FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's a big fan of a la carte cable, or the ability for customers to order and pay for only those particular channels they want. His feelings on the issue, however, have little to do with economics, since it's very unlikely the a la carte model would actually lower many cable bills at all, as per-channel prices would increase to offset lower subscriber numbers. Martin's love of a la carte is driven by his views on indecent programming, one of his favorite talking points, and it drove cable providers to offer "family tiers" of bland programming in hopes of avoiding new regulatory measures. While the debate over the family tiers and a la carte has died down lately, Martin hasn't forgotten about it, and told an advertisers' conference last week that a la carte would help them better target their ads. His argument doesn't make a whole lot of sense: he says that with the current tiered system, there's no way for advertisers to know how many people are watching each cable channel, because companies like Nielsen don't, or can't accurately track such figures. While we'll accept the possibility that Martin's been misquoted or his comments taken out of context, it's pretty silly. Viewing figures and demographics are what drive TV ad sales, so to suggest they don't exist for cable channels is a bit off the mark. Furthermore, how would selling channels a la carte change anything? All it would do is lower the maximum number of potential viewers for any channel; it still wouldn't magically tell advertisers how many people are watching at any given time. There's a vast difference between subscribers and actual viewers, and selling channels a la carte or in tiers won't make viewing figures any more accurate. Furthermore, a la carte could actually hinder those numbers by limiting the number of people who can access any particular channel. We know Martin loves the idea of a la carte so he can eradicate the chance of indecent programming coming into the homes of the easily offended (and those without remote controls), but this latest argument for it really doesn't hold water at all.
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