Not remotely surprising. “1000 channels to choose from and nothing is on TV”.
I would imagine I don’t use too many more than that — dozens of shopping, religious, foreign languages that I don’t speak, etc that I don’t even have in my Tivo channel list. Add in “news” channels that are endless drivel and ignore. Special interest that I don’t have. I’m guessing the following channels account for 95% of my Tivo recordings:
ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, SyFy, BBC America, Discovery, ESPN, NBCSports, NHLNetwork, USA, FX, FXX, TNT, TBS, PBS
that is 16 and even a few of those are rare
Bruce Springsteen even made a song about it in the early 90s.
The challenge seems to be that we’re not all watching the same 17… or are we.
“I’m guessing the following channels account for 95% of my Tivo recordings: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, SyFy, BBC America, Discovery, ESPN, NBCSports, NHLNetwork, USA, FX, FXX, TNT, TBS, PBS”
But that’s the thing: if we moved to an all a-la-carte market, do you think you’d pay noticeably less than under the current model?
The Disney sports properties alone would be $20-$25 a-la-carte, no? They only get $7 currently cuz they’re ‘de facto must-carry’. Add in your other sports, and you’re already starting to approach your current cable bill.
The current system only really sucks for folks who don’t want any sports…
“The current system only really sucks for folks who don’t want any sports…”
Actually, scratch that: households that don’t want any sports. That “households” word is key.
“The challenge seems to be that we’re not all watching the same 17… or are we.”
Nah. NBA contests, the CC 11pm hour, and HBO comprise something like 95% of my recordings, (and that only works cuz I buy the AMC shows I like on VOD.) But my significant other records a semi-wide (maybe around 17) variety of different channels. And if we had kids…
I second that Chucky. I wish there was a way to get cable TV without sports. My household does not watch sports and I would love to save on my bill. So frustrating!
@Chucky: Doh, somehow missed HBO, SHO and Comedy Central – at 11PM hour… :) Was too distracted at the time…
I’m guessing that there are a core 5-6 channels for most, then the remaining dozen or so are different.
I think that a-la-carte is good in theory but most likely fails in practice — I think that the industry line against a-la-carte is probably not too far off. The popular channels will survive but the specialty will go away.
Seems like a waste of space on the coax coming to my house. It’s why I like having a TiVo, I just select the show I want from a list. And it is also why I am slowly warming to the idea of cutting the cord again – With Netflix and other options, that don’t even include commercials, the compelling reasons for owning a DVR and subscribing to cable are disappearing. Where my current home is located, I can only get PBS OTA, but even with that I am still slowly moving down the road of cutting the cord. Only the NFL is slowing that decision, but I can subscribe to games through NFL.com. The day will come, it may not be this year or next, but it will happen.
“I second that Chucky. I wish there was a way to get cable TV without sports. My household does not watch sports and I would love to save on my bill. So frustrating!”
Wait just one darn second there. My NBA freeriding on your cable bill helps keep my costs significantly down. Think less about yourself, and more about me.
(Now, if you want to propose making each individual sport a-la-carte so I don’t have to spend money on the multitude of non-NBA sports my household doesn’t watch, then and only then will I sign your petition.)
“Seems like a waste of space on the coax coming to my house … With Netflix and other options…”
Of course, the multicast uses significantly less resources from your MSO than individual-casts like Netflix and the like. And I do mean significantly.
But if they only delivered it when we asked like netflix, would it be less total bandwidth than all the multicast being distributed simultaneously today.
“But if they only delivered it when we asked like netflix, would it be less total bandwidth than all the multicast being distributed simultaneously today.”
Total bandwidth is not the measure here. Resources expended by the MSO is the measure.
IP-cast is wonderful, but it’s quite inefficient compared to multi-cast.
I won’t disagree that multicast is more efficient for programming viewed simultaneously by viewers. But we watch things simultaneously because of linear delivery (with sports being the exception). However, where I’m going with this, is how viewing habits change in a on-demand / netflix style delivery of specific programming we’re interested in watching. My question is; if cable truly were innovative, and turned delivery on its head, re-purposed all total resources for 100% on-demand, would there be an excess of bandwidth for unicast delivery to all households? My guess there is loads of wasted bandwidth being used on channels not being watched (on a hub). If we were to look at those 17 channels closely, they’re probably related to a few dozen shows we’re watching. Basically, we’re not tied to a broadcast channel, we’re tied to specific content only at specific times. The whole concept of network DVR seems to suggest, Yes, there is more than enough bandwidth to give us content when we want it.
@James – I believe your idea has been implemented — at the hatred of all TiVo users. I am pretty sure that is what SDV is – which is why TiVo boxes need the wonderful tuning adapters…
LOL! Its slightly different, I’m talking is the death of the linear channel … not just switched delivery. It would equally be the bane of TiVo users; where any TV content is available to stream on-demand. Effectively, Netflix for cable; or 100% on-demand; no DVRing, just simple content aggregation of available programs to watch. I know for my cable operator, the on-demand selection for previous seasons has continued to improve. Just maybe if it weren’t for their crappy interface, I’d find myself using it more often.
Mari’s TiVo interview showed the ability of recording episodes in the past; which is more like on-demand, than DVRing. The line is slowly blurring, TV programming is being saved by the operator. I think eventually they’ll evolve to provide a Hulu / Netflix style of delivery; with the next step evolution being the removal of the channel. But, in the short-term, and with only a small percent of cord-cutters, there still too much profit to be lost in the approach.
My question was really just in theory; is there really a bandwidth shortage for this delivery model? I think some would be happy if you believed there was.
I stopped paying for cable altogether when I got my first HDTV in 2008.
I had already downgraded to ‘broadcast only’ stations after I bought a used Series 2 w/ lifetime – via Amazon Video I bought whatever ‘cable’ shows I wanted.
Then when I won a TivoHD w/ lifetime I bought my first HDTV & dropped cable completely, still buying whatever cable shows I wanted via Amazon, automatically pushed down to my Tivo.
Now it’s easier than ever to leave cable, even if you love sports.
Last year I bought the Madden NFL 25th Anniversary game just for the Sunday Ticket code – streamed from my computer to the TV via a Chromecast.
NHL/MLB are already available to buy separate from any cable subscription.
Like the premium channels but don’t want to pay for a cable sub?
Find a friend who subscribes and have them add HBOGo & Showtime Anywhere to your Roku box (this also works for ESPN via the WatchESPN app)
I expect choices like the above only to expand in the future.
“My question was really just in theory; is there really a bandwidth shortage for this delivery model? I think some would be happy if you believed there was.”
It all depends on your MSO’s infrastructure. I’m with FIOS, so there is no “last-mile” bottleneck for individual-cast video.
But coax providers do share bandwidth at the “last-mile” among its customers along each “local loop”, and I would strongly guess that if 100% of a normal coax MSO’s customers went to 7 hours a day of individual-cast teevee, things just wouldn’t work. Of course, different coax MSO’s have different levels of infrastructure robustness, but I’d guess even the best coax MSO’s aren’t even close to being equipped for your scenario.
(And that’s not to even get into the issues that occur prior to the “last-mile. Netflix, even at its current marginal levels compared to the multi-cast eats up a tremendous amount of total internet capacity all throughout the series of tubes.)
In short, I don’t think the infrastructure is even close to being there to support 100% individual-cast teevee. If you want to start a petition to get the Federal Government to borrow money at historically low interest rates in order to put unemployed construction workers back to work and build a national fibre-to-the-home network, I’d be happy to sign.
Boy there’s a lot of interesting threads to pull at here…
First, lets see what my household channel lineup might be:
HD only: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, HBO 1 & 2, SHO 1 & 2, ESPN 1 & 2, Tennis Channel, NICK Jr, Disney Jr, Bravo, USA, FX, FXX, CC, TLC, E, AMC, BBCA. That’s 23. And no, I’m not the one watching the Jr channels or E or Bravo.
As far as bandwidth for multicast vs unicast on demand… A typical US cable plant has up to 1GHz of bandwidth. They carve that up into 6MHz “analog channels”. So about 166 of those. Each 6MHz channel can accomodate about 38.8Mbps of bandwidth using typical QAM 256 encoding. Using MPEG-2 you can get about 10 SD channels at 3.75Mbps or about 2.5HD channels using 6X that at 15Mbps in each 6MHz band. So anyway, about 415 HD channels (assuming no analog or SD of any kind and no on demand either) or about 6Gbps of total throughput if all of it was IP and all downstream with no upstream or anything.
So if you used the same encoding (MPEG-2) that all the current cable STBs use, you could handle about 415 customers with a single TV in each house on a typical cable plant. Make the same choice as say AT&T that there might be three TVs in a house all watching something different simultaneously and you might be able to have ~140 customers. After that you’d have to drop in a new head-end. Sounds kind of small.
In fact of course you wouldn’t do that. If you’re going to upgrade everything you’d use a better codec. h.264/MPEG-4 is about twice as efficient as MPEG-2 so you really don’t need more than 7.5-8Mbps for an HD channel. But still 280 households on a cable plant is about what you could handle.
Now the problem with doing this NOW of course is that a lot of people are still watching stuff live. Even TiVo shows that 90% of viewing is done live, so you’d be optimizing for the wrong thing. In the imaginary future where we all do all our viewing on demand, as some of us commenters here do already, would it make sense? Sure. Will the cable companies even be around by the time we get there?
Thanks for the intricate detail, Glenn. Much appreciated, as it’s a topic I’ve long been interested in.
“But still 280 households on a cable plant is about what you could handle.”
Which raises the only question you didn’t answer: can the average coax MSO handle that load?
“Now the problem with doing this NOW of course is that a lot of people are still watching stuff live. Even TiVo shows that 90% of viewing is done live, so you’d be optimizing for the wrong thing. In the imaginary future where we all do all our viewing on demand, as some of us commenters here do already, would it make sense? Sure.”
Ugh. That’s most definitely not what I want. Thank allah for those 90%.
If the multicast were to go away in place of unicast, that’s the end of comskip. Those 90% are the reason why DVR’s can exist. Why do you hate comskip, Glenn?
(A good recent piece in the NYT showed how the last 60 seconds of an NBA game took 18 minutes to play out. I happened to watch that game, and instead of 18 minutes of drudgery and distraction, it took me about 5 minutes to watch a tightly paced compelling drama. And I stretched it to 5 minutes only because I rewound a few plays and watched them in slo-mo. If I’d just watched the action straight through, I could’ve cut it to 4 minutes or so. Why do you want to kill the NBA experience for me, Glenn?)
In a unicast-only world:
When I’m watchin’ my TV
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarrettes as me
I can’t get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say
On the subject of which channels are popular and how many of them we might all be watching here’s a nice dump:
@Chucky, I think the typical US cable plant using HFC (hybrid fiber/coax) have shared cable segments with a couple hundred homes though it varies by deployment.
Of course if we want to support live broadcasting we can certainly do that over IP. There are lots of very nice multicast protocols for sending video over multicast but none of them work on the internet. Of course within a cable plant run by a single cable company they could certainly make multicast video work, other than whatever problems they might run into once they hit somebody’s house. Don’t know much about what your typical home router/switch does with multicast IP personally.
Let me amend these comments a little after talking with a friend who knows some of this better than me.
There are LOTS of 500MHz cable plants in the US. A reasonable number of 750MHz plants, and only a few 1GHz plants. So YMMV.
Also he says typical cable plant segments are at 750MHz are targeted at 500 Homes in the US, though they run more like 1,200 to 1,500 in Canada.
Also, the math I did might be a little off, since without the need for a guard band you can get more than 38Mbps out of a series of 6MHz adjacent channels. Sounds like its more like 40Mbps per channel.
“Let me amend these comments a little after talking with a friend who knows some of this better than me.”
So for the nescient on the details like me, I still can’t figure the answer I’m most interested in: how does this all add up to whether the average coax provider could handle delivering high-quality individual-casts to 100% of their customers instead of the multicast, if they wanted to switch-over in the rather near-future?
BTW, found that Scribd’d list of ratings of channels you provided to the be fascinating.
Even if the average person only watches 17, it’s not the same 17. The whole thing is classic long-tail. The 60th ranked station has 20% of the ratings of the 17th station. The 86th ranked station has 10% of the viewers of the 17th station.
(I didn’t do the math, but I’d guess the top 17 stations have a minority of all viewers.)
Also, a good piece on the fragmentation of TV advertising (h/t toeman) that also covers some of the same long-tail ground.
That piece has an interesting aside on how small VOD is compared to the multicast:
But the average American spends 175 hours each month with their TV, compared to just 18 hours combined with Netflix and Hulu. Despite the connected set-top box hype, across the entire nation penetration is so low that use averages out at just a little over an hour per person.
So, it’s not 90% live. It’s 90% multicast, including DVR’s. (Or maybe 85%, depending how you parse their unclear syntax.)
“So for the nescient on the details like me, I still can’t figure the answer I’m most interested in: how does this all add up to whether the average coax provider could handle delivering high-quality individual-casts to 100% of their customers instead of the multicast, if they wanted to switch-over in the rather near-future?”
Okay, first nobody is going to do this. The amount of equipment they would have to throw away, the new equipment they would have to install, all without any way of recovering the costs for YEARS would make this highly infeasible for a publicly traded company that reports their results quarterly.
But let’s assume they did all that. Let’s also assume they upgraded their equipment to 1GHz since we’re playing this game. They would have to visit every home, upgrade or replace filters and taps, replace very set top box, etc etc. 550MHz plants would basically have to start over. But hey, we’re being crazy. Maybe its just one of the current 1GHz plants like TW in LA or something that we’re talking about.
Okay, so you’ve got 6Gbps of capacity. Rather than the previous game where we pretended that we’d use it all for video, let’s assume we need internet too. Lets go crazy and assume they use 24 downstream and 8 upstream channels for internet, or at least reserve them. Now we’re down to 134 channels. Let’s ignore business internet sales or whatever other stuff you might want. Lets also ignore the fact that DOCSIS doesn’t yet allow you to bond 134 channels–there’s no actual equipment available that you could use to deploy this to my knowledge. So there’s a few hurdles :-).
134 channels at 40Mbps each is 5,360Mbps. Lets assume there are 500 homes. 3 TVs in use at a time. That’s 1,500 streams. Leaves 3.5Mbps for each.
Using h.265 compression (maybe 60% bandwidth of h.264, which is about 50% of MPEG-2), or even just assuming that not every home has three TVs running at all times? Yeah, maybe you could do it. Just.
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