[opendtv] News: Cable Relents on Channels for the Family

  • From: OpenDTV <opendtv@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005 08:43:55 -0500


Cable Relents on Channels for the Family


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 

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 

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 

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 
You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways:

- Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at 

- By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word 
unsubscribe in the subject line.

Other related posts: