http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/business/media/13cable.html?th&emc=th Cable Relents on Channels for the Family By KEN BELSON and GERALDINE FABRIKANT Published: December 13, 2005 Yielding to pressure from regulators, lawmakers and interest groups, the country's biggest cable companies say they expect to introduce packages of family-friendly channels as early as the first quarter of 2006. Kyle McSlarrow, the head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents cable companies and programmers, told lawmakers yesterday that at least six cable companies, including the two largest, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, were developing packages of channels that would appeal to parents who want to shield their children from potentially offensive shows. Mr. McSlarrow said each cable company would come up with its own family-oriented packages and that they would be purchased like other bundles. He did not say how much the bundles would cost and added that cable operators still must solve some technical problems and revisit their contracts with programmers. The move is the latest effort by cable companies to head off pending legislation that might obligate them to block certain programming or sell channels to consumers on an à la carte basis. The cable industry has long opposed efforts to regulate its offerings and has argued that technology already in place lets parents filter out unwanted shows. The industry has also fought calls from advocacy groups that want to pay only for the channels they want to watch. Cable operators say that the amount of programming would shrink if consumers bought only a few channels, because the most popular networks effectively subsidize the less popular ones. But in recent weeks, Kevin J. Martin, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and several congressmen have pressured the cable industry to remedy the concerns of advocacy groups that oppose sex, violence and profanity on the airwaves. In acceding to that pressure, the cable industry may have addressed the decency debate that has percolated at least since Janet Jackson's breast was bared on national television during the halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl. But the cable industry may have unwittingly taken a step toward offering more à la carte programming, not less. The problem, industry analysts say, is that one home's definition of family-friendly programming can be very different from another's. One family, for instance, may want to buy a bundle of cartoons, while another may want religious programs and yet another may not want violent movies. For now, cable companies are expected to devise a few types of family packages to appease them. But inevitably, advocacy groups and lawmakers are expected to push cable companies to give consumers even more options to pick their channels. Yesterday's announcement was a move by the cable industry "to fend off à la carte for as long as possible and wrap itself in the flag of family friendliness," said Ford Cavallari, an analyst at Adventis, a telecommunications consultant. "But the fraying of the family-friendly package could lead to an à la carte world." The Parents Television Council, one of the loudest voices calling for à la carte programming, yesterday called the industry's offer to introduce family-friendly tiers a "red herring." The industry would determine what is family friendly and their control would be the equivalent of "the fox guarding the henhouse," said L. Brent Bozell, council president. Mr. Cavallari said the splintering of family packages was just one reason cable companies were likely to sell more programs on an à la carte basis in the future. Already, major studios like Disney are selling individual programs for the Apple iPod. Yesterday, Sprint Nextel said it would start streaming full-length movies to its customers' mobile phones for $6.95 a month. Cable operators overseas have introduced an à la carte model and found that they have not lost money and that viewers prefer it, Mr. Cavallari said. Still, the cable industry and television channels, which have been trying for months to head off calls for à la carte programming, are unlikely to give in easily. Cable network executives say à la carte offerings would make it harder to develop niche programming because there would not be enough subscribers to pay the cost. "C-Span could not survive," said Paul Colichman, the chief executive of "Here," a subscription video-on-demand service for gays and lesbians. "It is one thing to have a gay and lesbian à la carte channel with a community that is wealthy enough to support it. But other minority groups may not be so fortunate." Still, skeptics argue that à la carte service will not save consumers money because they will end up paying almost as much for a handful of individual channels as they would for a standard plan of 60 or 70 channels. Other executives, including Ken Solomon, the chief executive of the Tennis Channel, say that consumers will not want to choose a few channels from a list of hundreds and will end up choosing an existing package, just as they do now. "If consumers had to sit down and choose the channels themselves, they would end up overwhelmed and be confused about the choices," he said. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways: - Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org - By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.