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Comcast CEO: Aereo Illegal, A La Carte Never Happening
by Karl Bode 10:37AM Friday Sep 27 2013
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told PBS in an interview this week that broadband live TV streaming company Aereo is breaking the law by refusing to pay retransmission-consent fees. "Here comes a company that says, 'I don't want to pay that fee.' Well, I understand that, but I don't think that's the law of the land," Roberts told PBS NewsHour in a segment about the future of television.

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Comcast's NBCUniversal is one of several broadcasters who have sued Aereo on multiple fronts in an effort to have the streaming operator shut down. So far, the courts have allowed Aereo to continue operations, refusing broadcaster injunction attempts.

Roberts also joined a chorus of cable and broadcast executives who've lately made it clear that despite consumer interest, they will never offer cable channels a la carte.

"If you had to pay separately for just PBS, probably, sadly, not a majority of Americans would do that," argued Roberts. "So there's many channels, whether it's Discovery Channel or C-SPAN or many, many others, that just aren't viable. You can't just buy the sports section of The New York Times. You take the whole paper."

It's telling when a legacy TV CEO uses the newspaper industry as an example of why Comcast can't offer more innovative channel bundling options. While broadcasters claim a la carte will never happen, the reality is they've fought pretty much every attempt at innovative channel bundling, a la carte or otherwise. While Roberts was paying lip service to pricing innovation via PBS this week, for example, his company was quietly cancelling their lower-cost, sports-free MyChoice TV offering.

While a la carte might kill niche channels, not everybody is sure that's a bad thing.

Most analysts agree the current model is unsustainable. There's an argument to be made for blowing the whole existing model up, with niche options migrating online to options like YouTube's new subscription TV service. Despite the hand-wringing by opponents of a la carte, niche options are already dying under the current model, with under-performing channels like Ovation being kicked off cable lineups to counter soaring broadcast network retransmission fees and ESPN rate hikes.

Regardless, for an interview on what the future of television holds, Roberts spends an awful lot of time talking about ideas, innovations and services Comcast doesn't want you to have.

116 comments .. click to read

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North Hollywood, CA

3 recommendations

reply to percosan

Re: He's Right

said by percosan:

So, not endorsing a la carte is making Netflix (also not a la carte) a success.

The irony


Also piracy...

As a modern day consumer I want to consume the content I want how and when I want it.

Aereo wrong


2 recommendations

reply to battleop

Re: He is correct.

said by battleop:

I don't see how Aereo can get out of paying retransmission-consent fees fees if everyone else who retransmits that signal must pay as well.

A La Carte won't happen either. The content owners will never let it happen because it protects their networks. There are a lot of networks like BET that would not survive A La Carte pricing.

So far, the courts have declared that Aereo does not violate existing law.
That is NOT true. No court has yet ruled on the merits of the case yet. The only rulings have been on whether an injunction was warranted or not.

Boynton Beach, FL

2 recommendations

He's Right

Brian Roberts is probably right, a la carte channels are probably never going to happen and the marketplace has already responded. You could almost say NBC, Universal and friends helped make services such as NetFlix such a success.

I do find the newspaper analogy interesting, he is absolutely correct you cannot buy just the sports section you have to buy the entire paper. That said, traditional media such as newspapers are on the decline and have been so for a long time. Maybe this is another case where the marketplace looked elsewhere to fulfill a desire/need?


Carlsbad, CA

8 recommendations

"You can't just buy the sports section of The New York Times

This analogy is utterly invalid and frankly shows both a little deceptiveness and a little stupidity on the part of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

Comcast just is not the NY Times. The NY Times is on the hook for CREATING CONTENT that they choose to bundle into a daily paper. They have fixed costs to recover from publishing that entire bundle. There is no mechanism for changing those costs based on which sections are read... Though clearly they COULD sell sections a la carte if they cared to.

Comcast creates nothing. They are a distributor, like the local newsstand. The local newsstand does not make you buy 5 other magazines just because you want the NY Times. Comcast has no fixed costs of publishing to recover. If next year's negotiation with ESPN says that a la carte pricing will yield only half as many viewers, then they negotiate with ESPN on that basis. Whether they get a better price or not, Comcast is capable of providing a service that does not require non-ESPN viewers to pay for ESPN.

Bethel, CT

3 recommendations

... and newspapers are doing so well nowadays...

Comcast CEO: "...You can't just buy the sports section of The New York Times. You take the whole paper."..."

Mr. Roberts is spitting in the face of his customers when he acknowledges that they want a la carte programming, but he will never give the customers what they want.


Avon, OH

3 recommendations

reply to whoyourdaddy

Re: lol i cut the cord brian

Sounds like you took his advice and stopped buying "the whole paper"! Instead of getting $0.15 for the Sports section separately, they get $0.00!


Honey Brook, PA

5 recommendations

I cut the cord do to your greed brian I want A La Carte till then I wont buy your service and the channels that I don't want