McSlarrow Says Family Tiers in Works at Six Cable Operators

Dec 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to appease critics of cable’s programming, six of the nation’s major multiple system operators-including Comcast and Time Warner Cable-hope to roll out family-friendly programming tiers for their digital subscribers early next year.

That was the word from Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, during a public meeting with Senate Commerce Committee leaders on Monday. Mr. McSlarrow said the six cable MSO’s-the others being Bresnan Communications, Advance/Newhouse Communications, Midcontinent Communciations, and Insight Communications-together serve more than half of the nation’s cable TV subscribers, and that other cable MSOs are considering following suit.

Mr. McSlarrow said he was not privy to pricing plans. But under the general concept, cable customers would still have to subscribe to cable’s basic tier, and then have a choice whether to subscribe to the system’s enhanced basic tier or the new family-friendly one. Mr. McSlarrow also made clear that the industry is hoping that its offering of a family tier, along with ongoing industry efforts to improve awareness of TV ratings and technology enabling parents to control what their children see, will enable the industry to avoid federal regulation.

“I really hope we can take mandates off the table,” Mr. McSlarrow said.

Jack Valenti, the former chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, said during the session that industry leaders have been meeting to consider ways to better educate the public about the v-chip and other technology that parents can use to control the programming that comes into their homes.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the committee, said that if the industry adopts a “meaningful” ratings system, he will hold off pending legislation to beef up indecency regulation while the public evaluates the voluntary efforts.

“As far as I’m concerned, none [of the pending bills to beef up indecency regulation] have enough support for us to move as long as this process is moving on,” Sen. Stevens said.

Mr. Valenti said surveys have shown that while many consumers object to some TV programming, the vast majority-from 70 percent to 80 percent-don’t want the government to decide what they can see and hear. “You cannot allow a few loud voices outside the Congress to try to entice the government to go where the people plainly do not want this government to go,” Mr. Valenti said.

In a follow-up session with reporters, Mr. Valenti said concerns about programming were being stirred up by the Parents Television Council’s L. Brent Bozell and “a few loud voices”-people, according to Mr. Valenti, “who really don’t want anything on television except Bible stories.”