Now, if you could replace these channels with ones that you would actually watch, this would be a major win for the consumer. This is where the long rumored àla carte package would come in. The pick and pay idea has been floated and batted around since early 2006, when FCC chairman Kevin Martin supported the concept in an article published by USA Today. An FCC report showed that the new system could save customers as much as 13% on their cable bills. A Bill was even introduced in 2007 to allow customers to pick the channels that they pay for, but the idea was rebuffed by companies like Disney, NBC, and Fox, along with cable providers Comcast and Time Warner. The bill only received 10 cosponsors.
The companies state that if the FCC allowed channels to be sold à la carte, it would be horrible for customers and prices would go up. In a 2008 FCC filing, executives of ESPN, Disney/ABC, MTV Networks, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and Fox said,
“The perverse result of your proposal is the most successful and most watched programs and networks — typically those that invest the most in quality programming — would be penalized for their popularity to the detriment of consumers.” The executives went on to say, “If your plan is ever adopted, consumers will be outraged.”
If it is so horrible, then why is it already being done? Rogers, a Canadian cable company is testing the alternate system through March 2012, offering their variant of the pay and pick plan. But, this change wasn’t due to a company listening to customer complaints — it was ordered by the Canadian Government. The very act that American cable providers claimed would be catastrophic to customers, is currently being implemented in Canada. And Rogers isn’t the only Canadian cable company to test the service. Vidéotron, BCE, and Optik TV, run by Telus all offer a variant of the system.
The Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission demanded that customers be given an option to choose the channels that they would like to purchase, in addition to bundles. CTRC chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said, “We heard it loud and clear from consumers … You do not offer consumers the choice they want and deserve. They see it on the Internet, they see it on mobile, and they say, ‘Why can’t I have it here when I buy programming from cable or satellite?”
If the test is successful in Canada, expectations for a similar system in the U.S. will gain traction, as the media companies’ argument erodes. It remains to be seen if consumers will make enough noise to attract the eye of Washington, as the change will not be a voluntary one by the cable companies. Lets hope that rumored Apple TV does something to shake up the industry, as Joshua Topolsky intimated. If not, we will have to rely on something that is not very reliable — the Government.