What's TV Worth? It Depends How You Watch

/ Source: TechNewsDaily

"Time Warner Cable is holding your favorite shows hostage," warns a new website, keepcbs.com, about a feud brewing between the top TV network and a dwindling cable service.

The two are in a fight over the fee that TWC pays CBS to carry its programming, which could result in CBS disappearing from Time Warner Cable next Wednesday (July 24) for about 3 million subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But anyone missing "NCIS" or "The Big Bang Theory" can simply watch them on cbs.com for free, possibly using TWC Internet service. They could also watch CBS and the other networks for free after buying a good amplified antenna such as the $80 Mohu Leaf Ultimate.

New Yorkers needing their Mark Harmon or Pauley Perrette fix can also get it from Brooklyn-based online service Aereo, which operates a farm of antennas to pick up 32 broadcast stations and pipe them over the Internet for $8 per month — a lot less than a Time-Warner cable fee, which begins at $50 per month.

Aereo is also available in Atlanta and Boston, with plans to expand to 20 other cities. And CBS is one of several networks suing the company, so far unsuccessfully.

In other words, there is no way anyone who really wants to watch CBS won't be able to. There's also no agreement about what CBS should cost. Unlike HBO or ESPN, the major broadcast networks are meant to be free, and are required by law to be so.

That's if you use an antenna, which has its downsides. Reception may be spotty and affected by bad weather, and an antenna won't help you with "cable" channels such as AMC. To solve those problems, you can pay a cable or satellite TV company, which pays a fee to the highly demanded networks.

Viewers are slightly less inclined to do that, however. In a possible hint of " cord cutting," Time Warner Cable lost 119,000 video subscribers just in the first three months of 2013. But at the same time, it gained 131,000 high-speed Internet subscribers.

They may not all be subscribing specifically to get Web video, but certainly a lot are doing that. Netflix alone consumes up to 32.3 percent of downstream landline broadband traffic in North America at peak times, according to an analysis by network equipment vendor Sandvine.

And that's mostly people watching "TV," if a new report from research company GfK is accurate. The company surveyed about 500 people (admittedly not a huge sample) who subscribe to at least one of the following services: Netflix Watch Instantly, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu Plus.

Unsurprisingly, Hulu subscribers nearly always watch TV shows, since they are mostly what is offered. But Netflix and Amazon Prime subscribers spend twice as much time watching TV shows than movies. Netflix starts at $8 per month, as does Hulu Plus. Amazon Instant Video (the one of the three that does carry CBS shows) is included as one of the goodies in an Amazon Prime membership, which runs $79 per year. [See also: 5 Steps to Cut Cable and Enjoy TV for Half the Price ]

So what's CBS worth? It's an indeterminate amount of a $50-per-month cable bill, or of essentially free antenna reception, or of $8-per-month Aereo service or $79-per-year Amazon Prime or free on CBS.com, that is, after you pay for Internet service. (TWC's cheapest entry that can handle video streaming is $35 per month.)

Ultimately, it's worth the smallest amount that people can manage to pay for it. And no dispute with one cable company will hold it hostage.

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