John McCain wants to unbundle cable and to stop broadcasters like CBS and Fox from moving their stations to pay TV. The Arizona senator right now on the Senate floor is introducing The TV Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 (read it here). The legislation is intended to “allow the consumer, the television viewer who subscribes to cable, to have à la carte capability. In other words, not required to buy a whole bunch of channels that that consumer may not want wish to subscribe to,” McCain said moments ago. The former GOP Presidential candidate also went after broadcasters like CBS and Fox who have said that they could move to cable if they lose in the courts against Barry Diller’s Aereo streaming service. “We’ll also establish consequences if broadcasters choose to downgrade their over-the-air service,” McCain told the Senate. His legislation would also eliminate the sports blackout rule “in events that are held in publicly financed stadiums.”
The proposal is expected to meet heavy resistance among the cable companies. “Only Dish and Cablevision have been for a la carte and smaller bundles because we think it’s consumer-friendly”, Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen said during his company’s conference call today. “Having said that, there are five big groups that probably have enough clout in Congress to stop that legislation today. He added that “the marketplace is going to determine” if the price is too high. “There’s an awful lot of people who don’t consume (200 channels)”, he said, “and most of us would like to look for creative solutions”.
A self-proclaimed longtime advocate of cable reform, McCain said consumers only had a take-it-or-leave-it option when it came to purchasing cable programming. “This is unfair and wrong — especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer”, he said. “You can only do that when you have a monopoly”, he added. Not entirely blaming the cable companies, the senator called out “video programmers” such as Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom “and the Walt Disney Company, which owns 80% of ESPN”, compelling cable and satellite carriers to take their bundles and force subscribers to pay for sports and other channels when they don’t want or watch them.
McCain wasn’t just intent on schooling cable in introducing his bill today. “The second section of my bill responds to statements by broadcast executives that they may ‘downgrade’ the content on their over-the-air signals, or pull them altogether, so that the programming received by MVPD customers is preferable to that available over-the-air”, he said. “This bill provides a legislative response if broadcasters either downgrade their signal or pull it altogether. The bill provides that a broadcaster will lose its spectrum allocation, and that spectrum will be auction by the FCC, if the broadcaster does not provide the same content over the air as it provides through MVPDS,” said McCain, referring to remarks by Fox’s Chase Carey and CBS’ Les Moonves that they would shift their networks to cable because of the threat of Aereo to their content.
On April 30, Moonves said that such a move was but one option to take if broadcasters lost their court cases against the streaming service. “If that doesn’t work there are other remedies. There are financial remedies; there are congressional remedies,” he told an audience at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference.