Light Reading

Pondering Pre-Paid Cable TV

Jeff Baumgartner
The Bauminator
Jeff Baumgartner

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        ADD A COMMENT
User Rank: Light Sabre
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?

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.          


User Rank: Light Sabre
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.

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



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




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.

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. 

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?
From The Founder
The comms industry is rallying to the cause of open, independent interoperability testing.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
LRTV Interviews
AT&T's Chiosi on the Potential of Open Source

10|6|15   |   06:27   |   (0) comments

AT&T Distinguished Network Architect Margaret T. Chiosi talks to Light Reading's Carol Wilson about the potential for open source technology to liberate communications service providers.
LRTV Interviews
Network Security in a Gigabit World

10|6|15   |   05:52   |   (0) comments

Masergy's James Harrison talks about some of the network security and data center issues network operators need to consider as they expand their broadband services portfolios.
LRTV Documentaries
Telefónica: In Search of Virtual Simplicity

10|5|15   |   07:30   |   (0) comments

Francisco-Javier Ramon Salguero, head of Telefónica's NFV initiative, admits virtualization initially means greater complexity, but with the right abstraction layer, it is possible to create a services-driven network architecture. He explains how Telefónica's current trials and initiatives are aimed at doing that, and what his company and other carriers need to ...
LRTV Interviews
Gigabit Europe Takeaways

10|5|15   |   03:47   |   (0) comments

Participants from the inaugural Gigabit Europe event in Munich share their key takeaways from the conference.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Intel Urges Women to Take Advantage of Their Seat at the Table

10|5|15   |   4:27   |   (1) comment

Have inclusive and constructive conversations, attach a bigger meaning to your work and get involved in the cause, Intel's Monique Hayward advises women in comms.
LRTV Interviews
BT Updates on Plans

10|2|15   |   03:16   |   (2) comments

Peter Bell, CIO at Openreach, the access network division at UK incumbent BT, provides an update on the operator's trials and how Openreach is planning to deploy the broadband technology in its street cabinets.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Sonus Shakes Up SD-WAN

10|2|15   |   7:22   |   (0) comments

Sonus CTO Kevin Riley sat down with Light Reading to discuss the trajectory of the company, its SDN ambitions and why Sonus is taking a market-disruptive approve to SD-WAN.
LRTV Interviews
CityFibre's Gigabit Vision

10|1|15   |   03:18   |   (1) comment

Mark Collins, director of Strategy & Public Affairs at competitive UK city network operator CityFibre, talks about his company's plans to help build Gigabit Cities.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
Automate, Scale & Create With Juniper's vCPE Solution

10|1|15   |   6:34   |   (0) comments

Join Kireeti Kompella, Juniper Networks CTO, and Steve Saunders, Light Reading Founder and CEO, as they discuss Juniper Networks' approach to NFV showcased with a turnkey vCPE solution, which demonstrates how service providers can use automation to rapidly deploy services.
LRTV Interviews
Gigabit Europe: Day 1 Takeaways

9|29|15   |   05:47   |   (5) comments

Light Reading's Ray Le Maistre and Iain Morris sup a beer and discuss some of the key takeaways from the first day of Gigabit Europe 2015.
LRTV Interviews
Gigabit in Europe

9|29|15   |   04:24   |   (0) comments

At the Gigabit Europe 2015 event in Munich, Heavy Reading's Graham Finnie talks about the availability of gigabit broadband in Europe.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
AT&T's Band of Women

9|28|15   |   4:36   |   (0) comments

Brooks McCorcle, the president of AT&T's partner solutions divisions and a mathematician by trade, shares stats on AT&T's diversity and advice on how to create your own band of women at work.
Upcoming Live Events
October 14-15, 2015, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA
November 5, 2015, Hilton Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA
November 17, 2015, Santa Clara, California
December 1, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 2, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City
All Upcoming Live Events
Communication service providers realize that an ICT transformation is critical to their long-term survival, but most haven't yet committed to making it happen.
Hot Topics
Google Gives Huawei a US Device Boost
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 9/29/2015
Verizon's Go90 Is Live – Will Anyone Watch?
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 10/1/2015
Eurobites: Dunroamin'
Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, 10/2/2015
Good News for NFV Interoperability
Steve Saunders, CEO and founder, Light Reading, 9/29/2015
TiVo Takes Aim With Bolt
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 9/30/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
With so many new and exciting communications technologies now under development, it's easy to get caught up in the industry's escalating hype cycle. That's why the ...
Last week saw a big day in the 15-year history of Light Reading when Editor-in-Chief Ray Le Maistre and I were invited to interview the Deputy Chairman and Rotating ...
Cats with Phones
Hold My Calls, Indefinitely Click Here