Senator John McCain today introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, legislation that would encourage cable operators and entertainment conglomerates to unbundle channels and offer programming "a la carte." Rather than mandating his desired end result, McCain notes that his bill is completely voluntary, offering incentives that would ideally result in consumers being able to purchase their preferred channels individually. Cable providers (and content companies) have long resisted such ideas.
"This is unfair and wrong."
"Today, we’re putting up a stop sign," McCain remarked during the introduction of his legislation. "My legislation would eliminate regulatory barriers to a la carte by freeing up multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) – like, cable, satellite and others offering video services – to offer any video programming service on an a la carte basis." McCain says this would be achieved by linking availability of the compulsory copyright license, which lets broadcasters retransmit programming without obtaining direct permission from copyright holders — with the voluntary offering of a la carte subscription models. "In other words, if the MVPD does not offer a broadcast station — and any other channels owned by the broadcaster — on an a la carte basis, the MVPD cannot rely on the compulsory license to carry those broadcast stations," McCain said.
McCain also seeks to address the issue at the core of a lawsuit between Cablevision and Viacom. "Furthermore, because not all programmers also own broadcast stations, the bill contains a provision that would create a ‘wholesale’ a la carte market by allowing programmers to bundle their services in a package only if they also offer those services for MVPDs to purchase on an individual channel basis," he said. "Thus, if a cable operator doesn’t want to carry channels like MTV, it would have the option of not doing so and only buying, and carrying, the channels it thinks its consumers want to watch." In its complaint against Viacom, Cablevision maintains that Viacom has forced the operator to continue paying for unpopular channels in order to keep programming its customers actually want.
The senator's bill does have some teeth, however. McCain is particularly annoyed with broadcasters who continually lessening the breadth of over-the-air (OTA) programming available to consumers, attempting to push viewers to more profitable options. Networks that engage in such in engage in such behavior would be stripped of their spectrum, with those resources auctioned off by the FCC.
And finally, the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 would essentially wipe out the "blackout rule" that prevents live events from being seen under certain circumstances. Any venue partially paid for with taxpayer money (which would include the vast majority of professional stadiums) would be required to repeal blackout restrictions. “In the end, the Television Consumer Freedom Act is about giving the consumer more choices when watching television. It’s time for us to help shift the landscape to benefit television consumers," McCain said. McCain's proposed legislation is certain to face fierce resistance from the industry.