Changes to cable television on horizon

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) is promoting legislation to give people more choice and control over their cable television channels. With an army of cable industry lobbyists fighting the bill, the measure may never pass Congress, but it will score high in popularity with consumers.

McCain introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 to fight back the “injustice being inflicted on the American people.” The senior senator wants cable companies to sell channels on an a la carte menu, giving households the freedom to subscribe to and pay for only the channels they want.

Eliminating 50 or 60 channels from a 100-channel package makes sense if it lowers a subscriber’s cable bill. The industry argues the opposite will occur. For example, if 50 percent of the households now receiving ESPN cancel the channel, it would have to double its costs to consumers.

Consumer advocacy groups are saying let the marketplace decide which channels succeed or fail. People who don’t want a channel, such as ESPN, shouldn’t have to subsidize it.

Sports enthusiasts will love another feature of McCain’s bill that eliminates the blackout rule for any stadium paid for with taxpayer dollars. The rule blocks local TV stations from broadcasting an NFL game if it’s not sold out.

Insiders predict McCain’s bill won’t get far. But the mill sends a message to the pay-TV industry that a shift in the television landscape is coming.