John McCain is mad as hell about cable TV prices and he’s not going to take it anymore. Arizona’s senator is proposing legislation that would force cable networks to an “a la carte” model. This would alter the way sports is televised and the profitability of doing so.
ESPN would get nailed. The company is a cash cow, because it taps every television subscriber in America with an ESPN tax of a few dollars per month. Under an “a la carte” model, non sports fans would not have to buy ESPN. The unsubsidized cost for sports fans could be much greater. Even they may not be able to account for the devastating revenue blow. A ban on broadcasters moving “high value” programming from broadcast to cable might also force some sporting events (Monday Night Football?) back onto ABC.
A la carte could destroy conference networks. Their present business model is forcing providers to charge subscriber fees to carry them. Changing to a la carte would make these networks subject to the demand for them, which is minimal. Even sports fans may balk at paying for year-round access for a few B-grade football games. One idea is to outlaw “bundling.” That would scuttle potential plans by the B1G and FOX to “bundle” the B1G Network with Fox News and YES to force it onto basic cable.
Another proposal would block leagues, most notably the NFL, from blacking out home games due to attendance.
While these reforms would be popular and save consumers (who aren’t sports fans) money, it’s hard seeing them becoming law. A la carte would obliterate a profitable gambit for a large number of major corporations, with ample resources to lobby both parties. Congress knows where its bread is buttered. Cable may go a la carte eventually, but only when people stop paying for it out of habit.