The NFL Al Carte’

John McCain

This past month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013. It is legislation aimed at pressuring cable and satellite TV providers into allow their customers to pick and choose the channels they pay for and do away with the annoying, yet financially successful concept of “bundling”.  As expected, the bill will face stiff resistance from both the The National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.  Cable and satellite heavy hitters Cox, Comcast and DirecTV, are also ready to mount a strong opposition, as the meat of their profits and marketing agendas are built around the bundling concept. (Side note: The bill also includes a provision that would boost Web TV service Aereo, according to the industry sources. Aereo allows customers to stream broadcast TV on their computer or mobile device, but the TV networks are suing the company, claiming that it is stealing their copyrighted content….Napster anyone?) Rather than mandating his desired end result, Sen. McCain notes that his bill is completely voluntary, offering incentives that would ideally result in consumers being able to purchase their preferred channels individually.

Additionally, industry officials have stated that the bill would effectively end the sports long observed “blackout rule”, which prohibits cable companies from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations. Dropping the rule would have the most effect on the National Football League, which requires broadcasters to black out games if the local team does not sell out the stadium. The rule is meant to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live. However, for many fans stuck with teams that can’t seem to just get out of their own way (i.e. Browns, Bills, Cardinals, Chiefs, Jags and Raiders) a television blackout sometimes equates to a chance to watch quality professional football….just sayin…


While that proposal has no shot of standing up in privately owned stadiums, McCain wants it implemented for any team whose stadium was funded with taxpayer dollars.

“When the venue in which these sporting events take place has been the beneficiary of taxpayer funding,” McCain said, via the Los Angeles Times, “it is unconscionable to deny those taxpayers who paid for it the ability to watch the games on television when they would otherwise be available. In the end, the Television Consumer Freedom Act is about giving the consumer more choices when watching television. It’s time for us to help shift the landscape to benefit television consumers.”

This bill proposes an interesting development. The National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association argue that the government should not micromanage how they offer their products to customers and that bundling can promote diverse offerings. Really? In all reality, bundling is simply a better bottom line revenue generator for the telecommunication companies. If as an attorney, I “bundled” useless “services” to you, packaged with useful ones, I would able to drastically increase my profit margin, as would almost any other business owner. However, such a bundling technique would be unethical in my field of practice and I would venture to say, unethical in most other business practices as well. However, the telecommunication industry and more specifically, Viacom Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Philippe Dauman has mocked  this idea and argued that bundling actually lowers prices and increases value for consumers because it allows smaller networks to invest in their shows while knowing they will have distribution.

“Consumers are enjoying what many have called the golden age of television,” Dauman said. “It’s good value for consumers.”
Well, okay Mr. Dauman… Stay tuned folks. This should be interesting.