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The surprisingly sneaky rise of a la carte pay TV

Jared Newman | June 26, 2015
People have been asking for a la carte television and freedom from expensive bundles for as long as I can remember. And for just as long, Hollywood has said "no."

Granted, there will be holdouts. Sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports Network will hide behind bundles for as long as they can, knowing their particular brand of entertainment isn't as easily replaced. (Even in these cases, league-based services like and NBA League Pass serve as a la carte options for out-of-market teams.) The same will be true of round-the-clock cable news channels, though they'll face newfound competition from streaming alternatives.

Nonetheless, we'll see more networks slice up and repackage their programming in hopes of taking a bite out of Netflix (not to mention non-traditional media sources like YouTube and Twitch). The point is not to shift cable channels to the Internet, but to form entirely new channels to compete in the Internet age.

Over time, we'll even see some aspects of the bundle re-emerge, but only the good parts. Devices like Roku and Apple TV can offer centralized billing for all the services we want, along with new ways to search and browse content across each channel. You can already catch glimpses of this in Roku's universal search and Android TV's Live Channels app, and I'm sure we'll see major investments on these fronts from all the big platforms. Meanwhile, all the things that everyone despises about cable bundles--inflexible pricing, exorbitant hardware-rental costs, and sneaky sales tactics--will fall away as demand for those services ebb.

In the end, people will get exactly what they've been asking for, just not in the way we imagined.


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