Republicans, taking the House, and gaining some (though not as much as they could) in the Senate, have an opportunity. To strike back at Big Media (one of their enemies) and make friends among the people. Will they take it?
Big Media, is increasingly reliant upon cable and satellite carriage fees. Viacom, Time-Warner, now Comcast-NBCU, Disney-ABC, News Corp, all rely on extensive carriage fees, often from cable channels no one watches, for much of their profits. The recent News Corp-Fox/Cablevision spat over carrying Fox and Fox Sports (resulting in blackouts for much of the World Series for Comcast customers) is just one aspect. Media companies want to milk as much money as possible from their cable channels. In practice, this means high fees from cable and satellite companies (excluding of course, their own, such as News Corp owned Direct TV or Comcast-NBCU). Which in turn bundle cable channels together, to customers, because that is how they are charged. Want ESPN? Disney requires cable/satellite companies to carry as well, ABC Family channel, Disney Channel, Disney XD, and a whole lot of “junk” channels that few watch. Particularly those wanting male-skewing sports.
Republicans have an opportunity here. Force both content providers (cable channels) and cable and satellite companies, to offer ala-carte pricing, with hard caps on what consumers are forced to pay. This could in theory offer a consumer a cable bill lowered from say, $65 a month to only $40. That’s a big deal for consumers, about $25 a month in hard times. It also punishes the ideological enemies (and class enemies) of the Republican/Tea Party coalition, by taking money away from them. No longer can Bravo, or SyFy, or the myriad Lifetime networks cruise on the popularity of bigger cable networks. No more “edgy” shows designed to get lots of press and annoy cultural conservatives and incrementally push culture left (Big Love, Sister Wives, etc.) coasting on the easy money from bundled services.
Instead we’d get a few winners: ESPN, Fox News, Discovery, USA. With a lot of losers: FX, Bravo, Out, Disney XD, SyFy, A&E, AMC, etc. What is notable is how few networks have any real revenue from advertising, since few people watch their shows. Much of cable network’s ecosystem consists of channels averaging 60,000 viewers or so. Mad Men has fewer than 2 million viewers, despite all the hype.
What this can do, is cut deeply into the revenue stream that supports the hiperati. Those who produce stuff that moves the culture leftward, and towards break-down. Meanwhile, cable channels that survive can no longer follow the MSNBC model (to get say USA, cable and satellite companies, and their customers, must also get Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow), relying on other sister-channel popularity to appeal to a tiny minority of the hard left culturally and politically.
It would certainly kill BET, and perhaps some of the Food, Golf, Home Improvement, and other channels. Since under this plan, consumers could cancel a channel at any time, and receive pro-rated refunds, and the cost would therefore be passed on to cable channel owners (they only get paid each month for each subscriber), every incentive would be aligned to produce mass, middle of the road content, and away from niche stuff that finds little appeal outside tiny groups.
Much of America’s problems stem from a degradation of culture, pushed not by conspiracies but by alignment of incentives and perverse economic structures, often built by accident or the best intentions. During the Reagan era, it was argued that bundling would increase diverse cable channels, from CSPAN to NASA to RFD to BET. That allowing the bundling would provide incentives for niche content to grow into mass content, that could be funded commercially in no other way. The FCC and Congress allowed the structure of bundling to grow and spread.
With the result that Bravo, OUT, Lifetime, TLC, AMC, FX, and the rest, mostly pollute the culture instead of improve it. Atomize people instead of bringing them together in re-asserted common bonds. Bundling has allowed, indeed encouraged, capture by the hard left cultural elite intent on being as edgy as possible. It is the revenge of the Hipster.
An easy way to bring it all down, is simply to mandate ala-carte choices and pricing. Want OUT? Bravo? TLC? Then pay for it. Most consumers won’t, and won’t have to subsidize those who do. Meanwhile ESPN, Fox News, USA, and a few other networks will do quite well. The revamped SyFy, mostly Twilight-conceived pseudo science fiction (the revamped Battlestar Galactica series and spin-offs), designed to appeal to a tiny fraction of women, will wither and die. So too, MTV (they are fighting over the same teen girl audience as the CW). Or VH1, there really is not much of an audience for celebrity rehab. And of course, with them the class and culture enemies of ordinary people: the Malibu millionaires espousing hard left ideology. The mini James Camerons.
All this while putting money in consumer pockets. Would Obama veto it? Senate Dems fight it? Of course. So make that an issue. Force them to act to keep cable bills high in a recession. It is time to think about dismantling the economic and cultural centers of the class enemy: the millionaires and billionaires in Malibu and the Upper East Side. There are other measures. But this is so easy and compelling, Republicans should push it. Hard.