Who would have thought that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would take the lead in Congress on channel-buying rights? This not being a high national priority – by congressional standards – I figured he’d have his hands full with immigration, background checks, the budget, Benghazi, et cetera. I suppose he was looking for an issue on which the only opposition would come from special interests that nobody likes. Here’s what we know about the bill he’s writing:
- It would allow customers to pay for individual channels, at their own discretion.
- It would bar cable companies from “bundling” multiple networks they own, instead requiring them to offer each individually.
- It would end the “sports blackout” rule, allowing cable channels to air sports events that are blacked out on local stations.
- It would “boost” Aereo, the web service that streams live TV online, by yanking broadcast licenses from companies that move highly rated programming from over-the-air stations (from which Aereo streams) to cable, which is what they vowed to do in reaction to Aereo.
We haven’t had any official comment from the cable lobbies yet. The companies they represent benefit from channel bundling, even if nobody watches. (Who in Canada watches this?) Here’s what we can expect:
Both industries have argued that the government should not micromanage how they offer their products to customers and that bundling can promote diverse offerings.
And here’s a taste of what we can expect from the National Football League (NFL), which may argue publicly against the sports blackout provision:
. . . the National Football League . . . requires broadcasters to black out games if the local team does not sell out the stadium. The rule is meant to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live.
Of these, the only compelling argument is the one concerning government micromanagement. Nobody cares about “diverse offerings,” and few people can afford to attend home games on a regular basis.
Cable meets the definition of interstate commerce, so a constitutional counter-argument is doubtful. It’s one thing to regulate against anything unsafe, unhealthy or fraudulent; it’s another to regulate against anything unnecessary and expensive. While millions still rely on cable, more and more households dump cable for Netflix and the like everyday. If the cable companies were smart, they’d subject channels to the risks of supply and demand on their own. But the government can’t reverse every stupid decision in the country, not even for the sake of consumers. Had someone introduced this bill in the 90s, it would have meant more.