Friday, January 11, 2008

Defending the universally loathed: TV: Shopping channels

Published in the Portland Phoenix, the Boston Phoenix, and the Providence Phoenix; part of a multi-part story

TV: Shopping channels
As detestable as they are, someone loves those shopping channels on TV. They bring in more than $10 billion a year to the washed-up non-celebrities pitching second-rate knives, dresses, jewelry, and cleaning supplies.

There is, however, a very compelling reason you, too, should love the shopping channels, and thank your lucky stars they exist: your cable bill would be higher than it is now — by as much as a few bucks a month, depending on where you live — if the “basic cable” package did not include shopping channels.

In many markets, cable companies are required by federal regulations to carry shopping channels. As a result, the cable companies don’t pay to transmit shopping channels (just as they don’t pay to carry other local broadcast stations or community-access channels). But unlike those other channels, shopping networks kick back a percentage of their sales revenues. So the more knives sold, the less likely your cable bill is to rise.

(Sure, nothing is stopping your cable company from racking the rates, except competition from satellite TV and Internet video, but if the feds require cable companies to sell channels individually, you’ll pay more for the same channels, and losing that shopping-network revenue is part of why.)

So every now and again, when you’re feeling bored, check out a shopping channel, and make sure you have a knife for every occasion. If you’re missing one for, say, cutting out your own appendix, go ahead and buy it. It’s just $9.99, you can pay in 15 easy installments of just 67 cents each, and you’ll keep your future cable bills down, too.