Comcast’s MyTV Choice: Is this the future of pay TV bundling?

Comcast (s CMCSA) is testing out a new type of pay TV bundling that gives users the ability to pick and choose which types of content they want to pay for month after month. The MyTV Choice trial, which was just introduced in Comcast’s Charleston, S.C. market, isn’t true a la carte offering, as some folks like to think of it, but it’s a step toward more personalized programming choices becoming available to customers.

For eligible customers, MyTV Choice works like this: You 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 or not you want to pay for sports networks like ESPN, (s DIS) which cost an additional $20 a month.

  • Get Started. This tier features approximately 55-60 channels, including local broadcast networks and popular cable networks such as A&E, Comedy Central, (s VIA) E!, FX (s NWS) and more. Priced at $24.95.
  • Get Started Plus. This includes all the same content as the Get Started tier, as well as an additional 12-15 entertainment and sports channels, including regional sports networks, ESPN, ESPN2, Golf Channel, Versus, BBC America and Military Channel. Priced at $44.95.

Users can then customize their channels, with bundles of content organized into themes. Each channel pack costs an additional $10 on top of the Get Started package. Video-on-demand options would contain content from the networks people have chosen to subscribe to. Additional channel packs are as follows:

  • Kids. Includes networks such as ABC Family, Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS Sprout and TeenNick.
  • News & Info. Provides news channels, including Bloomberg, CNN, (s TWX) Fox Business, MSNBC and National Geographic.
  • Entertainment & Lifestyle. Has entertainment networks such as Bravo, CMT, MTV, Style and VH1.
  • Movie. Includes networks like Encore, Flix, IFC, Lifetime Movies and MoviePlex.

The Charleston trial isn’t the first test of the MyTV Choice offering; it’s also available to customers in Comcast’s Seattle and Western New England markets. But in those other markets, MyTV 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, but a Comcast spokesperson told us by phone that pricing for triple-play or additional services would be similar to pricing in the other trial markets, which starts at $92.95 for the Get Started package and $109.95 for Get Started Plus.

We’ve written about the Great Cable Unbundling before, and this is the latest evidence that operators are thinking seriously about moving away from giant, one-size-fits-all packages of programming to more flexible and more affordable packages of content. That’s becoming increasingly important, particularly as fewer and fewer Americans have the discretionary income to pay upwards of $100 a month for a TV subscription.

It’s too early to say if the package will catch on, or if MyTV Choice will become generally available in other markets. A Comcast spokesperson said the cable provider plans to monitor the results of the trial to determine how effective the service offering is, or if it’s worth rolling out more broadly.

My gut feeling, though, is that there are plenty of people who would love to save $20 a month, even if it means not having access to ESPN, or who would rather opt-in to having access to a channel for $10 a month rather than paying for a bundle of programming they never watch. That could not only save subscribers some money, but could help Comcast to fight back against the threat of users abandoning its service because it’s too expensive or doesn’t provide enough value.

Photo of Comcast Tower courtesy of Flickr/Kevin Burkett.