70 a month for hundreds of channels I never watch.  I discovered that most of the programs I enjoy I can watch on Netflix Instant or Hulu for a tiny fraction of what the cable companies charge.  And I can watch them whenever I want to.  I no longer have to wait for the show or record it on some box I have to rent.  I just hook my little laptop straight into my flatscreen and it's done.  I will never go back to cable TV--unless someone creates a cable company that allows customers to pick and pay for only those channels they want.  Now there's an idea whose time has come--pick and assemble your own TV channel lineup and pay only for those channels.  Maybe if someone can make a cable company like that I'd consider returning to cable.  But not until then.

Lostinspace wrote on March 21, 2013 at 10:03 am

I enjoy this column: useful, interesting, and well-written.

Still miss Greg Kline...

jdmac44 wrote on March 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Digital over the air TV (DTV) is a life saver.  I quit cable two and a half years ago and I've never looked back.  The picture quality, is as good if not better, than cable, many channels are in HD and I even get some channels that don't come with cable!  I have three PBS channels (not WEIU, but WILL, World and Create), a movie channel called THIS TV, a classic TV channel called MeTV and a few more. The only thing I miss out on is an occasional Bears game that isn't on Fox 27 or Illini game, in which case I take it as an opportunity to be social and go to a sports bar or friends to watch.  The only thing that's made me even consider going back to cable is my DSL bill going up, but being that it meant I'd still pay more for what I didn't want.

Put an antenna on your roof and join the revolution! (ironic, no?)