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 Of course, weren't we just saying that the concept of the "channel" is increasingly outdated?