Martin Pitches a la Carte to Pitch Industry

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday that the a la carte sale of cable networks would provide advertisers with greater understanding of the actual number of consumers that are watching particular channels.

“Allowing consumers to purchase programming on a more a la carte basis would give them greater choice and control over the programming that comes into their homes and would give advertisers more information about exactly who is watching your commercials; information you desperately want and need,” Martin said.

The sale of cable channels in large bundles or tiers, he added, tended to produce general viewership data for many channels but not the specific numbers advertisers need in order to know exactly the audience they are reaching.

“The current tying of channels of video programming is much the same as requiring consumers to buy 200 magazines or none at all. No consumer wants to be required to buy everything. And no advertiser wants to advertise on channels that no one watches. So I have to ask, why is your industry unenthusiastic about a la carte programming?” Martin said in a speech at the Association of National Advertisers’ Advertising Law and Business Affairs Conference in New York.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association vice president of communications Brian Dietz repeated the trade group’s long-standing view that a la carte would undermine the business, both by raising consumer prices and by reducing the quantity and quality of programming.

"Numerous economic analyses, including the FCC's own economists, have concluded that a la carte would harm consumers by driving up prices and eliminating channels that serve minority and niche audiences. The FCC has also reported that consumers enjoy more choice, more programming and more services than at any time in history. We agree with these findings that the marketplace is working,” Dietz said.

In his speech, Martin insisted that a la carte would provide the ad community with better knowledge about audience size than the current ratings system.

“Providing cable channels on a more a la carte basis would decrease the uncertainty for advertisers and their clients about the viewership of smaller cable networks not covered or not accurately covered by Nielsen [Media Research],” he added. “A la carte sales provide a much more accurate proxy for viewership than sales of the large tier of which the small network is currently one component.”

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