Comcast Joins the Family

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Comcast Corp. Thursday gave pro-family-programming advocates its version of a family-tier gift, but indecency critics are already saying, “Bah, humbug,” over cable’s latest attempt to stave off a la carte.

Unlike Time Warner Cable’s 15-channel, stand-alone family tier, announced last week, Comcast will fold 16 cable channels -- including its own PBS Kids Sprout, Nickelodeon and Nick Too and Disney Channel, as well as C-SPAN and religious network Trinity Broadcasting Network -- into its 20- to 25-channel basic-cable tier, which includes the local broadcast networks, Spanish-language services Univision and Telemundo and religious broadcast networks.

The remaining “family-tier” cable networks are: Toon Disney, Discovery Kids, Science Channel, Nickelodeon Games and Sports, Home & Garden Television, Food Network, DIY, CNN Headline News, The Weather Channel, National Geographic Channel and C-SPAN 2

The new family-tier package will vary by market but average about $31.20 per month -- a locally regulated $12 for the MSO’s broadcast-basic tier, $14.95 for the family-tier cable channels and a $4.25 digital-cable set-top-box fee, also regulated.

Comcast follows Time Warner’s lead in offering a family-friendly tier. National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow told a Senate committee two weeks ago that MSOs serving about 50% of all cable subscribers will offer a “Family Choice” tier, probably in the first quarter of next year, as their response to concerns about indecent content across the cable dial.

Much like Time Warner, Comcast officials chose networks for the family tier that featured primarily TV-G-rated content, have limited “live” entertainment programming, encompass a broad range of general entertainment, are widely distributed across Comcast systems and meet existing contractual programming agreements.

“This is another example of Comcast’s continued commitment to offering family-friendly programming,” said Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer, who would not predict how well the tier would perform.

But Comcast’s commitment to offer less indecent programming does not go far enough, according to the Parents Television Council, a pro-a-la-carte conservative group that also criticized Time Warner’s family tier last week.

“I truly do not think that it’s possible to come up with a one-size-fits-all family tier, and that’s why I think a la carte is the best alternative,” PTC director of research and publications Melissa Caldwell said.

The Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition however, supported the MSO’s efforts. “Comcast’s introduction of a ‘family tier’ of G-rated programming is a welcome and important step in the right direction,” coalition spokesman Colby M. May said.