A La Carte as Censorship

by on December 9, 2005 · 4 comments

Need more proof that the a la carte debate has very little to do with economics and everything to do with content regulation? Well, here’s Parents Television Council’s Brent Bozell in the Los Angeles Times yesterday commenting on his desired outcome of an a la carte regulatory regime:

“Maybe you won’t have 100 channels, maybe you’ll only have 20. But good programming is going to survive, and you will get rid of some waste.”

Well isn’t that nice. Mr. Bozell is fine with consumer choices shrinking so long as what’s left on the air is the “good programming” that he desires. It just goes to show that, as I argued in an essay earlier this week, the fight over a la carte is really a moral battle about what we can see on cable and satellite television.

But is Mr. Bozell correct that a la carte “will get rid of some waste” on cable and satellite TV? As I suggest in my essay, it’s highly unlikely because one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The networks that Mr. Bozell considers “waste” (Comedy Central, F/X, MTV, Spike, etc.) happen to be some of the most popular channels on cable and satellite today. And it’s likely to stay that way, even under an a la carte regulatory regime.

So, despite the crusade to “clean up” cable, people will still flock to those networks in fairly large numbers. And the channels that Bozell & Co. want everyone to get (religious and family-channels) could be threatened by a la carte if too few people choose to continue subscribing.

  • mrf

    Bozell & Co. must also know that channels like Comedy Central and MTV are really popular and will still exist under an a la carte scheme, right? “Waste” does not necessarily mean “morally inferior.” I think you’re making an interesting argument, I just can’t quite see it all the way through to the conclusion you’re making.

  • mrf

    Bozell & Co. must also know that channels like Comedy Central and MTV are really popular and will still exist under an a la carte scheme, right? “Waste” does not necessarily mean “morally inferior.” I think you’re making an interesting argument, I just can’t quite see it all the way through to the conclusion you’re making.

  • Edward

    The risk to these niche networks is spot-on. ATR’s Tom Readmond echoed these sentiments in an op-ed that ran today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here are a few snippets.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/pp/05345/620247.stm

    “The debate about “a la carte” mandatory pricing is really a debate about
    whether the government should get in the business of telling an industry how
    to package and market its goods.

    The economic foundation of the cable industry is based on a “bundling”
    package model. The result of this business model is an unprecedented
    selection of diverse programming and networks in an environment that is
    growing increasingly competitive. Indeed, the Federal Communications
    Commission also has concluded that this is a logical business model for the
    industry.

    Bundling of goods is a common practice that we encounter every day in the
    marketplace. Consumers are offered bundled products when a supplier finds it
    the most economic model to provide products. When we pick up our newspaper
    in the morning, we get the news, sports, features, business, comics, and
    more, whether we read all of these sections or not. This is because
    newspaper publishers have decided upon a bundle of options that best meet
    market demand.”

    [snip]

    “The law of supply and demand is working as well — or better — in the
    cable industry than other sectors of the economy. It is unnecessary to have
    government regulation in a market that has proved it works effectively to
    offer consumers a large volume of diverse programming.

    Proponents of “a la carte” pricing want to force an entire industry to
    scrap a business model that has produced a thriving, billion-dollar industry
    and embark on an untested model that could threaten jobs, jeopardize
    millions of dollars in investment and disrupt a vital growing sector of the
    economy — all with no proven improvement for consumers.

    This is neither good consumer policy nor good economic policy.”

  • Edward

    The risk to these niche networks is spot-on. ATR’s Tom Readmond echoed these sentiments in an op-ed that ran today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here are a few snippets.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/pp/05345/620247.stm

    “The debate about “a la carte” mandatory pricing is really a debate about
    whether the government should get in the business of telling an industry how
    to package and market its goods.

    The economic foundation of the cable industry is based on a “bundling”
    package model. The result of this business model is an unprecedented
    selection of diverse programming and networks in an environment that is
    growing increasingly competitive. Indeed, the Federal Communications
    Commission also has concluded that this is a logical business model for the
    industry.

    Bundling of goods is a common practice that we encounter every day in the
    marketplace. Consumers are offered bundled products when a supplier finds it
    the most economic model to provide products. When we pick up our newspaper
    in the morning, we get the news, sports, features, business, comics, and
    more, whether we read all of these sections or not. This is because
    newspaper publishers have decided upon a bundle of options that best meet
    market demand.”

    [snip]

    “The law of supply and demand is working as well — or better — in the
    cable industry than other sectors of the economy. It is unnecessary to have
    government regulation in a market that has proved it works effectively to
    offer consumers a large volume of diverse programming.

    Proponents of “a la carte” pricing want to force an entire industry to
    scrap a business model that has produced a thriving, billion-dollar industry
    and embark on an untested model that could threaten jobs, jeopardize
    millions of dollars in investment and disrupt a vital growing sector of the
    economy — all with no proven improvement for consumers.

    This is neither good consumer policy nor good economic policy.”

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