A la Recherche du A la Carte Offers Perdu


In case you were wondering if Time Warner Cable’s since-rejected offer to carry CBS and Showtime a la carte was a novel approach, it wasn’t.

Offering to let a programmer that’s accustomed to being paid for being part of a channel bundle (such as digital basic) go it alone is a time-tested tactic for distributors engaged in fee disputes. Here are some examples of similar offers that have been declined. The offers aren't always declined with a verbal swipe such as CBS CEO Leslie Moonves laid on Time Warner Cable's motivation ("dishonest," "grandstanding"). But declined nonetheless.

With apologies to Proust for the title of this blog post, here are some past offers rejected by programmers:

  • AT&T U-verse, in April 2013, offered to carry CSN Houston a la carte.
  • Suddenlink, in January 2013, offered to carry various Fox networks a la carte, letting Fox set the retail price and pocket the revenue.
  • Time Warner Cable, in December 2010, offered to carry Sinclair Broadcast Group stations a la carte, letting Sinclair set the retail price and pocket the revenue.
  • Cablevision, in March 2002, offered to carry YES Network a la carte, letting YES set the retail price and pocket the revenue. Interestingly, Cablevision CEO James Dolan, the man who extended that opportunity to the New York Yankees-owned regional sports network, in 2010 publicly warned distributors and content providers that going a la carte "would be devastating."

Fortunately, or not, it doesn't look like the a la carte model is coming to big programmers. Not voluntarily, and not by law, either. As our D.C. ace reporter John Eggerton noted last month, after a-la-carte legislation offered by Sen. John McCain found a co-sponsor in Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal: "The bill was introduced to much fanfare, but handicappers see slim to no chance of the legislation making it to the president's desk."