Martin Again Beating Cable A La Carte Drum

from the tv-as-cafeteria dept

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s attempts to force cable companies to offer a la carte pricing have been largely unsuccessful, mainly because his contention that it will save people money is unlikely to prove to be true. But Martin doesn’t really care all that much about your wallet; he sees a la carte as a way to restrict programming seen as indecent by “family” groups whose TV remote controls apparently don’t work. He’s now gone to Congress voicing his support (via Broadband Reports) for legislation that would force operators to offer channels on an a la carte basis. Martin apparently again portrayed this as a financial issue, by saying that cable prices keep rising, and that consumers tend to only watch 15 to 17 channels of all the ones they have to pay for. Again, Martin’s insistence that a la carte will lead to lower prices isn’t certain, and it seems likely that per-channel prices would simply increase to offset any potential shortfall in cable revenues. If Martin wants to address the competitive problems in the marketplace that lead to continually rising prices, that would be great, but it would seem his real interest is in pandering to pressure groups, and any talk of saving consumers money looks like little more than a smokescreen. After all, he’s never really explained why the FCC suddenly changed its mind and decided that a la carte would be cheaper for consumers once he came into power there.

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Comments on “Martin Again Beating Cable A La Carte Drum”

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Dan says:

Cable A La Carte

I would like to think that I would get rid of at least 90% of the channels that I get now. So many channels and nothing on!!
But I think if channels are offered A La Carte, ALL restrictions must be removed as to what can and cant be shown on TV. All channels would have to have a description as to what might be shown. Then the choice is left to the people ordering that channel.
So if a channel indicates there might be nudity(whether there is or isnt) people have a choice not to get that channel. No more Janet Jackson syndrome!
The only channel that EVERYONE would have to pay for is PBS, since its a public channel.
Just my thoughts

Willard Lee says:

Re: You got it


What’s really obscene is having to pay:

1. for programming in languages i do not understand.

2. channels where the same screaming ninnies try to sell nearly identical trash over and over.

3. talking head channels, especially of the left and right wing extremist variety.

4. local government and education channels that are as interesting and informative as last months sour milk.

5. comcast and verizon (in my area) obscene to the nth, rates. if i see that “it’s the network” thing or that “it’s comcastic” thing again , i don’t know what i’ll do.

Jason Hartzog says:

TV content

Do you think the cable companies get a penny from home shopping networks and midnight knife auctions? Sure they do. If you have the option not to get 47 channels of get rich quick schemes and colon cleansing infomercials, you’re not going to pay for those. Then the poor little cable company is gonna have to charge more, which is fine by me as long as I get to pick which channels I want. I’m sick of playing the we swapped channels around, but we offer more now; So… got a one in 700 chance of finding it. A-holes.

Remember the national DO NOT CALL LIST. How about we use that for the cable companies piping in crap tv channels.

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

It's All About Choice

I like Kevin Martin’s idea. Honestly, shouldn’t I have a choice in which channels get piped into my home? If I don’t want any of the ESPN channels, why should I have them? I’m not interested in them, and I would rather have them not clutter up my channel listings. If I only like 15 or so of the channels, I should be able to set my box so I only see those channels, instead of having to scroll through the 600 channels I’m not interested in.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Forget Pay Per Channel, What About Pay Per Show

I like PPC. I think it is likely to lower costs. Certainly for people like me, who watch relatively little TV from a few channels. I don’t think the management/billing overhead would be that big an incremental cost: all the channels will still be piped into each home, all scrambled, but your set-top box decodes only those you buy. Isn’t that what the cable systems do already?

But forget about PPC. That’s yesterday’s discussion. What I want going forward is Pay Per Show. This is the Internet, VOD, iTunes, OnDemand model of buying programming, and I like it. Want a show, pay $1. Want a movie, pay $2. And you could get 50% off if you accept advertising.

The Internet and 2-way communications with cable cos allows us to buy our content on a much, much more granular level than the broadcast or cable TV models did.

grapeshot says:

Tsk Tsk

I totally agree with this post

All those commentators who insist that they only watch about 15 channels are probably underestimating what all they watch in any annual period. Maybe they should actually keep a diary for a while. Sure, you can set up which channels you think you’ll most need, but all it will take is a couple of “must see” or “must check out” shows on some channels you don’t have, and before you know it, your list will slowly increase. Only then you’ll have to pay even more than you used to for the 200 or so that you get now.

If you’re not able to find something to watch on most of your 200 or so channels that you get now, then you’re really not maximizing the choices you have. Personally, I’ve found that my DVR does an great job of maximizing my choices, and allows me to make the most use of the full 200 channels that I get. My DVR allows me to find obscure but interesting shows or movies that play at 4:00 AM on some nearly anonymous cable channel. Then I can timeshift it to watch when it’s convenient for me. In a way, that DVR is what makes having 200+ cable channels worth it.

If you’re really only watching 16 cable channels, then either you have a very limited range of taste, or you’re not really aware of what you’re actually watching. I don’t say this to denigrate having limited tastes. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to tried and true channels that you know you’ll enjoy. But why make the rest of us suffer because you don’t think highly of the value of having a choice of 200+ channels. And anyone who thinks that somehow this will reduce their cable bill is deluded.

Charles Griswold (user link) says:

Re: Tsk Tsk

All those commentators who insist that they only watch about 15 channels are probably underestimating what all they watch in any annual period.

I happen to be one of “those commentators” and if anything, I’m overestimating the amount of TV I watch. I actually can’t remember the last time I watched TV.

Oh, yeah. I worked at Sears a while ago. During really slow times I would sometimes watched the display TVs for a few minutes. I would invariably tune them to the History Channel, or something like that. If I’m gonna watch TV, I at least like to think that I’m not stupider for having done so.

To be truthful, most TV totally fails to entertain me. If I actually had my own TV, I would probably watch the science and educational channels, and the Sci-Fi channel because I’m a sucker for bad SF. Other than that, bleh. I have better things to do with my time than have some idiot sitcom insult my intelligence.

Davey says:

Re: Tsk Tsk

That’s nonsense, grapeshot. I know for sure we don’t need ESPN, home shopping, Fox “news”, Disney, and a whole bunch more. I don’t need to “keep a diary” to figure that out. I’m betting that ESPN takes a big bite out of my monthly payment, with no benefit to our house whatever.

There’s no reason we should have to speculate about what ala carte would cost. The FCC’s first step should be to force the cable companies to disclose exactly what every channel is costing. Then subscribers could decide whether ala carte pricing makes sense.

The problem is not mainly about the pricing structure, it’s about the structure of the business. Cable never should have been allowed to be more than a common carrier for content by independent producers. If Martin really wants to fix things, that’s where he should be looking.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Tsk Tsk

The problem is not mainly about the pricing structure, it’s about the structure of the business. Cable never should have been allowed to be more than a common carrier for content by independent producers. If Martin really wants to fix things, that’s where he should be looking.

I agree with this Davey.

I don’t know that the FCC should force the cable companies to disclose what every channel is costing. Cost is no predictor of price in a monopolistic market like this, and price regulation policy rarely makes economic sense.

Mal in the Morning says:

Choosy Mothers Choose Less

I don’t want to give a dime for any of the Sports Programming. I think that is the biggest cost to both companies and consumers. The Sports teams that get money from cable/satellite companies, bribe my politicians.
The people who want it can pay for it, but I feel soiled by giving those jock bastards money!

I don’t want ANY religious programs; be they dedicated channels, or paid programming on late nights. I want to protect my children from religious cultists. I consider it at least as toxic as hardcore porn, and should have the right to completely exclude it from coming into my home.

I realize that this is not the intent of Martin and his Oompa Loompas.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

Re: Choosy Mothers Choose Less

Mal — I disagree completely with your selection of programming content. So what. We should be able to select — and pay for — only the programming we each believe is “good”.

Since I am not privy to Martin’s thoughts, I have no idea what he has in mind. I just want to pay only for what I want to watch.

The Pay-Per-Program idea has a lot of merit, too. If it is on-demand, I will get to watch what I want, when I actually have time.

Jp Maxwell (user link) says:


I have been wanting JUST HBO HD for years. I currently do not subscribe to cable, but would like JUST that channel. In fact, (this is bleeding edge), but I wish HBO would broadcast on the new digital spectrum the way the local networks do. It could encrypt the signal and allow consumers to decrypt it either via a simple set-top box, or better yet downloadable software for Media Centers that would then renew the licence on a periodic basis via the Internet connection. Come on HBO, you’re progressive as shit with your programming let’s get on the bandwagon.

Either way, I think you are bing harsh that just right wing family values groups want al la carte programming. Oh contrare, I think there are MANY people that would go this route.

Ghost says:

And Who said.....

My concern here is… I get a bundle package now… I like my bundle and i’m fine with tht channels i get… only thing is now i want this one certain channel (Lets say G4TV) which is on the sports and information tier (and I currently have the Family package) this means adding 20 more channels on to my preffered package for 20 more dollars on the top of my already 89$ digital cable package when all i really want is the one channel… ‘a la carte’ could at least let me kill that one channel in my current teir, and add G4TV in its place….

No one said that Bundling had to go away completely.. in fact i’d rather it not, because I am quite clear that the tier/bundling/whatever-they-wanna-call it is a cheaper way of going about it, all i want is a choice in HOW my channels get bundled… Give me a 20 channel option at the same cost of my twenty channel tier, and that will satisfy me, even that way most people willl end up having to choose some channels that they might never watch, or might someday find an interest in…

Just remember the option for bundling isn’t at risk here, Martin’s only vying to put options in the hands of consumers… and i could care less if it cost me more or less if i’m not getting twenty channels of sports shoved down my throat just cause i wanted one extra channel…. and i could really care less what Martin’s motivation is (which i am sure is more motivated by pandering to parent groups and other ‘family tv’ advocates.

garr says:

al la Carte Cable TV

I am so fed up with certain channels on cable which I never watch but which I find myself reeling through with great disgust trying to find something somewhere on TV worth my time watching. Accordingly I am passionately in favor of the al la Carte mode.

I see it as a matter of free choice which I want and think I ought to have a right to expect as a free citizen, not to have any NANNY cable company tell me that if I want this certain cannel, then I must also take in a bunch of other disgusting channels. It is as if they are shoving this down my throat. It is as if they say, well if you want this good and wholesome tasting food, then you have to buy this junk food so we the cable guys can make a living. It has never from day one made sense to me.

I don’t know whether this would cost more or less than what we have now, but I say throw in on the market and let the market decide, rather than allowing the cable company to make such decisions. Sure it might drive some channels off the air. So be it.

Mark Stewart says:

Ala Carte Cable

In the linked post from this one, referencing why cable bills would supposedly stay the same if ala carte were an option, you make the point that most of the cost is for infrastructure. If that’s the case, then why the problem with going to ala carte? I want FEWER channels, not more. This has nothing to do with indecency…I just don’t like the vast majority of the channels the cable monopoly sells me. I’m 35…I don’t want to watch MTV. I cannot operate cooking equipment more complicated than a microwave…I do not want to watch the cooking channel. I don’t do home improvement and have absolutely no interest in TLC. On the other hand, I do like documentaries about places around the world and would like to watch the National Geographic channel. However, I don’t want to watch any of the ESPN channels. I do want to watch Fox News, but I don’t want to watch CNN. I do want to watch the History channel and the Speed channel, but I don’t want to watch FX, Spike, the Catholic channel, the Spanish language channel, the BET, VH1, the Discovery Channel, etc., etc.

I would go to satellite if I had a “clear, unobstructed view of the southern sky” but I don’t. I’m generally against government interference in the market, but cable company already benefits from its government-sanctioned monopoly status, at my expense. Therefore, I consider them fair game for external direction.

That said, if I were a tech-saavy entrepreneur looking for some way to make mountains of money with The Next Big Thing, I think I would look at a way to bypass that “infrastructure” you say I’m paying for. To begin with, I think I would look at the much lower prices being paid for Telecom in places like Hong Kong and South Korea, two places that have led the United States in broadband market penetration and which have SUBSTANTIALLY lower rates for access than the US.

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