The Family Choice Tier includes 15 channels: C-SPAN 2 and 3; Turner Broadcasting’s Boomerang and CNN Headline News; Discovery Networks’ The Science Channel, Discovery Kids and FIT-TV; Disney’s Disney Channel and Toon Disney; Scripps’ DIY Network, Food Network and HGTV; The Weather Channel; La Familia; and Viacom’s Nick Games & Sports. It will cost customers $12.99 on top of the approximate $12 basic cable charge.
The move comes amid pressure from the FCC to do something about TV indecency. FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin has come out in support of an a la carte distribution model, a far less desirable solution to cable operators. The family-friendly tier is seen as a way of fending off such potential legislation.
Time Warner customers need a digital set top box to receive the family-friendly tier and will also be required to receive the 15 to 20 basic service channels, which federal law requires be available to all customers. Those basic channels include local broadcast stations, public and government access channels and educational channels. The basic lineup varies by market and occasionally also includes some cable networks such as CSPAN or CNN.
According to a Time Warner Cable spokesman, the criteria for a channel to be included in the family friendly tier “was very rigid” and certain programs, even on kid-targeted Nickelodeon “don’t fit the mold,” although he declined to name specifics. Cartoon Network wasn’t included, for example, because it turns into the older skewing Adult Swim after dark. Viacom and Turner did not return calls by press time.
Of course, the number of cable customers opting for a family-friendly tier could affect distribution and, thus, the ability to sell advertising since most cable network ad-sales models value ratings above all else and are not yet ready to sell ads based on a per household or direct-sales basis.
Cable companies have long asserted that their customers have more control over what comes into their home than virtually any other media, including radio and newspapers. Basic cable customers have the option to block entire channels, digital cable customers can block particular programs, and the V chip allows parents to block programs that have garnered particular ratings. Cable executives say this family-friendly tier is a passive way for people to block programming they might deem objectionable.
In a statement, Time Warner Cable Chairman-CEO Glenn Britt said: “Our customers have always had the tools to actively exclude any channel or program they might find objectionable for their families. This new family tier will offer our customers yet another way to obtain kid friendly programs without the need for them to take an active role in monitoring shows and deciding on which ones to pro-actively block from their TV set.”