Cable companies endorse a la carte

It all began last week with FCC chairman Kevin Martin’s suggestion that pay television operators allow customers to pay only for programs they want to watch. Such a la carte pricing, he said, would be a way for parents to help shield children from indecent television programming.

By week’s end, two major pay television players, Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan and AT&T, supported the idea. It was a major turnaround for an industry that has vehemently opposed per channel pricing.

Dolan said letting customers buy only the channels they want won’t hurt cable providers or networks.

Cablevision, as with other major operators, currently allows customers only to purchase premium channels, such as HBO, in a la carte pricing. Dolan was not more specific about when or whether his company would implement Martin’s suggestions.

AT&T, formerly SBC Communications and one of the largest U.S. telephone companies, also signaled that it would be willing to allow customers to pay for only the television channels they want.

AT&T’s contingency was based on the fact that some programming contracts currently bar television distributors from offering channels individually, though premium channels like HBO are typically sold separately.

The Cablevision and AT&T positions represent a major break with previous industry positions. A National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesman declined to comment on AT&T’s statement to Reuters but said the government should not interfere with programming deals.

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