Kevin Martin, FCC Chairman, in the Lion's Den

At the Cable Show: Still Pushing for 'a la Carte' Cable Tiers

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- FCC Chairman Kevin Martin -- the man who keeps bringing up the idea of selling cable stations "a la carte" -- seemed an unlikely candidate to deliver the opening keynote address to a crowd of cable programmers and operators at the 2007 Cable Show yesterday in Las Vegas -- a point he was quick to acknowledge from the get-go.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Credit: Jim Ruymen

"It's a pleasure. More than that, it's a surprise," he told the crowd at the first combined show of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association conference and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's annual gathering. "Over the past few months I've wondered if I'd be invited to attend, nonetheless speak."

Unfavorable headlines
He then proceeded to rattle off a list of headlines and press comments from the last week regarding his "simplistic and misguided" policies on the cable industry and inability to "agree on a single issue." Quipped Mr. Martin: "Over the weekend, my wife and I were fighting over whose turn it was to change our son's diaper and she threatened to call Multichannel News."

But Mr. Martin's equal parts praise-and-criticism speech was not entirely without controversy. He did, after all, reiterate his approval of the "cable a la carte" proposal that would allow consumers to purchase the channels they watch individually as opposed to being offered hundreds of options all at once by an operator.

"I don't believe consumers should have to buy Spike TV in order to get Discovery. They should be able to pick and choose the products they want," he said. "Some of you are quite familiar with my views on this topic, so I don't want to start a riot this early in the show."

A panel of cable operating execs that succeeded Mr. Martin's keynote didn't get too heated, though Stephen Burke, chief operating officer of Comcast Corp., did propose a unique movie opportunity that might ruffle a few feathers in Hollywood. "You can imagine [a situation] where we could put 'Spider-Man [3]' on in a pay-per-view fashion with the opening weekend and charge $30 or $50 [to remain] competitive with theatrical distribution. I'm sure theater owners might not be happy with that, but at the end of the day, consumers want what they want when they want it."

Time Warner Cable's 'Catch-Up'
Glenn Britt, president and chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable, also discussed a forthcoming offering called "Catch-Up" that would provide viewers with an opportunity to catch the preceding episodes of their favorite broadcast shows on an on-demand basis.

"It's an example of how we can work with the networks," he said. "We've also disabled the fast-forward so the ad model is intact. It's just a good example of what you can do with this technology."

Mr. Burke was keen on Mr. Britt's idea. "It would get people rehooked to the show ... and someone providing the content has to continue to have ads in the content. It's got to be good for the programmer and good for the cable company and makes us more competitive with satellite."
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