The cable television industry could be in store for a serious shake-up if Senator John McCain gets his way.
The Capitol Hill veteran and former Republican presidential candidate introduced legislation Thursday designed to lead to a move towards a-la-carte cable subscriptions. The bill would also prevent broadcasters from pulling “Aereo-proofing” their content, a move threatened by networks such as Fox and CBS in response to the rise of the new streaming service.
McCain fancies himself a longtime antagonist of the cable industry, and he is introducing the bill at a moment when the cable business model is facing something of an inflection point. At the same time that consumers are looking at rising subscription costs, cable carriers and media conglomerates are sparring in the courts over the bundling of content packages. Not to mention, technological alternatives to cable such as streaming video have proliferated to the point that subscribers have more reason to “cut the cord” than ever before.
I’ve actually theorized for a while now that the regulation of cable television had the potential to grow into a hot political issue for a host of reasons.
Primary among them, older people watch a lot of TV. (There’s a reason why CBS is “America’s Most Watched Network,” after all.) As of 2010, Americans aged 65 and up watched an average of more than 47 hours of television per week, more than any other age cohort by about five hours per week. The graying of the national population means that this age group will increasingly dominate a larger share of the voting public. (Note that McCain represents a state that is crawling with retirees). These people also turn out to the polls, even when the next occupant of the White House isn’t on the ballot. (And I don’t have any data to back this up, but how many old people do you know who don’t bitch when the price of anything goes up?)
As such, there are plenty of political points to be scored here – and even more to be scored going forward. I have my doubts that this specific legislation will go anywhere. The cable industry and content providers combine to form a pretty powerful lobby in Washington with friends in high places.
Whether or not this specific bill garners much support is ultimately irrelevant, though. Between the pressures being applied by politicians, the market and, potentially, the courts, changes to the cable business look more like a matter of if than when. ESPN and the media companies handing out lucrative contracts for sports media rights presumably have a backup plan… right?