By Ronald Peltier
Being an ardent fan of the AMC show Breaking Bad, I was relieved that my cable subscription provider was Direct TV and not Dish. A carriage fee dispute between AMC Networks and Dish resulted in AMC, and Breaking Bad’s season premiere, being dropped from Dish. AMC responded by offering the season premiere online. Dropping the show from its service has not adversely affected its ratings as the episode garnered 2.9 million viewers—a record for any single show of Breaking Bad.
But alas, one of my other favorite shows, The Daily Show, has been removed from my cable service. Viacom and Direct TV are engaged in a dispute related to carriage fees too. According to Direct TV’s CEO Mike White, “Viacom demands that you (Direct TV customers) pay 30 percent more” for the same shows. In this video, he also states that Viacom refuses to allow its customers to pay for the stations they want. “It’s an all or nothing approach.”
Viacom distributes 26 channels, including Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, BET, VH1, CMT, Spike TV, TV Land and more. Viacom is the most watched programmer on DirecTV. So it carries a lot of cachet and affects a whole lot of people: some 20 million subscribers. White suggests that customers should be allowed to buy the shows that they want to watch, a so-called a la carte approach.
This approach makes a whole lot of sense. Of the shows that Viacom distributes, I watch one frequently, Comedy Central. I watch VH1 and Spike when they show something worthwhile on, which is infrequently. And I never watch BET, CMT, MTV or TV Land. So, then, why should I pay for shows that I simply never watch? In fact, if you are like me, you are puzzled that there are so many channels but so little to watch.
The argument supplied by Viacom is that the popular shows, like Comedy Central, support the niche shows. Okay, but why should they? This is entertainment, not important public service information. It is not insurance, which one pays for but uses infrequently. It does not make sense that subscribers should pay for a service that they don’t watch or want. The supposition that it supports other programs simply doesn’t stand scrutiny. If the ‘niche’ programs don’t make enough money, well then, the market place should determine that. Isn’t that what we often here from the CEOs and business leaders of the world? Let the market decide.
Imagine if you could choose from a selection of channels for one monthly fee. This idea is not new after all. Would you eat at a restaurant if you were forced to pay for food items that you did not want or even like? “I am sorry, but you must order the fried okra with your Baja shrimp tacos,” the waiter might inform you.
While some may argue that there is too much government regulation, here is a place that they should step in and require Viacom, AMC Networks, Disney, et al., to compete in the entertainment market place and not be subsidized by us. Surely, Viacom, AMC and all the other programmers can offer a ‘package’ that allows its customers to select which channels they want. Or perhaps they can work with the providers to come up with something similar. In the current economic climate, folks are struggling to make ends meet, and if the giant corporations involved in these financial disputes don’t alter their positions, what is a customer to do but cancel their subscriptions and read a book. The library, for example, is free and allows you to choose which books you want to read. What a ‘novel’ concept.
What do you think about this issue?