Video services

Cable to Face Second 'Family' Act

Two legislators have proposed a bill that would require MSOs to offer family-friendly programming and looks to push Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin's desire to push an à la carte programming model on the cable industry.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), aims to give operators the choice to monitor programs using broadcast indecency standards, install a "real family tier" of programming, or use an à la carte approach that will allow customers to block out some programming and receive refunds for the programming they find undesirable.

Last year, Reps Lipinski and Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) introduced a similar set of legislation, but it did not gain any traction. The new legislation arrives in the wake of a decision by a U.S. appeals court earlier this month to toss out an FCC broadcast indecency ruling. (See Indecent Exposure.)

Martin, speaking at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, applauded cable and satellite TV providers for offering "high quality family friendly programming" from networks such as the Disney Channel, Discovery Channel, and ABC Family, "but parents should not have to buy channels with programs rated TV-MA to get these channels.

The cable industry, he added, "has not responded in a meaningful way. Our message today is very simple: no consumer should have to pay for content they do not wish to receive. Period."

Martin, meanwhile, continued to argue a position that à la carte would not only give consumers the choice they want but also drive down cable prices.

The cable industry, led by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , was forced to go on the defensive again Thursday, reiterating a position that an à la carte model and forced mandates would turn the TV business upside down and be bad for consumers.

"Overwhelming evidence shows that a mandated a la carte regime would result in higher prices and less diversity in programming, overturning a video marketplace that provides U.S. consumers with the widest variety of programming found anywhere in the world," said NCTA VP of Communications Brian Dietz, in a statement.

He added that such a mandate is unnecessary, given that consumers already have access to parental controls through cable set-tops and the V-chip, which controls content by time, show, network, and rating.

A survey conducted by Forrester Research Inc. recently found that only 53 percent of consumers would be interested in getting cable programming on an à la carte basis, and that people who would find it appealing are somewhat confused about the potential value of such a programming model. (See Survey: à la Carte Value Vexes Consumers.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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