The cost of adding the Mets’ SportsNet NY to the basic cable systems of many New Yorkers will be passed along to those same subscribers — whether they give a hoot about the Mets or baseball. Newsday’s Neil Best describes this practice as “unwieldy, unfair and un-American – a hotbed of socialism in our capitalist society,” and wonders if there isn’t a better way.
The question, which is among the most contentious in the media world, is whether distributors should continue “bundling” dozens of channels or whether consumers should be allowed to buy favorites “a la carte,” or at least in mini-bundles tailored to specific interests.
In the past six months, SportsWatch has discussed the matter with at least 100 people in every aspect of the TV business. Most view a la carte proponents as dangerous radicals, arguing it would be a disaster that would raise prices and lower choices.
The United States government officially disagrees, joining the few pro-choice cable executives such as Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan. On Feb. 9, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report that sharply reversed field from an earlier version in 2004.
Over 61 strongly worded pages, it makes a case for consumer freedom (read it at www.fcc.gov).
The report struck a nerve. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association Web site quickly posted statements from concerned executives ranging from the Hallmark Channel to ESPN.
The particulars of the report are too complex to explain here. But the essence is simple: Consumers are best served by a system in which channels must justify their existences in the marketplace, a model used in Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere.
The average family watches about 17 channels. The FCC report said in most cases, a family that orders 20 a la carte would see its bill decrease, even accounting for individual channels rising in price.
Some channels with tiny followings would disappear. So? No one said capitalism was pretty. And some would re-emerge on the Internet anyway.
The more attractive channels, such as YES, SNY and ESPN, still would exist but would be more costly. But if they get so costly that not enough people order them, they would have to trim prices to boost demand. In the long run, that would lower profits and cause the salaries of Derek Jeter and Dick Vitale to fall.
And if people decide that MSG and FSNY without baseball aren’t worth the money? See ya!