Indecency, a la Carte Dominate Discussion

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New Orleans -- Debate over indecency and a la carte programming choices dominated Tuesday’s opening session at the National Show here, which featured Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra, NBC Cable president David Zaslav, Showtime Networks Inc. CEO Matt Blank, Oxygen chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne and E.W. Scripps Co. CEO Kenneth Lowe.

“Let’s call it what it is: censorship,” Laybourne said in describing the backlash in Washington, D.C., after Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance in January, which moderator Anderson Cooper of Cable News Network called the “nipple ripple.”

Vinciquerra pointed out that the Super Bowl flash wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had appeared on networks such as FX, Home Box Office or Showtime because their viewers expect edgier content.

Blank concurred, saying, “People do know what they’re getting at Showtime, but we’re very concerned about the lumping of all of this programming together.”

All of the programmers on the panel said the industry and consumers would be hurt if legislators were to force cable operators to offer subscribers a la carte programming choices, with Blank noting that networks such as Black Entertainment Television wouldn’t have succeeded in an a la carte world.

“It’s the devastation of any new business,” Laybourne added. “It’s a loser proposition.”

The impact that digital-video recorders will have on programmers was also a topic on the panel, with Vinciquerra downplaying the threat that the devices could have on advertising revenue.

“Some homes will use it, some will not. Most will be blasé about it,” Vinciquerra said. “It’s not the death star of our business.”

Lowe said DVRs and on-demand programming affect viewing habits. “When you put control in the viewer’s hand, you’re never going to take it back,” he added.