American Cable Association Takes Aim at Program Bundling

ACA Claims 30% of Expanded-Basic Channels and 45% of Channels on Digital Tiers Depend on Bundling

The American Cable Association gave the Federal Communications Commission an earful on program tying and bundling arrangements that it said have led to an "increasingly bloated, increasingly costly, increasingly standardized expanded-basic tier.”

In comments in an FCC inquiry into cable and satellite program bundling and retransmission consent, the ACA said 30% of expanded-basic channels and 45% of channels on digital tiers are there because they were tied to other channels operators actually wanted. The association added that this practice extends to HD tiers and video-on-demand.

The ACA said that, according to its members -- which comprise smaller and midsized cable operators -- 13 of the most popular cable channels are bundled to another 60 channels, while the four top broadcast networks are tied to 35 channels.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has been looking for ways to cut cable bills and give viewers more control over content. That has included pushing for à la carte cable and opening the inquiry into access to programming.

The ACA also said programmers’ claims that they offer channels on a stand-alone basis is "illusory," adding that they are priced unreasonably high to "coerce" buying the bundled programming.

But while ACA is calling for unbundling at the wholesale level, it is not arguing for the kind of retail a la carte regime Martin has been pushing. "Current technology costs make a la carte a financial impossibility for ACA member systems," the group told the FCC. "[T]he business model is entirely unproven, and no lawful basis exists for imposing regulated a la carte.  Moreover, ACA members report that many customers prefer a basic or expanded basic package with a variety of channels at a reasonable price."