Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin reiterated Tuesday he favors consumer choice over regulation when it comes to cable programming.
But the commissioner gave little quarter to an industry riled by the prospect of a la carte pricing. Last November Martin said he favored letting consumers choose individual channels, rather than the vast packages currently offered by operators, because it's more cost effective and supports family programming.
Speaking Tuesday at the cable industry's national show in Atlanta, Martin said viable options included the adoption by the cable industry of broadcast standards, greater consumer control and a healthy mix of programming packages.
Martin says Canada, with its many consumer offers, has a reasonably sound system. "It's really not up to the commission to decide, it's up to consumers."
Big operators like
, and satellite companies like
, will soon launch their first family-friendly packages. But it isn't clear whether those moves will placate Martin and other advocates of stronger decency standards and parental control.
Martin pointed out that because none of the current family-oriented offerings include sports, there have been "concerns raised" by members of Congress.
Large cable providers have complained that regulations forcing them to sell family packages and other offers could be enormously expensive. They claim this would hurt programmers and that consumers pay more for individual channels than bundled ones.
Time Warner Cable's chief executive Glenn Britt called the current formula bewteen programmers and cable operators a "very efficent" way to gather audiences and pay for programming. "A la carte is not a great way to sell networks and also not a good way to sell programming," he announced.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who sold the Broadcast.com video business to
for billions some years ago, adds that "if a la carte happens, everybody loses," because it reduces the incentive to invest in content.