Tulsa Cable

So long, Jerrold.

So long, Jerrold, it’s been good to know you.

In Pt 5: Tears for tiers (August 21, 2014), I said:

“(Analog) is an unadvertised (Cox) feature, and works for those with at least the Essential level of service. But there is no guarantee how long this will be available. The cable company will no doubt delete this anachronism without warning at some point, could be a year, could be 5 years.”

It will be just under a year from that statement; see the Tulsa World, 3/17/2015:

Cox Communications will soon require customers to use boxes for cable”
by Robert Evatt, World Business Writer

Excerpts:

“As technology marches on, the time has finally come: Cox Communication’s analog signals are being phased out, and as a result cable subscribers soon won’t be able plug their TVs directly to the wall.

“Instead, subscribers into Cox’s TV Starter pack, or those with higher packages that plug secondary TVs into the wall without a box, will need to get mini boxes in order to keep getting a signal after August 4.

“Bruce Berkinshaw, director of product operations at Cox Communications, said this move could affect up to 70 percent of all subscribers.

“’This is the biggest change we’ve ever done,’ he said.”

and

“The good news is that one new, palm-sized hardware per household will be available at no initial cost for one year; some Cox customers may qualify for an extended use plan. After the first year, Cox will charge $1.99 per month for each box in a household.”

and

“That’s the carrot. Here’s the stick — customers without a box will begin to lose their channels five at a time starting Tuesday, May 26.”

 


Sure and begorrah, St. Patrick’s Day could be a fine day to begin the savin’ o’ the green.

Previous blog entries about Tulsa cable TV

Effective 12/10/2014. Cox Channels 1-999 are Standard Definition, 1001-1999 are HD. Specific changes described on this page.

My previous research on Tulsa Cable suggests that when reorgs occur, they tend to presage price increases. Then again, the passage of time itself seems to presage price increases about as well.

For the record, Cox says, “There will be no impact to your bill.  Prices are based on tiers of service, not individual channels.”

Complete printable channel listing here:

http://www.cox.com/wcm/en/residential/datasheet/genrebaseline-up_online.pdf

cablecostgraph

Tulsa analog cable charge per month, 1975-2014

(1/29/2016 note: This price analysis considered only analog cable, which became history 8/2015. That was the only way to meaningfully compare prices over the years since 1975. More recent features as HD, DVR service, extra tiers of channels, phone service, security, etc. add considerably to the cable bill.)

2/1975 – $  5.95/mo
3/1986 – $10.60/mo
4/1995 – $21.00/mo
3/2008 – $44.00/mo
9/2014 – $68.00/mo

The first four data points I gleaned from published articles. The fifth I took from my current bill:

$68/mo = $71/mo for “TV Starter”, “Expanded Service”, and “Advanced TV Service” minus $3/mo to remove “Advanced TV”.

(FYI: The $68 does not include TV fees, taxes and surcharges of $6.33/mo over and above. Advanced TV is required for HD, and required for DVR service, which costs $12/mo more plus a cable box/DVR at $8.50/mo. Advanced TV also adds the Music Choice channels.)

From 1975 to 2014, that’s an increase of over 1000% (not counting inflation).


It’s hard to compare the years apples-to-apples, even when considering only analog service as I do here.

In 1975, the service was in its infancy. There were 24 channels, a number of which were static text displays.

In 1986, Tulsa Cable offered only “basic” service, channels 2-37, less at least 4 pay channels. But the basic channels were, as a group, much higher quality than 1975.

The 1995, 2008 and 2014 figures are for “extended basic” analog cable, roughly channels 2-63, less the pay channels.


Let’s consider only 1995-2014, years in which the meaning of  “extended basic” remains roughly the same, so that we CAN compare apples-to-apples. You see a 224% increase over that period. That’s a whole lot.

What are some of the mitigating factors from the cable company’s point of view?

Inflation is the obvious one. Using a CPI calculator for 1995-2014, I get a 56% increase over the period. That is, $21 in 1995 is equivalent to $32.77 in 2014. From $32.77 to $68 is a 108% increase over those 20 years, inflation-adjusted.

Other factors would include increasing programming costs, carriage disputes, system upgrades, e.g., digital, HD, fiber optics.

But 108% increase, inflation-adjusted? Wow. That’s an average of almost 4% per year increase on top of inflation. And it is expected to continue. (FCC: Basic Cable Prices Increased At Four Times Rate Of Inflation, Consumerist, 5/19/2014)


We as customers care mainly about the number on that monthly bill.

Seeing it almost double every decade (and that’s not even considering bundled phone, internet, and security) will eventually bring out the cord-cutter in everyone.


The value of cable/satellite service is relative to the free broadcasting available to you in any given year.

In 1975, that consisted of 4 analog channels. In 2014, the number of subchannels over the air approaches 30 (many of them HD), not even including all the full-time religious and shopping channels.

I found that we spend well over 90% of our viewing time on the major networks, subchannels (such as MeTV), and pay streaming services Netflix and Amazon.


Is it worth paying a minimum of $68/mo (analog-only, which very few customers do) for those channels that cable offers above and beyond broadcast TV?

  • Are you addicted to channel surfing?
  • Can you handle a less user-friendly system than the more integrated cable/satellite solutions?
  • Do you have the wherewithal to put up an antenna and hook up a Tivo or other DVR system?
  • Can you stand not participating in day-after water cooler conversations about “Breaking Bad”?
  • Do you have the time and energy to change over to broadcast/streaming?
  • If not, do you have the money to spare?

(Later note: we found that by answering the third question “yes”, the TiVo Roamio mitigated the first two questions.)

Only you can answer these questions. They’re not easy for most people. But if the curve continues to bend upwards, as is likely, there will be increasing economic pressure to seriously consider them.

I’m reminded again of a line from the 60s movie I mentioned previously, “Let’s Kill Uncle“:

(Uncle to nephew) “You’re a charming child, Barnaby, but five million dollars charming, you are not!”

Produced after hours at Tempo Television in Tulsa, circa 1986. Dave McFadden was inspired by the then-relatively new Weather Channel. Keeps the viewer up-to-date on the latest time readings reported across the USA.

I wonder how many people saw this in the 1980s?

There have been several subsequent take-offs on Dave’s idea. Here’s one from “On The Television” (1990):

What the ruckus was about
(Click to enlarge)

Cable TV was a little too saucy for some Tulsans in the 80s:

Tulsans Attack Cable Channel (Oklahoman, August 8, 1986)

Battle Brewing in Tulsa Over Cable Television Programming (Oklahoman, January 11, 1987)

Cable TV Obscenity Case Begins (Oklahoman, February 24, 1987)

“The Green Country Federation for Decency claims Tulsa Cable has violated Oklahoma’s obscenity laws with a movie transmitted on the Playboy Channel. Playboy is one of Tulsa Cable’s ‘premium services’ that, for a monthly fee, Tulsa subscribers can have added to their cable service.

“Tulsans for Basic Rights, the decency federation’s adversary, argues that residents should be allowed to watch whatever they want in their homes. When the decency federation last summer tried unsuccessfully to organize a Tulsa Cable boycott, Tulsans for Basic Rights countered with its own petition drive, voicing support for individuals’ freedom of choice.

“The decency federation claims its members are getting the Playboy Channel programs, whether they want them or not.”


A co-worker of mine circa 1980 got Escapade for free. But he said it didn’t violate his moral principles to tune in, since he wasn’t paying for it.

It’s possible his channel filter failed; I heard of people who boiled theirs, then replaced it in the circuit to get free premium channels.

Federation members could have asked Tulsa Cable for replacement filters, instead of subjecting themselves to so much titillation.