Picture this: Pay for only the cable channels you watch

5:17 PM, Sep 12, 2007   |    comments
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The Federal Communications Commission is examining just such an idea. It's called a la carte pricing.

However, the head of the Denver-based channel, Altitude, says the plan could put his network out of business.

Cable is like a box of pizza. You can order a small one with just a couple of slices, or channels. You can also order a large pizza with many more slices, or channels.

But, try and tell the pizza shop you just want a few bites from the big pizza and you won't pay for the rest. Chances are, you'll go home hungry. Pizza, and cable, don't work that way. Yet.

The FCC is considering controlling skyrocketing cable costs with a la carte pricing. Cable customers would pay only for the channels they watch and want.

Small cable-based networks say a la carte would put them out of business. Altitude CEO Jim Martin said if a la carte takes hold, "Altitude disappears, along with a lot of other networks."

Martin said cable channels with vast followings, like ESPN, would survive, but smaller outfits would have to charge consumers far more to pay for production costs. In the end, Martin said, the networks with smaller amounts of viewers will fold.

"With an a la carte system, you will pay more and get a lot less," Martin told 9NEWS. 

However, in a cable television universe with seemingly never-ending choices, is fewer channels such a bad thing?

"I think, to the consumer, it feels like a waste," said Duke Hartman, COO of Denver-based High Noon Entertainment. "It feels as though there's an awful lot of channels that you never look at and never view."

High Noon Entertainment produces cable television shows for a number of networks, large and small.

Hartman says, in reality, those large bundles of cable channels is what keeps lesser-known channels available. Like Martin, Hartman warned that customers will pay far higher amounts if they break up their cable bills by channel.

"It's going to be more expensive per channel to produce," he said.

Proponents of a la carte pricing say some households could reduce their cable bills by only paying for the channels they want.

Advocates for pay-per-channel also point to families who find certain programming objectionable. They say cable channel bundling forces some consumers to pay for channels they will never watch.

A spokesperson for Comcast Cable declined to comment on the issue of a la carte pricing.

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