Why do cable companies shuffle the channels?

My cable company just sent me my new channel lineup, and EVERY channel moved, aside from the local broadcast networks. WHY??!?!?!? We got 3 new channels. Why does that require playing musical chairs with the rest?

Food network moved from 51 to 29
MTV moved from 29 to 60-something.

Why not just leave MTV and move Food network directly to 60-something?

I just don’t get it. I can’t think of any reason at all, unless it’s to try to trick you into watching something you don’t usually watch to maybe hook you and boost ratings to increase ad money. But that seems like a stretch, and not very effective.

It frustrates me enough that I almost put this in the Pit, but after calming down a bit, I decided I actually want to know why. So… anyone work in Programming at a Cable company? (Preferably Cablevision of Morris, NJ?)

Most of the time there are contractual issues. When a local cable carrier picks up a new channel, that company negotiates a position on the dial (or remote control). Generally, most channels want to be toward the lower numbers as a lot of people have TVs that turn on to a lower channel and people will scroll up.

So Food Network feels that more people will find it at 29 than 51, so it probably negotiated that change. And probably all the other channels have to switch around to find a home.

In my experience, it’s usually C-SPAN that gets moved around the most as that channel has absolutely no leverage.

It seems to me that these channel shifts DO correlate with new programming options, and my belief is that they are getting their feeds from a different satelite, which may have a different numbering scheme.

The downlinks to the cable company don’t determine what channel gets placed where. The cable company modulates each signal at the frequency that they want, and sends it out on the wire. Like BobT said, channels move around sometimes because they compete for the lower numbers.

This happened in my area recently, and I talked to the cable company about it. They told me that A) they wanted to organize the channels into better theme-groups, B) they wanted to move the public service (CSPAN, local access) into the “basic service” channels at the low end of the dial, and C) they wanted to align the numbers with the lineup they use in neighboring cities where they operate.

Some channels, I daresay the more popular ones (MTV, ESPN, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network) didn’t move, but everything else did.

Oh, and two “basic service” channels were bumped up to the “premium” level, including the only Spanish channel. Which means nosotros amigos have to pay extra to watch Sabado Gigante.

Sigh… so it is similar to my most far-fetched idea.

Bleah. I can’t believe it.

Thanks for the answers, though.

I figured it was done because some putz was trying to justify his/her job.

Reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon:
“I really screwed up. We need to re-organize”
“Good idea…I have a few skeletons in my closet I’d like to lose too.”

(Or something like that)

(I think the other answers are more reasonable though)

Speaking about Cablevision in Morris County Specifically (I live in Boonton), they’re shifting the channels around to group them tightly by theme. This may not be as obvious if you just have basic cable, but right now, for example, the movie channels are spread all throughout the dial- with HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime all low numbers, HBO2, TMC, Starz in the 80s and 90s, and then all the rest of the premium channels (HBOL, BSTARZ, HBOW, etc) in the 300s… They want to group them ALL together, because it makes it easier for them to break out specific packages (say, the housewife package, with all the cooking, gardening and womens channels) and charge you piecemeal if they can’t get you to upgrade to the package will all the channels (which, FYI, is just under $100/month with Cable modem access)

I’ll tell you what I’ve never understood: If my town has broadcast channels 3 and 9, why the hell can’t they be on channels 3 and 9 on the cable system? I understand that early cable systems had to maintain VHF compatibility, but why not start by assigning the numbers that people already freaking know?

In Canada, there is the same fight to get to the lowest channel number. There are also rules that certain stations of national importance must be carried in the lower channels (below 70 or so) that are distributed on both analogue and digital cable systems, and are thus receivable by every tuner.

Thus when a new station, such as APTN is added, and the CRTC declares that it should be part of basic cable, the cablecos have to add it to the lower channels and boot something discretionary (and usually imported), such as the Golf Channel, into the higher numbers.

Here’s another scenario - local pressures. In our case, the cable company was taken to task by local religious leaders who threatened a boycott of the cable company and their customers because the pay-per-view porn wasn’t scrambled enough.

It actually was watchable, not that I watched it (wink, wink), but the picture was wavy and shifted left/right but viewable and the audio had a slight hiss, but you could clearly hear moaning and screaming.

I think they were only on late at night and I always assumed that the cable company wanted to have a balance - PPV porn good enough that people would try to watch it but bad enough that people would go ahead and order it to see what they were missing.

Anyhow, when this all hit the papers the cable company scrambled the picture and sound to a much greater degree and when they re-organized the channels the last time the local religious broadcasting station got to go to Ch. 3 (from 47 or 62 or something before), which is the one you always see when you’re turning the VCR off of course. I’m guessing it was negotiated.

So, we went from damn-near free porn at night to church services 24/7 and preachers asking for money while wearing $2,000 suits (talk about obscene!)

Channel shuffling is especially annoying if you have TIVO. Our local cable system moved a few channels around recently, but my TIVO wasn’t aware of it so it went on its merry way recording channel xx at 9:00 PM on Thursday (or whatever) when the program I wanted was now on channel yy. I had to go to TIVO’s website and fill in a form notifying them of them change! Then I had to wait until they verified it, entered the changes into their database, and eventually downloaded the changes to my machine. If I was conspiracy minded, I would say that the networks pressure the cable companies to do this occasionally in an attempt to discourage TIVO usage. :smiley:

We didn’t come here looking for trouble,
We just came to do the cable channel shuffle!

Basically there are two type of Over the air channels. Those who want cable TV to carry them and those who could care less.

For instance Ch 62 in Hammond is a weak channel, the FCC mandates a “Must Carry” policy. If the channel says it wants to be carried the cable company doesn’t pay for to have this channel.

So along comes WGN-TV (Channel 9) they say whoa if you want to carry us you pay us. We won’t envoke the must carry rule. WMAQ Channel 5 NBC says the same thing.

The cable companies don’t want to pay so they are like this is what we will do. Normally we don’t carry CNBC or MSNBC (both NBC products) or CLTV (Chicago TV News a WGN Product.) BUT if you let us carry you for free we will make room for your sister networks. They agree.

Now Channel 32 is Fox in Chicago (WLFD) they want a low number so they say. In addition to carrying our sister networks (FX, Fox Sports, Fox News) we want to be Channel 12 (looks like 32 get it) on all your dials. Since AT&T cable is pretty much the only one left in Chicago.

Now WBBM-TV Channel 2 (CBS) which is owned by Viacom which also owns UPN says we want all the above BUT also we want UPN which is WPWR Channel 50 over the air, to be on Channel 8. This not only standardizes(sp?) the channel but puts them between Powerhouses ABC on Cable 7 and WGN Cable 9.

Now all is well…Wait a minute Fox which just bought WPWR Channel 50 (as well as cable 12 AKA over the air Channel 32) may object to dial placement so a new agreement
is needed thus the number switch.

Also cable TV has limited space, it is hard to just add another channel. So if a channel isn’t watched a lot they move it up then one day BOOF gone.

There are more examples (like ABC owned by Disney which also owns ESPN which explains why it is a low dial channel number.) but you get the idea.

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out…

And is that what it’s all about?


The channels cannot match up directly with broadcast channels because the cable lines can operate as an antenna. This is often clear when there is a strong station that leaves ghost images over it’s corresponding channel number on cable (no effect on UHF channels as the CATV frequencies are different.

There is a slight delay on CATV due to the slight lagtime as signals are remodulated and piped through the system. Thus, if there numbers were the same, i.e. channel 3 was carried on CATV 3, there would be a ghost image on the screen, running a fraction of second behind.

Is that really still true? I say that because in Houston, our cable had ABC 13 on 13 and CBS 11 on 11. Both of these were strong signals you could pick up normally way out in the hill country.

All the major broadcast networks in new york (CBS2, NBC4, FOX5, ABC7, UPN9, WB11, and PBS13) have always been on exactly those numbers in every new-york area cable system I’ve seen and over the air as well, so I don’t know what Guybud5 means…

Last year my cable company did something good for a change…they arranged channels by theme. First were the local broadcasters, then channels in Spanish, then all the sports channels, all the news networks, the general entertainment (E!, Comedy), then movies…reruns, music channels, documentaries, and so on up to premiums - which was great because even if you don’t watch TV often enough to know exactly what channel is where, you could put it on channel 30 something and expect to be in the “news section”… but this year the channels are more jumbled up.

I thought that the cable company had categorized the channels in order, but was it just a case of channels happening to line up that way?

By chance, did the local cable company get bought out by another one? That happened here a few years ago and they eventually reshuffled our channels to fit in with the way they’ve always done it.