A La Carte Bashed in Big Easy

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Some of cable’s top programmers warned Tuesday that “a la carte” legislation, which would allow consumers to pick and choose the cable channels they receive, would cripple the industry.

And it won't save the consumer any money, argued Showtime Networks CEO Matt Blank. If customers now get 200 channels for $60 a month, Blank said, “in an a la carte world, you’ll get 30 channels for $60. I guarantee that is the model.”
“We would not have the rich offering that we have today for the American public if a la carte was the model,” Oxygen CEO Gerry Laybourne argued at a panel session at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention in New Orleans.
(Laybourne was among a group of women cable executives who sent a letter to Congress Tuesday opposing the a la carte bill.)

Programmers worry that consumers would drop some networks or opt against new services. That could spell fewer subscribers, threatening networks’ advertising revenue and subscriber fees from cable and satellite operators.

Citing NBC’s Bravo as an example, Laybourne said, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy would not be seen today because Bravo two years ago didn’t have that show and people wouldn’t have signed up for Bravo,” she said.
 “The bet is if we do quality content and promote it, there will be an opportunity to win over someone sitting at home and they will then become a viewer of one of our services,” said NBC Cable Networks President David Zaslav, an opportunity that would be lost if smaller nets were a la carted off the plate.
New networks, said Blank, will be crippled. “The next BET won’t be successful. The next Discovery won’t be successful, the next Court TV. All of the new networks you see  that are here trying to peddle their wares won’t stand a chance.”
The programmers also weighed in against extending indecency standards to cable. “We have to respect our audience,” said Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra. When viewers tune into HBO, Showtime or FX, he asserted, “people know what to expect and hopefully will keep an eye on what kids are watching. Common sense is the driver here.”
Added E.W. Scripps CEO Ken Lowe, “we need to be in touch with folks, understand their moods and let them decide with their remotes.”