I really can’t remember the last time anyone suggested that my column was too subtle. But twice in the last week I have gotten comments, from two different CEOs, suggesting that I apparently was too subtle in what I was saying in my column a few weeks ago on a la carte programming ("An A La Carte Buffet," April 1). One programming chief wrote me to say he fully agreed with my position "against" a la carte. One of the deans and pioneers of the cable industry sent me a letter challenging my concern that a la carte could have a devastating impact on the cable industry, programmers and the public. In each case these men, both of whom I consider friends, and respect very highly, apparently missed a critical component of the comment I was making. So I guess I was too subtle. I would ask them to re-read that column. I was talking about MANDATORY a la carte, not simply the idea that cable could, should and will be offering various packages to our customers, including the ability to buy some types of programs on an individual basis. It should come as no surprise to anyone that in the 28 years I have been writing a column I have been hard-pressed to find many instances where I thought bureaucratic governmental oversight was the "solution" to a problem. That’s not to say I oppose all government regulation. I understand there are many instances where laws and regulations must be written to establish ground rules for competition. The copyright laws are an excellent example. But when it comes to something like requiring an industry to offer First Amendment product in only one way, and doing so either because of efforts to deal with content or pricing, I think the government is way off base. That’s what that column was saying. I have been an advocate of selective a la carte offerings for years. They make sense for certain types of services and products that are inherently too expensive or becoming too expensive to place in a basic, or expanded basic, tier. Examples are HBO and Showtime, which we have been offering "a la carte" for years. This is also the case with some sports networks. Due to the economics of that particular genre, it is not consumer-friendly to force everyone to pay disproportionately for some sports networks. In March 2002 I was among the first to urge the industry to support what Chuck Dolan and Cablevision were trying to do in pointing out the anti-consumer effect of blocking an a la carte offering of the new YES Channel. This past year I wrote about the service Jim Robbins and Cox did for the industry in challenging the ever-increasing cost of sports programming by suggesting a different distribution mode. Happily, Cox achieved the result of blunting those increases and I think everyone won. Conceptually, a la carte for some services makes sense. Mandatory a la carte does not. Consumers already have what I characterized as an "a la carte buffet" in that they can pick and choose what they want and block out the rest. For most programming, programmers, operators and customers that makes the most economic sense and encourages ever-increasing diversity. Mandatory a la carte does not. I hope we see more a la carte program offerings when they make sense. But that’s a market decision, not a political one.

The Daily


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