John McCain's a la carte may be an empty plate

It looks as though at least one legislator is paying attention to the desires of the average television viewer. Senator John McCain recently introduced a bill designed to allow consumers to buy only the channels they want. In addition, the bill aims to end sports blackouts, a longstanding policy of denying viewers access to sports games if the seats are not full.

The Bill

Senator McCain intends the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 to benefit the average television consumer, according to the Los Angeles Times. To accomplish this, the bill would provide incentives for television providers to offer channels "a la carte", or individually. According to ABC News, the bill would make copyright license available, licenses which providers use to protect their content, contingent upon whether companies choose to offer a la carte options.

Currently, cable subscribers have little choice but to purchase numerous channels they have no interest in. McCain used the example of ESPN several times in his speech on the bill. Most people wind up paying for ESPN, even if they have no interest in sports. It comes bundled with many premium packages. McCain argues that a la carte options would keep cash-strapped families from being forced to pay for something they do not want.

According to, current packages include a range of channels – including MLB Extra Innings, ESPN GamePlan, Fox Soccer Plus and NFL Sunday TICKET. Viewers with little interest in sports are paying for services they don't enjoy.

Sports Blackouts

The bill also looks to address sports blackouts. Blackout rules currently prevent certain live events, such as sports games, from being seen if particular requirements are not met. In the case of sports games, if a game fails to sell enough tickets, viewers may not be able to pick it up on television.

The bill would require any venue that used even a small portion of taxpayer money to ignore blackout restrictions, according to TheVerge. Most professional stadiums used some form of taxpayer dollars, so the bill would effectively eliminate blackouts for professional games.

Vocal Opposition

As appealing as the bill may appear to many consumers, it faces tough opposition and some predict it to be dead on arrival. The National Cable and Television Association insists that the bill will be a losing proposition for both consumers and television providers, says ABC News. According the Association, multiple studies have shown that bundling delivers a better value to the consumer – including more viewing options and more diversity amongst those options.

This opposition is not just talk. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association paid lobbyists $200,000 in 2013 thus far, and Comcast spent $14.86 million on lobbying the previous year, according to ABC News. Television providers are putting their money behind their opinions, and that is sure to have an impact on legislators.

Some commentators, such as Deadline's David Lieberman, insist that the bill stands no chance against such opposition. Because McCain is going after both network and cable television providers, both are willing to team up to combat his efforts. As the figures above indicate, these players have huge lobbying budgets, and they will do what is necessary to be heard.