Would Proposed A La Carte Cable Bill Hurt Sports Channels?


Senator John McCain is introducing a bill that would enable cable companies to offer subscribers the ability to select which channels they would watch, and pay for and allow them to relegate the remainder to the waste bin.

The push is not his first try at this, he had a similar bill back in 2006 that did go very far, and the new effort, called the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 is designed to encourage the cable companies to offer freedom of choice for their customers.

ESPN and its related channels and packages are one of the more expensive set of channels available, and currently if you get basic cable a nice chunk of your bill gets sent to them. This in turn has allowed it to have a war chest that has seen it increase its power in the sports world by buying broadcast rights. If this passed and a large number of people opted out of its sports channels it would be weakened.

Also the growing number of league channels would also be potentially harmed as well. The rise of the SEC, PAC-12 and other dedicated networks has been helped by their channels getting bundled with other properties, something that the bill would outlaw. Would you pay extra year round to have a network that may broadcast only one sport that you are interested in?

However one interesting thing about the bill is that the unfettering would be voluntary, but does include some incentives to get the major players on board. There are a few sections that do appear to have some teeth in them. One of which is if networks pull their on the air broadcasts and put them on cable they would be stripped of their spectrum and the spectrum would then be sold by the FCC.

There are some other interesting tidbits in the bill including a provision that would prohibit television blackouts at publicly funded stadiums or even stadiums that have used some public funds. I am pretty sure that includes all of the NFL stadiums.

This type of a la carte push has been strongly resisted by both broadcasters and content providers and they will likely launch a strong effort to kill the bill or to at least remove its few teeth.