Glenn Beck network's addition to Hargray marks pricing change

dburley@islandpacket.comJune 26, 2014 

TV Fox Beck

In this May 4, 2010, file photo, Then-Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck attends the TIME 100 gala May 4, 2010, celebrating the 100 most influential people, at the Time Warner Center in New York.

EVAN AGOSTINI — AP

Glenn Beck is bringing his brand of conservative commentary to Hargray Communications subscribers -- for a price.

Starting July 1, customers can pay $5 a month to receive the ex-Fox News pundit's television channel, TheBlaze. Customers with Hargray's highest-priced cable package will get the channel for free.

Hargray executives say this is the first time the company will let customers pay monthly to add a channel, rather than including a new channel in a package and charging a bundled rate.

This pricing method, known as a la carte, allows customers to pay for channels they want. Think of it as ordering off a menu.

If it catches on, it could eventually reduce cable fees, the executives said.

"Rather than us charging every customer additional money to bring on content, we can offer (TheBlaze) to customers who want it, and they can pay for it," said Hargray vice president of sales and marketing Gerrit Albert.

TheBlaze gives viewers at least three hours a day of Beck. It also features a nightly roundtable conversation about the news, two reality shows about target shooters and a program called "Liberty Treehouse" for children -- a total of about 40 hours of original programming a week, according to its website.

Attempts Thursday to reach representatives from TheBlaze were unsuccessful.

Launched in 2011, the channel has been picked up by Dish Network and regional cable companies similar to Hargray. Albert said many local listeners of Beck's radio show called Hargray to request the channel. He said he did not know how many would subscribe to the channel, which will be channel 240 in standard definition and 417 in high definition.

Since TheBlaze has a smaller following than MSNBC or Fox News, Hargray had more leverage in negotiations and was able to sign a deal that allowed a la carte pricing, Albert said.

Usually, big media companies force Hargray to purchase channels in bulk and sell them in bundles, he said.

For example, customers can't just buy Nickelodeon or Comedy Central, both Viacom channels. Instead, subscribers must buy every Viacom channel with their cable package.

A la carte pricing benefits those saddled with a package full of channels they don't watch, Albert said. "It's about customer choice."

But it's unclear whether customers would save money if every media company adopted the method, according to cable-industry reports.

A December study by media analyst Laura Martin estimated the industry could lose $80 billion to $113 billion if a la carte was the only programming choice.

Though most customers would buy popular channels like ESPN, many smaller channels would disappear, wiping out jobs and costing networks billions in advertising dollars, according to a Los Angeles Times article about the report.

Other industry analysts say that ESPN and other major cable networks would charge distributors the same for one channel as they do now for the bundle. Customers would simply receive fewer channels for the same price.

Albert, the Hargray executive, acknowledged that the "jury is still out" on what widespread a la carte pricing would mean for the company's 30,000 cable customers. He said Hargray has no immediate plans to use the model with other channels.

In explaining a la carte, he likened the current industry to the record business in the early 2000s, before it was disrupted by iTunes.

A la carte pricing is iTunes singles; traditional cable bundles are full albums, he contends.

"People said the singles wouldn't work, that the music industry would charge just as much for a single as they would for an album," Albert said. "We haven't seen that happen. That's the kind of new business model we need."

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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