In New York Times,

The first hint of television’s unbundling actually came back in the 1980s, when viewers snapped up videocassette recorders.

I found defintions of unbundle in the dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com), but it seems they are not quite fitting in this context. What's your understanding of unbundling here?


"unbundling" is the opposite of selling bundles of services.

Cable TV services sold bundles, you had to buy a baseline package of channels before you could buy extra bundles of better shows and then premium content like movies. Unbundlign means you can buy access to a particular set of content without having to buy all the other bundles of services.

So netflix for example allows you to buy movie viewings delivered directly over the internet without even having a cable TV subscription. The first case of this could be people buying movies on VHS cassette rather than by paying for premium cable TV movie packages - but it's a slightly unusual usage.

  • +1 Agreed this usage of "unbundling" is a bit odd. But equally if not more so is whatever the writer means by "television". Does he mean the box you watch? the experience of so watching? the industry creating or supplying the content? I really don't know. Aug 10 '11 at 17:31
  • @FumbleFingers - I think he means the industry. So the TV industry should have realised that the no-choice show+network+broadcaster model was going away in the era of the VHS tape and so shouldn't be surprised by internet+iTunes+netflix business today
    – mgb
    Aug 10 '11 at 21:12

"Bundling" is a term used in commerce to indicate that a purchase of a single thing also contains another thing. It's considered a form of monopolistic intention. (The most common recent example of this is Microsoft "bundling" Internet Explorer with Windows, the argument being that there's no need to acquire a different web browser if your base purchase already includes one.)

The "unbundling" referred to here is the idea that television used to be available only through one avenue. It's not really, to my mind, a very accurate use of the term, but the idea is that television has moved from a system controlled by a small set of providers to having a lot of competing players.

  • Martin Beckett's answer has very good point, too. Grouping a lot of channels together in a package is also called "bundling". From the context, it's unclear exactly what's being referred to.
    – wfaulk
    Aug 10 '11 at 17:29
  • I agree that this answer expresses the article's meaning: the bundle of a TV, plus cable, plus networks pushing shows with ads, now being broken up so that you don't need a tv or a network or cable, just hulu or netflix or a VCR. But I think Martin's answer is the more common definition, splitting bundles of channels from one vendor (cable company) into individual pieces. Aug 10 '11 at 17:43
  • @Mr. Shiny: Duh. I hadn't noticed OP's link, so I didn't get the context. I'm glad I'm not a Merkin who has to watch all these sitcoms, and read about how many more ways the industry plans to fleece me. Aug 10 '11 at 23:54

The referenced article implicitly describes the "bundle" in this paragraph:

For decades, people watched television one way: through a boxy contraption, tied to a schedule set by broadcasters. It was all supported by advertisers and beamed free over the airwaves.

The bundle is the combination of the television, the shows, and the schedule that defined when shows could be watched.

VCRs began breaking apart the combination (unbundling) by making it possible to watch the shows on the television on a schedule of the viewer's choosing. Companies like Hulu contribute to further unbundling by allowing viewers to watch the shows on a computer instead of a television.

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