Cable Women Take On 'Concerned' Women


Is cable a la carte a women's issue? Apparently so. Women's groups are duking it out this week over proposals aimed at giving cable subscribers the option of buying just the channels they want rather than having to buy them in all-or-nothing packages.

Top female executives from leading cable TV networks Tuesday urged Congress to reject these so-called "a la carte"  proposals. The execs argue that a la carte servings would significantly reduce the potential audience for niche networks like Oxygen that target women and minorities. Their stand is in opposition to that of a conservative group calling itself Concerned Women for America, which is pushing for a la carte legislation.

The loss of potential audience would lead advertisers to cut rates paid for spots on the nets, jeopardizing the channels' future, the cable executives say.  "Government efforts to dictate how our programming is packaged or marketed would be bad for consumers because it would give them less choice and less diversity in programming and it would increase the price they would pay for this inferior set of offerings," the executives wrote in an open letter to Congress.

Signing on were Carole Black, CEO of Lifetime; Kathy Dore, President of Rainbow Media Holdings Entertainment Services; Bonnie Hammer, President, Sci Fi Channel; Mindy Herman, CEO, E! Entertainment Networks; Brooke Johnson, President, Food Network; Geraldine Laybourne, Chairman, Oxygen Media; Debra Lee, President , BET Holdings; Judith McGrath, President, MTV Networks; Judith McHale, President, Discovery Communications; Christina Norman, President, VH1.

Their letter comes as the House Commerce Committee gears up for next week's vote on a measure that would give cable systems the right to offer a la carte selections. Right now, contracts with programming networks prohibit systems from selling subscriptions on a channel-by-channel basis.

The prohibition allows programmers to leverage the popularity of their highest-rated networks to gain carriage of less popular ones. The a la carte provisions will be offered by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., as an amendment to satellite TV legislation.

Backing him is the conservative Concerned Women for America, which views a la carte as one way to protect children from networks that offer what they see as raunchy fair. Along with consumer activists and family values groups, Concerned Women for American planned a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday to support Deal's plan.

Commerce Committee leaders are expected to oppose Deal's amendment on the grounds that it is not relevant to the satellite bill and will bog down the legislation in controversy.