Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Family Friendly cable package? Not so voluntary and not good policy

Can an action be "voluntary" if one is coerced into taking the action? Adam Thierer has an insightful take on volunteerism as it applies to the recent announcement by the cable industry that it will offer so-called "family friendly" packages, or tier. I urge you to read his entire post. In brief:

  • How voluntary is this action when Congress is making regulatory noises and the FCC is holding Time Warner and Comcast hostage in awaiting overdue approval for their purchase of pieces of the bankrupt Adelphia Cable?

  • There isn't any evidence to suggest there is much of a demand for such a package. DirecTV offered a 10 channel package a few years ago for $5 per month and had so few takers it eliminated it.

  • The cable operators have less latitude than we think. Often it is the program suppliers who insist on contracts requiring that the cable operators include their small networks as a condition for carrying their more popular networks. That makes cherry picking networks for a tier problematic.

  • Who is going to determine what is "family friendly?" Adam suspects "Cable operators are setting themselves up for a major catfight with many programmers who will insist on being part of the new tier. 'Hey, my channel is family-friendly too!' many programmers will exclaim.'"

I agree with Adam that if there was a consumer demand for such a package the cable folks-- who after all are always looking for another opportunity to squeeze a few more dollars from their fixed cost network-- would have found a way to offer this truly by choice. Cable subscribers who don't want to expose themselves or their kids to any programming already have the tools to lock out such channels, creating their own individualized "my family friendly" menu. That's even better than Comcast or Charter trying to decide what should be there.

It's not surprising why the politicians love this issue: It plays well with their constituents even if they don't really find it helpful. And it has no budget consequences. Doesn't get much sweeter. A pity it's poor economics and even worse policy.

Link to this entry
E-mail this entry

No comments: