Kevin Martin's Latest Rationale For A La Carte Cable: Better Advertising

from the reaching dept

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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Comments on “Kevin Martin's Latest Rationale For A La Carte Cable: Better Advertising”

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Ted Brown says:

It doesn't hold water at all?

From an advertiser’s point of a view, an a la carte package focused at a specific group (say, parents with young kids, guys in college, etc) would resemble a magazine in its marketing potential.

You say there’s a “vast difference between subscribers and actual viewers,” but… how? It seems that the number of subscribers (people who have voted with their wallet, instead of the far more capricious “time”) would be an incredibly accurate method for calculating potential eyeballs on the ad. This would translate into a tighter control on the value of specific times for ads.

I think you’d just rather demonize Martin because he dares (dares!) to hope that giving parents increased control over their idiot box would help stem the flow of perceived indecency into their home. As a parent, I would definitely pay the same amount for less channels, as long as I got to choose which. I value choice, and am willing pay for it.

AVonGauss says:


Based on the commentary, I would actually disagree – what would change is the quality of potential ad viewers. The difference is you would know the subscribers like the channel, enough to pay for it individually and odds are that they watch it more frequently. It’s much more valuable for an advertiser to know there are 75000 people interested in a given channel verses 2.2 million that receive the channel via a group package and might not even watch the channel in question.

Then again, advertisers are not necessarily that smart – repeating the exact same commercial on the same program three times does not make me fondly remember the company…

Anonymous Coward says:

A la carte will never work

The biggest problem with a la carte is that people support it with the idea that they will get significantly lower cable bills. They figure, “I watch about 10% of the channels on my plan, so if I only get those channels my cost should be only about 10% of what I’m paying now.” But it will never work out that way because the cable companies aren’t about to take a huge revenue hit like that. So they would price it in such a way that unless you’re only going to be watching 2 or 3 channels, there’s no way it’ll be any cheaper.

zeromus says:

Re: A la carte will never work

Either it costs the cable companies so little to give you the millions of worthless channels they do that it isnt worth the cost of implementing a la carte programming, or the cable companies actually get PAID, one way or another, for shoving those ad-laden wastes of space down your throat. Take your best guess.

By the time you paid your value for the three channels you want, the cable company is glad to throw in the million remaining channels you DONT want and get their kickbacks or whatever arrangement it is that lets them keep broadcasting ESPN. They get your money for the channels you want; they get their money from the networks for the channels you don’t want. In the end YOU the consumer are just an advertising venue. Enjoy it.

Wait, no, fuck that. I decline to participate. I don’t care what it costs. Until I pay $50/mo or whatever it takes for my three channels, and no more, I wont have anything to do with the cable company. I will not be used as an advertising venue.

I will not be used as an advertising venue.

CableCompFlunky says:

Re: Re: A la carte will never work

Cable companies want to put on certain channels like ESPN because a lot of people want to watch it, but in order to be able to broadcast ESPN they have to purchase 10 other crap channels from the providers in order to just get ESPN, then the ESPN provider says, we want the HG channel in your premium plan, and we want the Home Shopping network in your basic plan, and we want the worthless other channels spattered around the other plans you have, if you don’t do that then you can’t show ESPN

so, don’t blame the cable companies, blame the fucking distributers like sinclair that are all greedy fucks that think their shit is worth as much as something people actually want to watch, ROFL

Jake Lockley says:

This is BS

This doesn’t add up. How can subscribers be lost when most peopel would simply get rid of the crap they never watch? You can start by getting rid of all sports and foreign language channels – why should I pay for something I never use – are you telling me it’s lowering the price on the premium channels I pay for? Nonsense. It’s lowering the price for all the peopel who want sports and foreign language channels – like I care. Ditch home shopping, MTV, and make sure none of these companies get my money.

I have no problem paying $100 a month for cable and all the premium channels, what I have a problem with is the rates keep going up and I’m not getting anything more but I still have to pay for channels and support companies that I do not want to.

How do they get away such a line of crap? Lobbying. Plain and simple. They wrote the laws in such a way to ensure fair competition which means they have to keep adding channels we don’t want yet have to pay for.

The only solution at present is to go online and download programming which works (over the air HD programming is uploaded after the east coast airing), but not for all the random content.

PJ Jammas says:

Satellite TV

I recently became a subscriber to a Satellite TV company in. I could not believe how many unwanted channels I now have. I agree abou the ‘indecent’ channel comment. However to me the indecent channesl are the Tele-Evangelist and so called “Christian” channels. I find them offensive and insulting. I say go to a la cart programming.

If these cable/satellite companies want to charge us an arm and a leg for a handful of channels then, good. I am certain there wil be strong competition from smaller companies to pull that price down and equalize this injustice. This has gone on way too long.

Rick says:

It's not all about Ala carte

Personally, I’d prefer they came out with more pay channels. I know I would rather pay for news like CNN Pipeline than CNN on cable, as an example. I hate having a commercial break every 3 minutes. I invariably switch over to Headline News, MSNBC or FOX who often have commercials on at the same time, just to continue my ‘news fix.’ It just makes me mad and I’d rather turn the TV off.

If I could instead pay $9.95 a month for a 3-5 channel commercial free news tier – I’d jump on it. I can ‘pause’ the show and create my own commercials as I see fit – plus the news would be FAR less biased by advertisers they rely on for revenue. I could even accept 2 minutes of commercials every 30 minutes, if it was necessary to keep costs down. 15-25 minutes of commercials an hour is getting ridiculous.

If all channels were like this or ‘on-demand’ I would probably end up spending more than I do now, except I would enjoy television rather than hate it. I can’t stand even having to hit fast forward on a recorded show or watch the same commercial over and over again when it’s live.

Cable is supposed to be about entertaining me, but it has become more about satisfying the advertiser.

Michael (user link) says:

Time for Martin to go

This is another good indication that Chairman Martian has lost sight of the mision of the FCC. It is a regulatory agency, charged with protecting the public interest amongst other tasks (regulating existing rules, allocating spectrum, etc). The FCC is not a federal agency that should be concerned with the well being of the advertising industry, nor should decisions and rulings be based on the needs of that industry.

Martin is only prusuing rules that favor corporate interests, more recently the video franchising ruling that is a giveaway to the phone companies. Time for Martin to go . . .

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