Light Reading
8:00 AM A U.S. cable operator is said to be exploring a pre-paid scheme that borrows a page from the wireless world

Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV

Jeff Baumgartner
The Bauminator
Jeff Baumgartner
7/9/2012
50%
50%

8:00 AM -- There's an interesting idea floating about that would give cable an opportunity to offer video services under a pre-paid model that's proved popular in the cellular phone world.

The notion is to sell a simple and inexpensive set-top box at outlets like Walmart, Target and Walgreens and pair them with pre-paid cards (or maybe codes of some sort) that would load services by the hour, week or month. Or maybe it could be taken a step further and let consumers also buy some services individually – for example, an HBO card that's good for a month.

The rumor is that at least one major U.S. MSO is currently exploring a pre-paid model, and, according to a source, would involve a low-cost, two-way box that has yet to be developed. Another source said Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) looked into this idea years ago, but didn't follow through with it. It's not known which major operator is the one that's looking at it in this go-round.

My first reaction to the idea is that it could let an operator market video services to lower-income households and remove the non-payment risk factor from the equation -- something that Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) has had to contend with over the years by tailoring some of its packages for the lower end of the market.

But some other potential usage scenarios were brought to my attention. It could give cable a form of a la carte or a more metered option in which the customer would only buy services during a particular season (i.e., for students and snowbirds that churn out in droves in the second quarter of every year), or long enough to catch a TV series or the NFL football season. Or perhaps it could be made into something that would be attractive to consumers who have never subscribed to cable. Maybe it would make a good Christmas gift for grandma or weird Uncle Charlie. Who knows? There are lots of directions a pre-paid cable TV service could go.

But it's not without risk. Regular, recurring customers that take a cable's full subscription TV packages might be encouraged to drop them in favor of a pre-paid model.

And a lot would need to happen to make this idea go. As I understand it, the discussion also involves a two-way set-top box (so it could support video-on-demand and an interactive guide, perhaps?) that's yet to be developed. And it's not known if just any manufacturer would be allowed to make these boxes, because it's apparent that the cable operator would still be the one pulling the strings. But if the box is to be low-cost, I don't see how that happens using a CableCARD slot and module, which would keep such a device prohibitively expensive.

Digital Transport Adapter (DTA) boxes are dirt cheap (less than $50 per unit for hi-def versions) and use integrated security (thanks to an Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waiver) but are inherently one-way and can't be sold at retail under the current rules. Perhaps a two-way cable device with "removable" downloadable security could be developed that also sidesteps the FCC's current ban on boxes with integrated security. Just a thought.

And cable's billing, provisioning and backoffice systems aren't really setup for this sort of thing yet. So there are still lots of questions about how this would be put together and what a pre-paid cable service might even look like.

But if this exploration turns into something real, it could give cable a new way to establish a retail model for video services and succeed in an area that tru2way did not, and give the industry a new way to target consumers with video services. (See Tru2way: Epic Fail at Retail.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable



(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
shygye75
50%
50%
shygye75,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:28:20 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


Jeff -- Isn't this a bit of a stretch? The user premises still has to be connected to the cable network for this to work, right?

craigleddy
50%
50%
craigleddy,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 5:28:19 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


The pre-paid concept has been kicking around in cable marketing circles for awhile and I recall that some local systems use pre-paid cards for certain services (multicultural tiers, premium services, etc).


There is a sizeable population that purchases mobile and other services in this manner. As Jeff notes, it can be used for seasonal cable subs (college kids, vacation homes) and the large number of people who re-locate each year. The trick is using a cheap box -- and either selling it or making sure you can get it back at the end of the pre-paid period.


Yes, the connection already needs to be in place, but that's not a tall order since most homes and MDUs already are wired. Cable Internet and phone might come into play but at this point I think this is intended for traditional cable TV.          


 

shygye75
50%
50%
shygye75,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:28:19 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


There's definitely OTT potential, but the business case for this seems more suited to a company like Netflix.

paolo.franzoi
50%
50%
paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:28:19 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


Mendyk,


 


This seems like a perfect OTT addon for a cable guy.


 


seven


 

spiral
50%
50%
spiral,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:28:18 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


This sounds like a job for ActiveVideo. They could run the whole thing from the cloud to a bare-bones device, and use smartphones and tablets to control the experience.

AESerm
50%
50%
AESerm,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:28:18 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


Can you get around the two-way hurdle by pairing the DTA and subscriber with an Android or iOS app? Granted, that narrows the lower income target market somewhat. 

msilbey
50%
50%
msilbey,
User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 5:28:13 PM
re: Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV


jtombes- I agree. Why deal with two-way tech and a cablecard when everything's moving in the direction of IP anyway? Especially for on-demand content. A DTA already provides the linear content. How expensive can it be to add IP connectivity to the box to provide access to an interactive guide and VOD? It would be different if the MSOs didn't have another use for those IP assets, but they do. That's not something they'd be building for this service. It already exists, or is in progress. 

Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from The Bauminator
Don't expect anything more to pop for a while, but one analyst sees John Malone & Co. as the 'logical, ultimate acquirer of Ziggo' if the price is right
Cable operators will need to free up at least 24MHz of spectrum for Docsis 3.1. But why is that the magic number?
Liberty Media's rumored plan to snag a 25% stake in Charter for $2.5B could aid the MSO's M&A strategy
Top US cable operators lost 1.41 million video subs in 2012, but the bleeding continues to show signs of slowing in a saturated pay-TV market
Aereo streams its 'no cable required' tagline into the video world. Will consumers tune in to the message?
Flash Poll
From The Founder
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Documentaries
Optical Is Hot in 2015

1|23|15   |   01:56   |   (2) comments


Optical comms technology underpins the whole communications sector and there are some really hot trends set for 2015.
LRTV Custom TV
Policy Control in the Fast Lane

1|22|15   |   2:57   |   (0) comments


What's making policy control strategic in 2015 and beyond? Amdocs talks with Graham Finnie from Heavy Reading about some of the key factors driving change in the data services landscape. Find out what his policy management research reveals about the road ahead for policy control.
LRTV Documentaries
Highlights From the 2020 Vision Executive Summit

1|21|15   |   4:33   |   (2) comments


In December 2014, Light Reading brought together telecom executives in Reykjavik, Iceland to discuss their vision for high-capacity networks through the end of the decade. The intimate, interactive meeting was set against the backdrop of Iceland's spectacular natural beauty. As one of the event's founding sponsors, Cisco's Doug Webster shared his company's ...
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Pay-TV Partner Harmonic, Helping Carriers Accelerate 4K Video Deployment with Huawei

1|20|15   |   5:42   |   (1) comment


At IBC, Peter Alexander, Senior Vice President & CMO at Harmonic, speaks about the growing interest in pay-TV service and its branching into multiple devices.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Sony Marketing Director Olivier Bovis Discusses the Outlook for 4K and Cooperation With Huawei at IBC 2014

1|20|15   |   6:50   |   (0) comments


At IBC, Olivier Bovis, Marketing Director of Sony, speaks about the coming of the 4K era.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Pay-TV Partner Envivio, Helping Carriers Accelerate 4K Video Deployment

1|20|15   |   2:57   |   (0) comments


At IBC, Olivier Bovis, Marketing Director of Sony, speaks about the coming of the 4K era.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Pay-TV's Networked Future

1|20|15   |   6:29   |   (0) comments


At IBC, Jeff Heynen, Principal Analyst at Infonetics, speaks about the future of the pay-TV industry and its transition.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Jeff Heynen: Distributed Access Will Help MSOs Compete in the Future

1|20|15   |   2:26   |   (0) comments


At IBC, Jeff Heynen, Principal Analyst at Infonetics, speaks about moving to distributed access and the future trend of cable business.
LRTV Interviews
Cisco Talks Transformation

1|20|15   |   13:02   |   (0) comments


In December 2014, Steve Saunders sat down with Cisco VP of Products & Solutions Marketing Doug Webster at Light Reading's 2020 Vision executive summit in Reykjavik, Iceland. They spoke about Cisco's approach to network virtualization as well as how service providers can begin to monetize high-capacity networks through the end of the decade.
LRTV Interviews
Bob Wilson, Arsenal Legend: The Light Reading Interview

1|16|15   |   35:36   |   (3) comments


Arsenal goalkeeping legend Bob Wilson was Light Reading's guest interviewee at the 2020 Vision Executive Summit in December. See what the former soccer star and sports broadcaster had to say when he took to the stage in Iceland.
LRTV Custom TV
What MEF Third Network Initiative Means for SDN & NFV

1|14|15   |   6:13   |   (0) comments


Vitesse Semiconductor CTO Martin Nuss discusses the importance of the MEF Third Network initiative and why it's good news for SDN/NFV industry initiatives.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Frank Miller: Distributed Solutions are the Best Build for the Future - Part II

1|9|15   |   2:46   |   (0) comments


At SCTE, Frank Miller, Global CTO of MSO at Huawei, speaks about Cable 2.0 and its innovative future.
Upcoming Live Events
February 5, 2015, Washington, DC
February 19, 2015, The Fairmont San Jose, San Jose, CA
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 12, 2015, Grand Hyatt, Denver, CO
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
September 9-10, 2015, The Westin Galleria Dallas, Dallas, TX
September 29-30, 2015, The Westin Grand Müchen, Munich, Germany
November 11-12, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 2-3, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
Infographics
Hot Topics
Cuomo Unveils Broadband Aid Program
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 1/19/2015
BlackBerry Wants Net Neutrality Protection -- That's Just Sad
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 1/22/2015
FiOS Picks Up Pace Again
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 1/22/2015
Verizon Ready for Google MVNO Challenge
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 1/22/2015
Indiana Carrier Takes Fiber to the Farm
Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, 1/22/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive