Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not So Bright House

Much has been made over the last few days about an infamous survey conducted by Bright House Networks in Hillsborough County Florida. According to their survey results, Bright House says that fifty-seven to sixty-nine percent of subscribers never watch Public, Educational or Government access programming. It is their contention that with such low viewer numbers the number of access channels should be reduced from six to three, so they can put “regular” cable programming on those channels. They’ve been trying to get the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County to re-open the fifteen year franchises and eliminate a $1.5 million dollar payment to Tampa scheduled for 2010.

There’s a couple hinky things going on here. First, I recently conducted two separate surveys for two separate cities that asked about access viewing habits. Both of those surveys had access channels being watched “sometimes” or “frequently” at sixty-seven to seventy-seven percent of respondents. Quite the opposite of Bright House’s numbers. And while Bright House’s survey found that fifty to eighty percent of respondents didn’t think Public, Educational and Government access programming was valuable, my results showed fifty-four to seventy-three percent of respondents said access programming was important to the community.

How could there be such a discrepancy between what I found and what Bright House found? Maybe because they were asking the wrong questions. They should have asked the following questions of subscribers:

1. How many times per week would you say you watch the “Golf” Channel?

2. When Bob Eubanks asked Couple #2 “Your wife says your ‘blank’ is twice as big as your ‘blank-blank’” how did that make you feel?

3. How many times in the last month would you say you’ve seen the same Dukes of Hazzard episode?

4. “Cold Weather Boots” is a hot hit in other parts of the country, do you think its content is relevant to the people of Tampa?

5. One of our channels carries “Yes Dear,” followed by two back-to-back episodes of “Family Feud.” Do you think we should turn that around? In other words, two episodes of “Family Feud,” followed by “Yes Dear.” Or should we mix it up, say, one “Family Feud” followed by “Yes Dear,” and then another “Family Feud?”

It’s a dicey business trying to figure out what people will watch. Just last Sunday, my husband and I watched three episodes in a row of “Clean House.” It was cold outside and we had thrown a party the night before and wanted to couch potato all day. But we were mostly compelled by seeing what filthy slobs people can be and how wacky they can get about giving up their 200 piece stuffed animal collections.

When I think of all the crapola we pay fifty-bucks a month to see it burns me a bit to hear some unimaginative cable operator coming out of the gate with an argument against access. Particularly an argument that nobody watches and nobody thinks it’s valuable.

One theme that resonated in both the surveys I did was that subscribers did not feel they were getting value for the money. They complained about how channels had been added and the cable op had raised their rates and they were now paying for channels they didn’t even want (like Outdoor Fishing Adventures maybe).

My favorite write in response to a question to gauge satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their cable service was “I never would have believed I would have to PAY to watch commercials!” Seems this respondent remembers back to the old promise of cable, no commercials.

Cable rates go up, up, up! Cable companies cram as much advertising in as they can possibly get. Cable companies fight to walk away from obligations incurred by using public rights of way. And yet, they contend that how we manage our access channels and what programs are seen on them are not nearly as important putting the movie “Matrix” on fifty times in one month.

So Bright House needs to answer this question:

“Your greed is as ‘blank’ as your stupidity is as ‘blank-blank’.” Don’t worry, take your time, this is one show everybody’s watching.

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