McCain urges Clyburn to consider a la carte


John McCainFrom what we’ve heard, John McCain’s effort to pass legislation to encourage MPVDs to offer a la carte program options to their subscribers is going nowhere. He is now pressing his case with Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.

McCain said his bill – the Television Consumer Freedom Act — would incentivize rather than mandate an a la carte option.

“If enacted,” he wrote, “my legislation would allow programming tiers to remain, but also incentivize the offering of individual channels to consumers. If the MVPDs are right, and the current tiered programming model is the best value for consumers, then the programmers who bundle their television channels and the MVPDs that offer tiers to consumers should not be afraid of an a la carte option for consumers. My instinct tells me they are wrong, and industry references to a ‘Golden Age’ of television apply to everyone but the American consumer.”

He said that the response to his bill has been “astounding,” and that many welcome bringing some regulatory balance in favor of consumers. “For too long, the government has entered the market on behalf of special interest to afford businesses the opportunity to develop and markets to mature. That time has passed. As such, I call on the Commission to review this issue and take steps to shift this balance toward consumers, by providing consumers with greater choice when purchasing television video.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Not even the King of All Media – and we refer of course to Howard Stern – has the power to impose his will on the business practices of American corporations. We don’t mean to diminish the Honorable Ms. Clyburn in any way, but she is merely an acting chair, not a communications monarch.

Just as the FCC does have any say in the structure of a broadcast rate card, we also believe it has no say over how an MVPD offers channels to subscribers, other than stepping in when there is a case of alleged discrimination as in the recent misunderstanding between Comcast and the Tennis Channel (and we note that even in that case, the FCC was undone in the courts).

In short, the FCC could talk about a la carte – indeed, it was a favorite topic of former Chair Kevin Martin — but we do not think it can do much beyond that. As the FCC has a lot of pressing business on the table that it can and must do something about and on top of that is feeling the squeeze because of the sequester, we don’t that McCain’s bill will make any headway here.