Cable CEOs Downplay Reg Risk


With critics aiming two major regulatory missles at the industry, the chiefs of the three largest cable operators said they see little risk of new, dramatic pricing and indecency restrictions actually passing Congress.

Critics of cable’s high rates are trying to force cable operators to sell all programming on an a
la carte basis, one channel at a time.

A separate group of critics of television content want to see tough rules restricting cable’s raunchiest content. Some of them are also championing a la carte, allowing consumers who object to a channel to drop it without being forced to keep paying for it.

At the opening general session of the National Cable Show in New Orleans, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts questioned whether the indecency restriction push is “a legitimate debate or an election-year debate”.

Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons noted that “The indecency issue is as old as our democracy.” But “I don’t think it’s going to be a significant issue for our industry.” He said that media companies may tone things down a little, but ultimately “you run your business the way your customers tell you to run your business.”

As for a la carte pricing regulations, the executives, including Charter Communications CEO Paul Allen, asserted that it would destroy the economics of ad-suppoerted basic cable networks, which rely on a lot of casual grazers to stop in.

Roberts compared basic channels to boutiques that would flop as stand-alone stores but thrive in a mall where they deliver traffic to each other. “That collectivism is what has allowed the advertisers to come to cable,” Roberts said.