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.
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.