Open Mic

MSO Cablevision Speaking Out of Both Sides of Its Mouth: It Wants What It Won't Give

Arthur Sando Posted June 6, 2011 at 7:08 AM

[Editor's Note: This commentary first appeared on Jeff Grimshaw's The TV News, which can be found at www.thetvnews.tv, and we appreciate Jeff letting us reprint it.]

Cablevision Systems raised some eyebrows last week with its filing in the FCC’s proceeding on retransmission consent reform.

In the past year, the big cable operator has been involved in some of the industry’s most high-profile retrans battles, with both Fox and ABC programming blacked out for a while during negotiations.

At the same time, Cablevision continues to staunchly oppose a la carte pricing, which would allow customers to buy only the channels they want, without having to purchase a bundle of channels, some of which they don’t want.

So it’s interesting to note that one of Cablevision’s proposals to the FCC is that distributors should not be forced to carry cable channels owned by broadcasters, just in order to be able to carry the broadcast network itself.

In other words, Cablevision thinks it’s unfair for them to have to buy a particular Fox-owned cable network, which may have little interest to its customers, in order to be able to provide what it calls “must-see” TV, like "American Idol" or the NFL, on the Fox Network. In essence, Cablevision wants the FCC to rule that a distributor should be able to buy only the networks it wants to carry … a la carte.

Cablevision does make a valid point when it says that forcing distributors to buy networks they don’t want winds up costing subscribers more money, because the costs get passed on.

But that begs the question: If Cablevision seeks the right to buy only the networks it chooses to carry, then why shouldn’t its customers have the right to buy only the networks they choose to watch?

In light of the FCC filing, I emailed Cablevision to ask if they’ve changed their stance on offering a la carte pricing, but have received no reply.

So here’s the rub. Cablevision will probably get some short-term PR benefit from coming up with a proposal that appears to be consumer-friendly, but by arguing in favor of a la carte purchasing, they’re likely to have a long-term PR challenge trying to justify to their customers why such a great idea for the goose is such a lousy idea for the gander.