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Cable-Programming Execs to Martin:A la Carte Proposal Anti-Consumer

Top cable-programming executives told Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin he should focus on the DTV transition rather than an a la carte proposal in which cable channels above a certain price -- say $0.75-$1 per subscriber, per month -- would have to be offered separately, or a la carte.

In a letter to Martin Tuesday, ESPN president George Bodenheimer, MTV Networks chairman Judy McGrath, Universal president Jeff Gaspin, Disney Media Networks co-chairman Anne Sweeney, Turner Broadcasting System chairman Phil Kent and Fox Network Group president Tony Vinciquerra said Martin's suggestion, floated at a cable convention last week, would be devastating to consumers and beyond the FCC's authority anyway.

They added that the result would be popular networks "stripped out of expanded basic, forcing consumers to pay an extra charge to watch them."

The cable-programming executives said the move would inevitably lead to price controls, and that the most successful networks would be penalized for their popularity.

They added that the only consumer who would pay less was the "rare" one who buys only a handful of channels, and even they may not benefit from the price break because programming quality would suffer under a "government-mandated" a la carte regime.

As cable programmers have long argued, the executives said diverse programming services would not get launched and many that already launched would not survive.

They warned that consumers would be "outraged" by the move and would wind up paying more for less.

The letter was filed as a comment in the FCC's current proceeding on program tying and the commission's program-access rules.