McSlarrow Open To Market-Driven A La Carte

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NCTA President doubts it is right solution to government's content concerns, but says marketplace demand for On-demand could prompt a la carte moves

In an interview in B&C's Monday issue, National Cable & Telecommunications President Kyle McSlarrow says he is not opposed to a la carte if the marketplace drives that model, as he says it might, but that it is not the government's place to impose it on the industry.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been pushing cable to adopt per-channel pricing as a way to reduce people's cable bills and give parents more control over adult basic cable content, but also suggested that Congress might want to step in and mandate it--a point Martin made concurrently with the release a couple of weeks ago of the FCC's long-awaited and long-delayed TV violence report.

Pointing out that Martin has pushed for both voluntary and mandatory a la carte at different times, McSlarrow told B&C that it is virtually impossible to anticipate what the TV marketplace will look like in five or 10 years, but said that "there does seem to be a greater drive in the marketplace to on-demand viewing, whatever the platform."

McSlarrow said that, as a result, "in this age of on-demand and DVRs and day-and-date windows, a different marketplace model emerges. And if so, then that is the right answer."

A more à la carte model? "It could be, he said. "If the marketplace drives it that way, I'm not prepared to say that is the wrong answer. Where I have always drawn the line is the idea that the government somehow mandates it."

But McSlarrow is not convinced that a la carte is even an effective way to address the issue of TV violence or indecency.

Although he concedes there is TV he wouldn't want his kids too watch, he sees three reasons why a la carte is not the solution. "It clearly cuts down on diversity," he says. "No question about that. Not even the FCC has said differently. They dismissed it, but they acknowledged that it would have that effect."

Then there is the economics: "I have never seen a study that suggested the economics were very good with à la carte unless you had someone who was interested in watching a very few channels," he says.

McSlarrow even suggests a la carte could make cable even more violent. "I don't know this, but it is possible that à la carte would produce exactly the opposite result from that stated in the violence report," he suggests.

"If you are being sold à la carte and the incentives for marketing and market share become really overwhelming in a way you don't have to worry about when you are part of the expanded-basic package, it strikes me the incentives are for content to become even edgier to break through that kind of à la carte world.

"The real problem is that there is literally no analysis in that violence report that supports the assertion that à la carte would be a good solution. None."

For more McSlarrow, check out the entire interview.

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