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Will Sen. McCain's a la Carte Bill Pass?
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (May 15, 2013) - Editor's Note: TV's Answer Man, aka Swanni, takes your questions regarding how to best use the latest products and services in TV technology. If you have a question about TV technology, ask TV's Answer Man by sending an e-mail to

Q. I read today (May 14) about Sen. John McCain's new legislation on a la carte pricing. It would force the TV operators to only charge for channels I watch. Does the bill have a chance? I would sure like to see it. -- Natalie, Waco, Texas.

Sen. McCain's bill would indeed permit you to pick (and pay for) the channels you want to order rather than buy a package of channels, some of which you may never watch. The TV providers have long required subscribers to buy packages because they believe the package model generates the most revenue and allows them to provide the highest number of channels to all viewers. (Because they get more revenue, they can afford to pay licensing fees to carry the niche channels as well as the more popular networks such as CBS, ABC, etc.)

But McCain says Americans are fed up with rising pay TV bills and would gladly trade losing access to some niche channels for a lower bill that only included the channels they really watch.

Click here to learn more about a la Carte.

But here's the problem with that argument. If the niche channels go away, it's likely one of them is on your list of channels you watch. Think about it. You may watch the four big networks, ESPN, HBO, etc., but you probably also like a low-rated niche channel or two because it appeals directly to your interests. It could be the Major League Baseball channel, the Cooking Channel, the Military Channel, whatever.

Under a la carte, the odds are good that those special-interest channels would disappear because they wouldn't generate enough viewers for a TV provider to pay for them. A la carte would reduce the amount of money the TV provider had so it would have to be more careful about which channels it carried, which means it would mostly carry sure-thing channels with large audiences.

Now as to your question, the McCain bill is DOA -- Dead on Arrival. Regardless of the merits, nearly every major powerful force in television (including the TV providers, the networks and even the content creators) is against the legislation and will do anything to stop it. Despite the occasional posturing, they like the status quo because it means more money in their pockets. The McCain bill, which also has a section that would hurt the networks' fight against the upstart local TV channel provider, Aereo, would cost them dearly.

Those powerful forces will call upon their powerful friends in Congress to strike down the McCain bill before it gets a chance to build any momentum. (Also complicating the bill's chances: McCain's influence in Congress arguably is on the wane.)

So don't expect a la Carte anytime soon, Natalie. At least not from the McCain bill.

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