We've been discussing "a la carte"
cable programming for years
, with the understanding it meant being able to pick only the channels you wanted to watch - in order to save money on your cable bill. In recent weeks the cable industry and the FCC have engaged in a song & dance to redefine "a la carte"
to simply mean the provision of family friendly cable tiers.
Every year at this time customers grapple with cable rate increases, and every year a la carte pricing emerges as a possible solution by consumer advocates. Championed and forgotten by John McCain, the push recently died when the FCC proclaimed that a la carte would result in higher prices
for consumers, much to the glee of the cable industry.
Then out of the blue, the FCC performed a complete 180
on the subject. A la carte is a good idea that could save customers money, the FCC suddenly declared. There's a number of reasons for the shift, and none of them have anything to do with a la carte's original premise: actually saving you money.
This new carefully choreographed song & dance is being dressed up as an appeasement of indecency groups who want to limit the volume of sex & violence on television. In reality however, it's a collaborative effort between the FCC, the cable industry and IPTV-planning-telcos, aimed at increasing revenue, and keeping Congress away from requiring real
a la Carte.
Both Time Warner and Comcast will release family friendly service tiers in a week or two
. In exchange, the two companies will get acquisition approval of Adelphia and Susquehanna Communications, without pesky competitive restrictions. These tiers will require customers to upgrade to more expensive digital television, netting additional profit, and solving another FCC and cable industry problem: sluggish digital migration.
Ironically, even one of the more extreme indecency groups, the The Parents Television Council
, isn't buying it. "Family tiers are not the same as providing consumers with cable choice, the ability to take and pay for only what they want. The cable industry is throwing up family tiers as a ‘red herring’ rather than having to face the real marketplace of fed-up consumers,"
says the PTC president.
The new FCC push doesn't help consumers, it doesn't appease critics of cable price-gouging, and it doesn't appease indecency groups. As the media hypes the coming moves by Comcast and Time Warner, keep in mind it's simply a Christmas pageant being put on by the FCC and industry.