Roku's WealthTV Deal Is a Glimpse of A La Carte

By  |  Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

For folks fed up with paying too much for cable, a la carte television — the idea of paying only for the channels you watch — is the impossible dream, but Roku’s taken the first step towards attaining it with WealthTV’s 24-hour linear feed.

For $2.99 per month, Roku users can now watch WealthTV as if it were on cable, with a set schedule of shows streaming around the clock. This is the first U.S. cable channel to offer its content to Roku this way, though it’ll also allow subscribers to watch shows on demand.

To be sure, this would be a bigger deal if WealthTV was a popular channel. Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox Cable don’t even offer it in their line-ups. But it’s precisely because of WealthTV’s insignificance that this news has big ramifications for the future of TV.

While a la carte TV may sound great for consumers, it’s disastrous for cable providers and television studios, who would no longer be guaranteed revenue by forcing customers into extravagant bundles. While a popular channel like ESPN would probably do fine with a la carte — I’m sure a lot of people would give up cable entirely if they could subscribe only to ESPN for a quarter of the price — obscure channels would have trouble selling themselves directly to consumers. A lot of them would disappear.

For WealthTV, the potential benefits of pioneering linear Web TV on Roku outweigh the risks of supporting a la carte television. This is the kind of channel that could get forced out if a significant number of big-name channels went a la carte, but this move gives WealthTV greater visibility (I’d like to know how many of you heard of it before today) with the possibility of more monthly revenue. Considering that most channels collect pennies per month for each cable subscriber, WealthTV has a lot to gain at $3 per month.

A la carte TV could become a reality of more channels follow WealthTV’s lead. We’ll see.

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