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Study: Only 14 Percent of Cable Customers Satisfied; 73 Percent Want a la Carte

Dual Subscribers

PwC finds that though customers want changes, they aren't willing to pay much for them: "With TV in such a state of flux, companies must revisit their business models," says PwC analyst Matthew Lieberman.

A la carte television programming is a popular concept among consumers who presume they'd save money by ditching channels they don't watch, but given that only 38 percent would be willing to pay more than $3 per channel each month, it's not likely the idea will catch on with TV providers who aren't inclined to stray from bundling. Not at that price.

A new study out Wednesday from PricewaterhouseCoopers says that 44 percent of consumers would like a total a la carte system and that 73 percent of consumers would prefer a la carte or at least more customization of packages than is currently offered. Only 14 percent are satisfied with the status quo.

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When it comes down to it, though, even customers who want such changes aren't willing to pay much for them. Sixteen percent, for example, say they won't pay more than 99 cents a month for a channel they want, while 24 percent will pay $1.99 and 22 percent will pay $2.99.

At $8 a month per channel, the highest option offered in the PwC survey, only 5 percent say they'd pay up.

The survey also indicates that 57 percent would not pay more than 99 cents a month for access to an individual show each month, while 20 percent would pay $1.99 and 12 percent would pay $2.99. Only 2 percent would pay $8 a month for a show.

Despite the lowly amounts that surely would be dismissed as unfeasible by distributors and content providers alike, TV executives would be wise to note the popularity of the a la carte concept, says PwC entertainment, media and communications analyst Matthew Lieberman.

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"With TV in such a state of flux, companies must revisit their business models," says Lieberman. "The winners will be those that offer custom services or curate content in the most appealing ways."

For its study, PwC also held focus groups. "I have a bunch of channels that just sit there," one participant said. "If they could take them off and lower my bill each month, that would be great."

If given the a la carte option, 65 percent say they would subscribe to 10 or more channels, the most popular being basic cable offerings, followed, in order, by premium cable, sports, lifestyle, news, premium sports and children's programming.

The comprehensive PwC report also explores ways that consumers currently watch television, how they discover new shows and the amount of advertising they're willing to view in lieu of subscription fees. In regard to the latter, the rule is simple: The smaller the screen, the fewer the number of ads viewers will tolerate.

TV online is dominated by Netflix to the tune of 63 percent, while 49 percent go to the websites of the TV networks for their online viewing, 35 percent to Hulu, 28 percent to Amazon Prime, 25 percent to iTunes and 24 percent to HBO Go. Three percent go to Pirate Bay.

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Only 14 percent say they prefer a web service for their TV viewing, but 31 percent acknowledge that the availability of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others decreases the value of television to them.

PwC found that 55 percent of TV viewers use their mobile devices while watching television and, of those, 56 percent use them for activities specific to a particular TV show.

Lieberman said focus groups revealed that consumers want more programming guidance from TV service providers. For now, 59 percent say they find new shows through recommendations from friends or family, 45 percent through channel flipping and 42 percent via advertisements. Only 4 percent discover new shows through social media.

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Not surprising, DVRs are hugely popular, with 57 percent of consumers saying they record most of their shows for later viewing. Ten percent say they engage in "binge viewing" and 7 percent acknowledge that they often record shows but never watch them.

PwC surveyed 1,008 U.S. consumers ages 18 to 59. Seventy percent of the respondents have cable TV, 41 percent have Netflix, 26 percent subscribe to satellite, 18 percent use Amazon Prime, 16 percent use iTunes and 8 percent use Hulu.

"This study shows that during the next five years, an even greater portion of viewing of and interaction with TV and film content will take place on multiple screens and devices," says Lieberman. "Hollywood must adapt accordingly."

E-mail: Paul.Bond@THR.com