SBD/May 15, 2013/Media

McCain Pushes A La Carte Before Senate Panel; ESPN's Skipper Not Overly Concerned

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday told a Senate subcommittee that "Americans are at a 'tipping point' as it regards their monthly pay-TV bill and should be given the option of purchasing channels individually instead of as a bundle with hundreds of channels," according to Bob Fernandez of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. McCain said, "I truly believe that a lot of Americans are fed up with their cable TV bills." McCain was trying to "rally support for the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 that he proposed last week." McCain, who has "publicly supported a la carte for years, cited the soaring cost of sports programming and cable-bill inflation since the mid-1990s for the legislation." Former FCC Chair Michael Powell said that cable companies had "invested heavily in their networks and that the bundling of channels allows a diversity of programming that might not be supported if channels were sold individually" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/15).

SKIPPER FIRMLY AGAINST A LA CARTE: ESPN President John Skipper yesterday said that he "isn’t too worried" about McCain's proposed legislation. Skipper after the network's upfront presentation in N.Y. said, "We don't think the bill has any momentum." In L.A., Joe Flint notes Skipper's view that the legislation is a "long shot is shared by many television industry insiders." Skipper said that ESPN is priced "appropriately given the popularity of the channel." He added McCain is "dead wrong" on the issue. Skipper said that the cost for a family of four to go to dinner and a movie is "as much if not more than the cost of a monthly cable bill" (L.A. TIMES, 5/15). Skipper added, "ESPN is not a niche network and I'd like to meet some of these people who don't like ESPN. We have 115 million people a week who engage with ESPN Media … and we think we provide great value." He added the current cable package "provides great value." Skipper: "The average hour of television consumed in a pay television package is $0.23. That's a great value and a great story." A la carte programming "will not provide consumers with better choice or with better economics." The popularity of ESPN and other big networks "allows there to be a huge ecosystem of niche networks with diverse points of view and diverse product and those networks simply will not be able to exist in an a la carte universe" ("Bloomberg West," Bloomberg TV, 5/14).
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