“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is working on legislation that would pressure cable and satellite TV providers to allow their customers to pick and choose the channels they pay for, his office confirmed on Wednesday,” Brendan Sasso reports for The Hill.

“Consumers have long complained about the rising costs of cable TV packages and having to pay for dozens or even hundreds of channels just to gain access to the few that they watch.
But McCain’s legislation, which he is expected to introduce in the coming days, will likely face furious opposition from both the TV broadcasters and cable providers,” Sasso reports. “In addition to pressuring cable providers to offer channels pressuring cable providers to offer channels à la carte, McCain’s new bill would bar TV networks from bundling their broadcast stations with cable channels they own during negotiations with the cable companies, according to industry sources. So for example, the Disney Company, which owns both ABC and ESPN, could not force a cable provider to pay for ESPN in order to carry ABC.”

Sasso reports, “The industry officials said the bill would also end the sports blackout rule, which prohibits cable companies from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations… The rule is meant to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Like most everyone, we’d love à la carte cable TV provided the menu remained the same or got better. But, that’s an impossibility, as true à la carte choice at the channel level would obliterate the menu.

What would happen if we had true à la carte cable TV channels? Back to thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from, if we’re even lucky enough to end up with that many, and/or those thirteen channels plus a selection of very highly-priced “niche” choices.

Just look at the ratings to see exactly which programming à la carte channels would support and what would die or become high-priced extravagances.

The Honey Boo Boos of the world would proliferate. Singing and dancing contests. Big-time sports, but not niche sports. Washed up celebrities kissing Donald Trump’s ass for some attention, etc. Anything remotely thought-provoking would die due to lack of funding or would have to be subsidized in some way. (Don’t get any ideas, government! Sadly, we bet they already have gotten them.) Right now, in the U.S. we subsidize higher quality niche programming via our cable bills. We pay for cable service, not à la carte channels (or, to take this to its logical conclusion, à la carte programs).

How do you go pure à la carte at the channel level and not destroy everything but the lowest common denominator programming and/or create a class of super expensive quality “channels” or programs?

What would happen if, instead of à la carte “channels,” we could purchase “television” as Apple’s iTunes Store already allows: Pay only for the programs we want to watch, regardless of “channel?” Channels might go the way of the dodo, but that wouldn’t matter. (Some people are already “watching TV” via iTunes Store – paying only for what they want, with no commercials, for a fraction of the cost of cable. Others use iPad apps (ABC, CBS, NBC, Discovery, etc.) to watch the programs they want, but pay with a bit of their time by having commercials play – although far fewer than are found on regular TV.)

“Channels” are an anachronism. Just look at what has become of the network channels on Friday nights, for example. They can no longer profitably fill all of their time slots without resorting to repeats or cheaply-produced junk. Freeing companies from having to focus on programming channels, a concept left over from the analog days, an allowing them to focus on individual programs just might usher in a new golden age of “TV.” The more “Losts” and “Seinfelds” and “Mad Men” you make, the more money you rake in. Most of the effort would then be directed to the programs (and marketing them) instead of the “channel” (network programming, branding, promotion, etc.).

Think of music: The episodes are the songs; the TV series themselves are both the albums and the artist; and the channels are the music labels. Nobody cares what the music label is as long as the recording is quality. Yet, TV is still ordered mainly by channels. Do you listen to your music by music label or by artist?

Here’s an interesting one: The Weather Channel. It could go from trying to fill the time with weather-related programs mixed with a rotation of national and local weather — low-rated fare unless there is a “weather event” — to selling you your local forecast, forecasts for where you’re going for work or vacation, and “weather event” coverage. Maybe that would be more profitable to sell the weather that way than the way they do now? They’re so desperate right now, they’ve resorted to making up names for snowstorms as if they’re hurricanes in order to manufacture “weather events!”

Anyway, back to “regular” TV: If we had the ability to choose à la carte at the program level, would the economics support a vibrant choice of programming, maybe even more vibrant than we have now? Would the programs be commercial-free or would they still need some level of advertising support? We don’t know the answer to the economics, but maybe, before he left us, Steve Jobs did and it’s part of what he “cracked” about “television?”

Obviously, this is a 55-gallon drum full of worms, so there are myriad questions. What happens to TV “news,” both national and local? What happens to local channels themselves? What happens to commercials? What about program discovery? What about live TV? What about program length when they no longer have to be able to fit into neat blocks of time to fill daily schedules?

Bottom line: Perhaps Senator McCain should focus on à la carte programming, not à la carte channels? Or, better yet, let the market figure it out? Things are finally moving forward in TV land now, why risk destroying quality niche channels with legislation and the unintended consequences it’s likely to bring?