FCC Changes Its Mind: A La Carte Programming Suddenly Cheaper

from the oh-really? dept

For years, there have been stories about whether or not cable TV providers should be forced to offer "a la carte" offerings, where people got to pick and choose all the channels they wanted, rather than having to choose between a few bundles that always include a ton of channels you have no interest in ever watching. However, when pressed about mandating an a la carte option, the FCC studied the issue and pointed out (probably quite accurately), that any a la carte offering would likely be prohibitively expensive for cable viewers. It would clearly drive up costs for the TV providers, who would have to create new systems for managing a huge number of programming permutations, rather than just a small number of bundles. It would also drive up the cost of acquiring content, since many networks only offer certain channels if the cable provider agrees to bundle it with a less "desirable" channel or two. All combined, it means that each channel in an a la carte bundle would likely be quite expensive, and most people would be better off just sticking with a bundle. Where this gets problematic is that if it's mandated, a good part of those costs still need to be dealt with by the providers -- even if very few people will opt for the (expensive) a la carte offerings. However, in the past year, it seems the FCC has changed its mind. It's expected to announce later today that the report it put out last year is just fine... except for that pesky little conclusion. Suddenly, they think mandating a la carte programming would be just dandy. While many people (myself included) would love to be able to pick channels on an a la carte basis, the likely expense probably wouldn't make it worthwhile.

So, why the sudden change of heart by the FCC? The Reuters report doesn't say anything, but one possibility is new FCC head Kevin Martin -- who is also known for being a stringent supporter of cracking down on "indecency" (perhaps more than his predecessor). Back in March, we noted that the crackdown on indecency could reopen the debate about a la carte programming, as many of those who support cracking down on indecency believe that a la carte programming is a way to avoid the "bad" channels and just get the "good" ones. Perhaps that view is now getting more attention at the FCC. Of course, weren't we just saying that the concept of the "channel" is increasingly outdated?



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    kingmanor, Nov 29th, 2005 @ 2:50am

    How a-la-carte do you want to be?

    First of all I don't understand how you can think the concept of a channel is outdated, and still want to pick and choose which channel you want. Just like cable companies bundle channels together, channels themselves are just bundles of shows. If you want to watch the Sopranos you need to subscribe to HBO by getting one of the premium bundles. But what if you only want to watch the Sopranos, not the oodles of movies on HBO? Shouldn't you be able to do that without buying a $100 DVD box set? Video-on-Demand won't work because although you can use it to only play the Sopranos, no cable company will let you have it without subscribing to HBO proper.

    Also, because channels are budles of shows, a-la-carte won't help the FCC indecency crackdown. There are a lot of kids-only channels, but almost all of the adult channels are pay-per-view only. HBO, while it has the uber-violent Sopranos and many R-rated movies, also has some very good kids programming, and you can't unbundle the two.

    I really think the FCC would like to do away with the bundles so they could stop forcing cable companies to provide the cable access channels. Wayne's World-type shows are fun to watch at 2AM sometimes, but nobody would choose those channels on an a-la-carte basis. There are also a lot of extraneous channels that have popped up in the last few years (Food, DiscoveryTimes, NationalGeographic, BBC-America, etc...) that I would never watch regularly but do have an interesting program I find flipping through the channels sometimes. Thats really the beauty of cable tv: channel surfing and finding something great on that you didn't realize before. Its the same reason most lay computer users have some portal as their home page, not just a Google search; There's lots of great stuff on the Internet, but sometimes you don't know what to search for, you just want to browse.

    The international channels would suffer as well. Most viewers of those are immigrants who like watching shows from their old country in their native language. But is the demand enough that cable companies would carry them outside of the major markets? The newer channels and the foreign channels may get dropped if no one opts-in to them. There is a reason ratings are measured in viewers, not subscribers. Cable will never be unbundled.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    DV Henkel-Wallace, Nov 29th, 2005 @ 7:48am

    Re: How a-la-carte do you want to be?

    First of all I don't understand how you can think the concept of a channel is outdated, and still want to pick and choose which channel you want.
    It's funny because the FCC is just getting around to this kind of choice when we can all see that the "channel" idea will become obsolete.

    The "channel" idea will become obsolete when you watch by just going to the BCC News/Star Trek/Sex in the City/SF Giants site and clicking your mouse on the show. Obviously there's a lot of infrastructure that will have to first be built between then and now....but that is where it's going.

    The fact is that the "Channel" idea was just a way to manage a bandwidth scarcity issue. The wired internet has far more bandwidth, more appropriately (for these applications) used.

    This will help the minor offerings, not hurt them.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 2nd, 2005 @ 9:22pm

    Re: How a-la-carte do you want to be?

    The programming offerings of the cable industry and satellite TV leave a lot to be desired. Their package approach is wasteful. The customer pays for a lot of crap he/she is not in the least bit interested in. In order to get the channels of interest, one is forced to pay for a more expensive package. This gives little choice for the customer. The industry ought to offer a fourth option a la carte. This will allow your customer to cherry pick and as a result be quite satisfied with cable fare. I only want to be able to pick the channels not the programs. You are taking the argument beyond where it needs to be. Every customer is different. The cable industry offerings should recognize this. So should you.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Tweek, Dec 7th, 2005 @ 6:44pm

    MTS Communications

    MTS communications in Manitoba Canada has taken an approach that is quite nice.

    They do use a tier setup with different bundles of service but each bundle lets you pick X number of channel groups. The channel groups themselves typically only contain 4 channels max. That way you really have more control over the customization of your package.

    The nice thing is that on top of this you can add on any channel you want out of a specific package, albeit for a premium.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Edward, Dec 11th, 2005 @ 11:15am

    Channels? We don't need no stinking channels

    Two great points to be made here. One is that the industry already is moving toward making particular shows available a la carte and on-demand, making networks or channels less significant. Which leads to the second point - if cable companies are moving that way on its own, do we need the Invisible Foot of the FCC or Congress to instruct the industry as to how to make it happen? Tom Readmond of Americans for Tax Reforms' Media Freedom Project makes a similar point in his column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. http://www.waynesvilldailyguide.com

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Kale, Mar 17th, 2006 @ 7:52am

    Re: MTS Communications

    I have to agree with this!...In my opion the cable companies have been sticking it to there customers for years!There isn't any competetion,other than "The Dish" .Bundles..are you serious!How many music channels can you handle!I want to be able as a customer to chose what I want ..not what they want to give me! I probably only watch around 10-20 channels...but they make sure you pay for over a hundred...along with their premium packages

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2006 @ 7:52am

    Follow the money! QVC.......HSN..... TV commercials Infomecials. How much of your cable TV time is spent brainwashing you!!!!!!

    WHat about religious channels you are forced to have included in you channel reportioire

    Is ALWAYS ABOUT MONEY!

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Fer Shizzle, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 5:31am

    a la carte

    a la carte would be really sick

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Hoad, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 5:31am

    Gators

    Florida gators are gonna lose

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Fer Shizzle, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 5:35am

    Gators

    the florida gators are the absolute nastiest team ever and tim tebow will mow you.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Fer Shizzle, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 5:42am

    Me

    i like the 8==D,


    go bucks

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    J Neely, Dec 20th, 2006 @ 11:15am

    Gators

    wow the gators are the best team ever to exist in the NCAA i wish ohio state was as good as them this year. either way i think the Gators will win the national championship because of their nastyness

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    jerald, Feb 23rd, 2007 @ 12:17pm

    cable by channel

    I have never bought cable television because I never wanted to pay for content that I never use, and especially because I did not want to support the ultra-right wing nuts that tend to proliferate on the cable networks.

    I wouldn't mind a little less violence or a little more sensitivity for the sake of the kids, but those wack jobs on the right make it impossible for me to invite cable into my household.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Douglas Adams, Apr 30th, 2007 @ 1:36am

    Choose you channels

    I hope to God that the FCC mandates that people who are now paying huge cable bills will finally get to choose the channels that want to watch. I pay $80 per month to watch the channels I want to see. I never watch over half the channels that I am forced to pay for. To say that the paying customers must pay much more for their choice is simply untrue. I worked in the computer field for 30 years. The can be done for very little money. The cable companies are just afraid that they will lose money. They should lose money; their rates are far too high in this country. The FCC should madate this change.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Douglas Adams, Apr 30th, 2007 @ 1:40am

    Choose your channels

    I hope to God that the FCC mandates that people who are now paying huge cable bills will finally get to choose the channels that want to watch. I pay $80 per month to watch the channels I want to see. I never watch over half the channels that I am forced to pay for. To say that the paying customers must pay much more for their choice is simply untrue. The can be done for very little money. I worked in the computer field for 30 years. The cable companies are just afraid that they will lose money. They should lose money; their rates are far too high in this country. The FCC should madate this change.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2008 @ 5:34pm

    How anyone could say picking your own channels would make it to expensive, is absurd it is already priced out of reach of everyone below the upper middle class.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Tom, Nov 15th, 2009 @ 6:43pm

    Cable Co hates A La Carte and is a monopoly!

    100 channels which are crap and are missing some channels you want: $80 a month. If you want the missing channels fork over the dough for the $100 a month package. Still missing one or two channels you want? Pay $150 a month of the deluxe package.

    or

    __ channels that you want, $1.00 per channel = $__ a month

    Of course the cable company is going to say it is more expensive. There are going to say "All the channels in the lineup * $1.00 per channel = $$$$ a month". Studies show people watch 20 channels max. No one is going to buy all the channels in the lineup. Are you really going to buy the infomercial, shopping, music, satellite radio, or religious channels if they were A La Carte? I doubt many people would. That is what scares the shit out of the Cable Co. They know no one would buy all that junk and it would eat into their profits. The profits they are willing to spend to lobby congress to ignore A La Carte.

     

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