Sunday, March 28, 2004

Cable charity

Duluth News Tribune (from Washington Post) | Cable industry defends packaging
TELEVISION: Critics say consumers shouldn't pay for unwatched channels, while the industry says smaller channels would die in an a la carte system.
In the dream world of some television viewers, they would pay their cable or satellite companies only for the channels they want. Some might not pay for MTV, because they don't want their 8-year-olds watching it. Others would turn down ESPN Classic, because they've already seen the 1975 World Series. Others would eschew TeleFutura, because they don't speak Spanish.

Reality is far different.

... Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., peppered Cox Communications Inc. President James Robbins, asking the head of the nation's fourth-largest cable company why consumers have to pay for channels they don't want. Robbins' answer: Giving consumers that degree of choice would cost too much.

Besides adding to the cost, cable companies say, selling channels individually might make it difficult for lesser-watched, niche channels to survive.

Under an a la carte system, top-rated cable channels such as USA Network would probably thrive because ratings suggest enough people would choose to buy it individually to make it worth a programmer's while. However, less-watched channels that serve distinct but smaller audiences, such as TechTV and BET, may not survive, because not enough viewers would pay for them.
You say that like it's a bad thing. Like TechTV and BET have a right to survive even if nobody is watching.

Interesting to hear a cable executive admit they're requiring customers to buy channels they don't want on purpose. It's not just an accident of marketing and technical limitations. It's because their vision of program diversity won't be achieved if we leave it up to those idiot viewers to decide what they want to see.

It's hard to pretend it's elevating our culture to ensure that Game Show Network, Speedvision, and the third ESPN network endure. (And I enjoy GSN.) And it's always alarming to discover a hidden subsidy at work where I was expecting to find market-driven free enterprise.

Why does this remind me of The Great Muppet Caper? Fozzie and Kermit are hot-air-balooning between and among the opening credits, and Fozzie asks, "Nobody really reads these, do they?" and Kermit replies, "Well, sure they do. They all have families." I'd hate to think the only people watching BET are their families.

(I'm linking to the Duluth paper because it doesn't require registration.)

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