Comedy Central’s recent offering, “Roast of David Hasselhoff,” is the latest program to rile the Parents Television Council. This time, PTC is not objecting to the right to air the speech used in the program, or its availability to children. Rather, it is objecting to that fact that its members’ MVPD subscription fees are helping to underwrite such programming.
PTC says the presence of such programming on cable makes the call for an a la carte program menu all the more compelling. PTC calls the concept Cable Choice.
Describing some of the material on the program PTC found most offensive, PTC’s Tim Winter commented, “Americans are fortunate – indeed we are blessed – to have a constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech. And as offensive as ‘comedy’ may be to some, we have a right in this country to speak it. Sadly the cable television industry has concocted a scheme whereby those who are most shocked, offended or harmed by such ‘humor’ are forced to subsidize it.”
Winter continued, “In order to watch a powerful History Channel presentation about the horrors of slavery, cable subscribers were forced to underwrite jokes about African Americans, slave ships and picking cotton.”
Winter said that Comedy Central parent Viacom uses its “anti-consumer, anti-competitive market leverage” to bundle the channel with others and force it on people who do not wish to receive it, and promised that PTC would do whatever it could to carry on the battle for Cable Choice.
RBR-TVBR observation: The cable practice of bundling programming allows a lot of channels to be offered relatively inexpensively. Adding back room expense to customize each and every subscription package for each and every subscriber would likely kill off a large number of niche channels, sacrificing program diversity.
As a rule, we would oppose asking the government to stick its nose into a business model such as this with anything but the lightest of touches.
This is particularly true when it is so easy to block objectionable channels.
It’s true that we all end up “underwriting” channels we never watch. But it makes it possible for many of them to survive. Fans of Comedy Central are helping keep channels they never watch in operation, perhaps including Nickelodeon and ABC Family and Lifetime and A&E and foreign language and religious channels.
That’s the current balance, and it will take the clearing of a very high hurdle to convince us that the government should jump in and force a change to this established business model.