Comcast tests channel bundling; new study finds a third will drop cable by 2016

Comcast is testing out a new type of pay TV bundling that offers its customers the ability to pick and choose which types of content they want to pay for month after month. Though it's not true a la carte programming, it's a step in that direction. The question is if it is enough.

The MyTV Choice trial was just introduced in Comcast's Charleston, SC, market. Customers there can choose from one of two "Get Started" packages, which include the major broadcast networks and some additional basic cable networks.

The choice basically comes down to whether the customer chooses to pay for sports networks like ESPN, which cost an additional $20 a month.

The first tier, called "Get Started" features about 55 to 60 channels, including local broadcast networks and popular cable networks such as A&E, Comedy Central, E!, FX and more. It's priced at $24.95 a month.

A second "Get Started Plus" offering includes all the same content as the Get Started tier, as well as an additional 12 to 15 entertainment and sports channels, including regional sports networks, ESPN, ESPN2, Golf Channel, Versus, BBC America and the Military Channel. It costs $44.95 a month.

Customers can then customize their channels, with bundles of content organized into themes like Kids, News and Information, Entertainment and Lifestyle and Movies. Each channel pack costs an additional $10 on top of the Get Started package. VOD options would contain content from the networks people have chosen to subscribe to.

The MyTV Choice offering is also available in Comcast's Seattle and Western New England markets. But in those other markets, the choice is available only as part of a larger, triple-play package that includes broadband and digital voice service. Charleston's offering starts as video-only package.

The Comcast deal is the latest evidence that operators are moving away from giant, one-size-fits-all packages of programming to more flexible and more affordable packages of content. This is happening as fewer and fewer Americans are willing to pay upwards of $100 a month for a TV subscription.

A new report by Magnaglobal, a media-forecasting firm, has found that the number of U.S. households without a cable subscriptions is expected to triple between now and 2016. All told, 9 million households won't have cable, the firm predicted.

Of those, about 4 million are cord cutters, people who once subscribed to cable but canceled it in favor of accessing television content via the Internet using a STB or computer hooked up to their TV sets.