Castrated cable

Castrated cable

: The LA Times reports a frightening bit of gutlessness – no, balllessness — from the cable industry:

But in an attempt to avoid anti-indecency backlash, sources say, [Comcast Corp. CEO Brian] Roberts may move to take some of Comcast’s raciest programming off the air.

Sources said that Roberts was considering not renewing “The Howard Stern Show” ó the videotaped version of the shock jock’s rant-filled radio program ó when the contract expires this spring. The show, which helped put the E channel on the map, is still a ratings winner. But Roberts is worried that Stern, who has racked up more than $2 million in indecency fines for the nation’s radio stations, could provoke unwanted scrutiny from Washington, especially if he gets even raunchier once he moves to satellite radio in January.

This is particularly ballless because what cable is trying to avoid is a push to allow consumers to get a la carte channels, which many consumers say they want and which would solve the problem of getting and paying for channels you don’t want in your home (as opposed to blocking them but paying for them anyway). He’s willing to throw out the First Amendment — not to mention customer service — for that.

What’s doubly appalling about this is that it is the result of Congress and the FCC enforcing a law they haven’t even enforced yet. They are pressuring cable to get rid of the shows they don’t like — and we do — with the mere threat of legislation…. legislation that surely will be found to be unconstitutional in any case.

This is an abuse of power. Cable should be standing up to it. It should be squealing like a stuck Ted Stevens pig.

So let’s add Roberts to the ballless hall of fame with Disney, which invited censorship of cable to avoid a la carte pricing.

And let’s contrast that with Johnathan Rogers, a respected TV exec and a good guy I men when he was at CBS. Rogers has balls:

If a compromise cannot be reached, cable executives here warn, some of America’s most-watched shows could become targets, including such “basic” cable offerings as “Nip/Tuck” on News Corp.’s FX and Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which some critics allege promotes a gay lifestyle. Premium cable channels, such as HBO and Showtime, could also face restrictions.

“Viewers are in jeopardy of losing some of their favorite programming unless they speak up,” said Johnathan Rodgers, a longtime television executive who is now chief executive of TV One, a cable channel aimed at African Americans. The 5 million people who watch FX’s “The Shield,” for example, “should let their congressmen know, because other people are labeling it indecent,” he said. “That’s a judgment call.”

  • Zach

    I agree its colossal ballessness, but I don’t see it as a first amendment issue.
    The first amendment doesn’t guarantee that filth will have an outlet. It guarantees that filth can be produced.
    Zach

  • http://www.advicegoddess.com Amy Alkon

    Being forced to take a package deal has been a rooking I’ve been steaming about for years. I would venture that the ability to elminate all the sports channels (none of which I watch) that have been a part of my cable package since I’ve had cable would bring my cable price down from stratospheric to reasonable. Or, would have, I should say. Comcast here in Los Angeles (Santa Monica/Venice area, really) just sent out some note saying they were raising their prices substantially, and made it quite difficult to figure out what they WERE offering vis a vis what they WOULD BE offering. They have a monopoly here. I was so ticked off, and this happened to coincide with my boyfriend investigating how I could get France’s TV5 (available in Adelphia systems — which I can’t get). So I now have Dish. A pleasure — DVD-R package is pretty much like having Tivo, but for $5 a month. Still, it’s under the same take all or nothing package as regular cable. And I’m still forced to take Comcast’s Internet service, since they hold that monopoly, too. This is a very old and stinky fish, and it’s a shame our lawmakers are too busy acting like my mommy to deal with the real issues like these.
    And thank you, Jeff, for consistently standing up for free speech.

  • http://www.advicegoddess.com Amy Alkon

    By the way, I was going to be on a radio show which focuses on men’s movement issues, and I wanted to use the world “blow job,” but I didn’t want to get the station in trouble. I called the FCC to see if I could say “blow job” on the air. “We can’t tell you that; that would be censorship,” they said. I asked, “Well, if I say ‘blow job’, will you fine me and the station lots and lots of money.” Same answer: “We can’t tell you; that would be censorship.”
    Again, a chill on free speech. With a potential fine into the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging over my head, that’s not free speech — that’s very expensive speech.

  • Skate

    This is all BS. Every TV sold has a “V-chip” that allows zealots to lock out each and every channel they don’t like. The idea that the FCC could censor cable seems constitutionally suspect, and the idea that the FCC’s new Censorship Czar would even attempt it shows the complete lack of respect for the constitution that is fundamental to the current administration.

  • Skate

    Zach Wrote:
    “The first amendment doesn’t guarantee that filth will have an outlet. It guarantees that filth can be produced.”
    Zach, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment:
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
    The right to free speech **is** the right to distribute what you say. Everyone in North Korea has the ability to say whatever they want when nobody can hear what they are saying, but that isn’t free speech. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak freely where people can **hear** what we are saying.
    The idea that the FCC wants to censor the cable that I proactively invite into my home and pay for of my own free will is among the worst kind of censorship. What happened to free-market Republicans? I’m a grown up and if I want to pay to hear Howard Stern in the privacy of my own home, that is my right. The FCC literally has no business to say otherwise since the “pervasiveness” argument that was used to censor broadcast doesn’t apply to cable that I choose to pay for and because I can lock out any channel I don’t want with the “V-Chip” (or just delete the channel from my TV’s tuner).

  • h0mi

    But Playboy’s right to publish isn’t infringed upon when a municipality forces a store to keep them out of reach of children. Whether by blocking the front page or keeping them behind the counter.
    WRT to FCC indecency regulation, the regulations should be clear to everyone, well defined, and easily enforcible for consumers (ie v chips) and fines when broadcasters do not fulfill their obligation (putting TV-M material on a show rated “G”). The FCC crap is crap because they won’t tell you what you can get fined for until you’ve already done it & someone complained while not necessarily knowing what you did violated the law (or specifically not being told it was).

  • Kat

    I think the best thing would be if I get to choose which channels I want and not have to pay for the ones I don’t want. Why should I pay for smut so it’s cheaper for you. I don’t want the shit and I should not be forced to pay for it. Why should I pay for blocking crap I don’t want? You can be free to watch whatever you want, just not in my living room.

  • Skate

    “But Playboy’s right to publish isn’t infringed upon when a municipality forces a store to keep them out of reach of children.”
    In the case of cable, you have **already purchased** the product. The FCC wants to censor what you have already bought.

  • Name Withheld

    Kat, you could contact the company that you are paying for your cable and demand that you should be able to pick the channels you want to subscribe to. And if they refuse you should cancel it. And if enough people did the same the companies would probably get the point and start offering that kind of service. I’m guessing that’s one of the cornerstones of capitalism.
    There is a lot of cable channels I “pay” for that I really don’t want either, like Fox News for instance.
    Personally I don’t think there would be enough people requesting this feature. So you probably should cancel your cable to prove a point.

  • chico haas

    Amy:
    Wonder what they’d say about “fellatio”, since that’s more highbrow.

  • Vincent

    Howard Stern needs to pulled off the air now children and teenagers may try to watch.
    Howard Stern is not nice to gays, minoritys, and women. Ted Stevens will lead us to the promised land.

  • Kat

    Yes, but I love Fox–it’s the leftist crap and smutty stuff I hate. But you can’t pick a package without unwanted crap. I cancelled the package with asshole Bill Maher, but the new pkg. still has unwanted junk.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    NameWithheld, the problem is restrictive agreements which the content companies force on the cable providers. Disney makes your cable company include ESPN in the standard tier as a condition for letting the carry your local ABC(Alias). Viacom makes them include MTV as a condition for carrying your local CBS (CSI). And FoxNet makes them include FoxNewsChannel as a condition for getting your local Fox channel(Simpsons).
    The irony is that we pretend broadcasting is “Free TV”. Only if you still use an antenna.

  • Name Withheld

    Kat, well if you continue to pay for it the cable companies won’t start giving you what you actually want. I’m guessing that they see you as a happy customer since you are still paying them.
    Giving up something you want for hopefully a short time could be a lot more rewarding in the longer run.
    (Also you might benefit from being unable to watch Fox News for a while…)

  • Name Withheld

    Hunter, if there were enough people protesting by not watching/paying then they would stop forcing adding stuff. But obviously there aren’t enough people doing that. And I would guess that most people has things that would rather not have to pay for, wether it’s Fox News, MTV, ESPN, the Weather Channel or something with Bill Maher. But it’s obviously not important enough for people to take drastic measurements. So they vote with their remotes instead and don’t watch what they don’t like. Cause in the end you aren’t forced to watch what you don’t like.

  • EverKarl

    For the record, the reason the cable industry does not want to offer channels a la carte is so that less popular programming can be supported by more popular programming. It’s central to the industry’s business model. Kat would have to get several gazillion of her friends to cancel service before cable abandons that model — which is precisely why the industry is being pliant now.

  • http://www.lafn.org/~zeppenwolf zeppenwolf

    Skate: “The right to free speech **is** the right to distribute what you say.”
    …on your own dime, yes. But not on my dime, and similarly not (necessarily) with entitled use of a public utility, and finally, not necessarily with a utility (cable) the standing of which seems to still be up in the air. (Should have worked a joke in there with UHF/VHF and “air”; oh well).
    Some things are clearly public utilities, eg water, roads; and some things are… well, kinda straddling a grey area, eg airports.
    Cable? Well… I dunno. Do you? That’s the issue which clearly enough should be answered before delving into these other questions, let alone blanket condemnations. At least, so it seems to me. But I think I begin to repeat what I’ve said before, so… I guess I’ll cease broadcasting now. (Pshshshshshshshsht!)

  • franky

    Remember those dear old days when Jeff was saying that the attacks on Howard Stern and his radioshow were the beginning of a larger crackdown on the airwaves. Wasn’t there a chorus here who said “don’t exaggerate! Cable will always left alone”?

  • Skate

    “…on your own dime, yes. But not on my dime,”
    It isn’t on your dime. You are not forced to buy cable, and if you do buy cable you are not forced to watch any channel or show. You don’t need to censor the shows I want to watch just because you aren’t interested in them.
    Let’s say cable is like a book store. You don’t have to read any of the books there, but even so you decide that **I** shouldn’t be allowed to read the books that you don’t like, either. That is what the FCC is proposing and you are approving. And for those who say they need to protect their kids, well there is the “V-Chip” that comes in all TVs. You can lock out any and all channels you don’t like and even restrict programs by sex and violence ratings. Or, if you are a really responsible parent, don’t let them watch TV at all.
    Don’t censor everyone else’s cable just because you are too lazy to take responsibility for yourself.

  • Kat

    I am willing to take responsibility–I just don’t want to be forced to pay for crap you want to watch. The First Amendment should also mean not having crap piped into my house that I don’t want. There is an easy solution–let me pick the channels I want and pay for them. You pick the ones you want and pay for them. I’d be willing to pay more just to not get the crap I don’t want on my TV. If you want to be in my living room abide by my rules, or get the hell out.

  • Jim S

    Kat and zeppenwolf make BS arguments. Not only does every television have a V-chip, but if you have a cable box they don’t make a model without parental controls and the ability to block channels. Heck, the oldest TV in my house lets me block channels I don’t want to tune in, even without a cable box. It’s as if the channel doesn’t even exist. And not one of those blocking technologies cost Kat and co. any more than anyone else pays for their televisions or their cable no matter what she tries to claim.

  • Kat

    I don’t want to pay for those channels, period. Why the hell should I pay for something I don’t want. It’s not about blocking, it’s about NOT WANTING in the first place. I don’t want to pay for channels I have to block. Put a price on each channel, and let me decide how I spend my money. If you want smut, you pay for it.

  • Hunter McDaniel

    Filtering out channels isn’t hard, although any teenager worth his salt can figure out the setup menu to unfilter them. I think what Kat (and I) object to is having to PAY FOR the channels we object to. It’s much like workplaces that make you pay union dues whether you choose to join or not, dues which then go to support causes you oppose.
    Imagine if CDs were sold them same way – to get the new U2 album you’d have to buy a bundle that included Barry Manilow and Britney Spears. Of course you could always not LISTEN to the ones they made you pay for, but so what?

  • Skate

    “Imagine if CDs were sold them same way – to get the new U2 album you’d have to buy a bundle that included Barry Manilow and Britney Spears. Of course you could always not LISTEN to the ones they made you pay for, but so what?”
    Or, Imagine if you couldn’t by Britney or Barry because the FCC says no?
    I’m all for ala carte and I think it would take some of the heat off the temptation to censor cable, but cable should not be censored even if there is no ala carte requirement. The difference is important.

  • http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/index.jsp?c_id=bal Sammy Sosa

    Sounds like Comcast is negotiating through the press on behalf of E! to try to sign Stern at a lower price. F the FCC. You can’t fine late-night cable tv full of mosaics and bleeps. Comedy Central lets those cartoon kids say the f word after 11pm. Stern isn’t even that outrageous.
    And hey, how could you fine the tv show that airs usually a week after the radio show without fining the radio show? And what on Earth could slide past Tom and Dead-Air Dave, make it to the radio air and then make it past the far tighter scrutiny from E!’s suits and censors.
    Ironically, the best thing that could happen to E! is to get a little attention on the right side of free speech. It sure didn’t hurt Stern’s radio ratings this year.
    Also, I didn’t take steroids.
    That’s all the English I know.

  • Kat

    But let’s not force me to pay for crap you want and I don’t. I want to censor what comes into my home. If I don’t like it and it’s forced on me, I will bitch. I will not subsidize crap without having something to say about it. I’m not looking to ban Porn mags, but I don’t want a subscription forced on me and then charged for said subscription even if I throw them in the fireplace without reading.

  • Skate

    “If I don’t like it and it’s forced on me, I will bitch.”
    Its not forced on you any more than the sports section of the newspaper is. Don’t want it? Don’t watch it.
    But, by all means, lobby congress for ala carte cable. Just be careful what you ask for. Cable is likely to pull a Microsoft style F You and say that ala carte channels will cost $30 each. The bill would have to be carefully written to prevent gouging and to over step the limits of regulating pricing.

  • Eileen

    “Its not forced on you any more than the sports section of the newspaper is. Don’t want it? Don’t watch it.”
    Oh really? Of COURSE it is ‘forced’ upon us if we have to pay for it as part of the only monopoly-provided cable package available. You’d be satisfied, apparently, if I didn’t have access to any television at all. And where do YOU get off determining my existence? Who the hell are YOU, Skate???
    I am so turned off by the just turn it off crowd. Yeah, ‘we’ll get anything and EVERYTHING we want while you, in turn, get nothing’. Incredible!!! Wrongo; think again, sweet brains. It ain’t gonna happen entirely according to your game plan. Free speech bullies be damned.
    Take my basic cable package, for example. Of 22 prepackaged I-don’t-have-any-choice (free speech) stations, there are only 6 I wish to ever watch. The rest are trash/a waste of my time. Do I have any other options? No. Can I only pay for 1/4 of the stations I only ever watch? No. It’s a monopoly, just like heat and telephone and water services…all crap. They are ALL monopolies which provide no other alternatives.
    If anyone wants to truly delve into freedom, let’s talk about options, and Not conglomerates determining what I watch when and how, or Who I pay for heat, water, lights, telephone and television.
    As for v-chips: is there one in my 10 year old tv? If not, I certainly don’t plan to go buy a new tv to satisfy your ever-evolving, smut-filled game plan.

  • http://www.workingwithwords.blogspot.com John Ettorre

    The first commenter, Zach, said it best. And “filth” is precisely the right word. So as I’ve been saying here for over a year, Jeff, you will never truly be taken seriously as a journalist or commentator by wide swaths of serious people until you somehow come to grips with your embarrassing fetish for Stern. He’s radioactive, and your continued support of his trashiness only makes you seem trashy yourself.

  • Alex

    The “I only want to pay for what I want” crowd sounds really spoiled. The packages offered are what they are – if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. If enough people don’t buy it because they don’t want to pay for dozens of channels they don’t want then cable (and the satellite companies) will be forced to alter their business model (go a la carte or offer a wider variety of packages). The newspaper analogy is a very good one. I can’t go to the newstand and demand the Sports section, but not pay for the Life section. Or, for a TV reference, Kramer trying to pay Jerry half price for half eaten pieces of fruit.

  • Rich D

    You know, you don’t NEED cable at all. I know several people who seem to stumble through life without it just fine. Sure, there are channels in my package (Service Electric in Wilkes-Barre, PA, which incidently was the first service to carry HBO)that I don’t watch and would feel great about not having to pay for, but that’s not the option right now. I’ve sent letters to my cable company stating how much I would prefer the a la carte model. Maybe if enough people do as well than they’ll change their pachages. But in the meantime, your right to be offended by something on cable, pretty much stops right where my right to watch the same program begins. Remeber the words of Mark Twain- “Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.”
    And Eileen- Having previously worked on the retail side of the consumer electronics industry, your 10 year old tv set will probably have channel blocking capabilities. Perhaps being a bit more proactive and looking in the instruction manual or experimenting with the set’s “Menu” button…

  • http://amomentwith.typepad.com/ Easycure

    The fundamental problem is that your definition of smut is different than mine. You think smut is “sexuality” and I think smut can be defined as anything reported by CNN.
    The fact is the first amendment guarantees that I should be able to watch what I want when I want if it is available.
    Now, if you’re not happy with the extra channels, that’s a personal problem. It’s going to take action by you (and other consumers) to get cable to change. You can’t be ticked at the other people just because you pay for a channel you don’t want.
    In any case, this is a really good discussion.

  • Gregg

    “The fact is the first amendment guarantees that I should be able to watch what I want when I want if it is available.”
    The first amendment includes the freedom to consume? No, only the freedom to create: it is the freedom of speech & press, not the freedom to listen or view.
    You have no constitutional right to be able to “watch what I want when I want”

  • Zach

    Skate wrote:
    ‘The right to free speech **is** the right to distribute what you say. Everyone in North Korea has the ability to say whatever they want when nobody can hear what they are saying, but that isn’t free speech. The First Amendment gives us the right to speak freely where people can **hear** what we are saying.’
    I agree, the right to distribute what you say is included. I should have said that it doesn’t guarantee that you will be distributed.
    As far as the FCC being the problem I disagree, this is a cable company issue.
    Skate wrote:
    ‘But, by all means, lobby congress for ala carte cable. Just be careful what you ask for. Cable is likely to pull a Microsoft style F You and say that ala carte channels will cost $30 each. The bill would have to be carefully written to prevent gouging and to over step the limits of regulating pricing.’
    Why would there have to be any limits? Why would gouging need to be avoided? What sense would that make? $30 a channel? No one would pay, which would me no one would advertise which means the channel goes kaput. If its worth $30 then people would pay.

  • Johnny Lumber

    Pretty funny stuff here.
    1)Don’t assume that ala carte will be cheaper than the packages. Could turn out to be much more expensive and the choices available may start to be reduced to those that reach a certain number of viewers. Niche i.e. low volume programs may turn out to be very expensive. As it is now, the low volume stations are subsidized by the high volume. Ala carte options may just end up dummying down cable for everybody to offerings that are supported by a large number of subscribers.
    2)Some people sound like they don’t care how much they may have to pay for ala carte just so they stuff they don’t want doesn’t enter their house. That logic escapes me entirely. If you can pay for a package cheaper and just block the channels you don’t want is it really any different than not getting the channels all together?
    3) Make this a ballot box issue if you feel strong enough about it. Too many of the “silent majority” are content to sit back and think their interests will be protected by others looking out for them. Never make the mistake of thinking that business will protect your rights. Business will sell you out in a minute cause they are here to make a profit. If they can keep government off their back and make a profit by selling you and the constitution out they will do so. You as citizens need to be activists if this is an important enough issue. If you don’t take matters into your hands and away from the politicians, you will get exactly what you deserve.

  • Johnny Lumber

    The right to free speech does not mean that someone else can be forced to distribute content that for them is problematical. If you are a content producer you are not guaranteed distribution. You can make it but may have to find some way to get it to viewers.
    What is a problem are those areas where content distributors hold a monopoly on the pipes into your home. Maybe this is the wedge needed to get rid of local area cable monopolies.

  • Eileen

    Due to the number of trees where I live (a very good thing), I get reception for one channel. I don’t even have access to the public airways without buying cable or satellite. [I sold satellite tv years ago for a brief stint, and in many cases we couldn’t spot a line for satellite for the same reason. In those days satellite didn’t offer the big three, either.] The same applies to radio. I get one station. I’m left with the very worst my local cable monopoly provides without paying my other arm and leg, or an additional ear and nose for satellite.
    When monopolist Adelphia came to town, their basic package was relatively decent. Over time, they eliminated the only good channels in an effort to force people to purchase more expensive packages.
    I object to not only the monopoly factor, but the packaging options as well. The ‘basic’ plan people get the most lousy offerings like multiple shopping networks, multiple C-Spans, lots of paid advertising content, no movie channels, only one news network, nothing the least bit interesting like Discovery, and etc. I’m just as irked about what is Not in my package as what Is in it. At the very least, there should be competing cable providers which offer better, more attractive packaging options. Without that, I’d vote for a la carte any day. Let the market decide what content survives. That would include anyone’s definition of smut as well. Let those who wish to watch CNN and Playboy pay for them. If they survive on that basis, fabulous. If not, fabulous too. With multiple cable companies, competitive a la carte pricing approaches would presumably be fostered as well. As it currently stands, monopoly cable has its cake while charging me a pretty penny for crumbs.
    Let the peeps decide the nature and extent of tv smut they choose to experience in their lives.

  • http://www.akkamsrazor.com rzklkng

    BTW, a smart man uses this as justification to the cable companies to debundle. For example, you get E! with the Entertainment Package, so it’s not necessarily something you “opted-in” to have broadcast into your home. If you debundle, you brought it in therefore you take ownership and responsibility for the content…

  • Andy Freeman

    > And thank you, Jeff, for consistently standing up for free speech.
    Jeff does not consistently stand up for free speech. He consistently stands up for porn speech by media.
    He’s basically silent on the issue of political speech by not media. While that’s significantly better than most media types, who actively campaign to restrict political speech by not-media, it’s not praiseworthy.
    Given the opposition to my political speech by media, why should I give a damn about media’s porn speech?

  • Hunter McDaniel

    Andy-
    Jeff points out that the same arguments that are used to suppress “indecency” today will be used to suppress “sexist” or “homophobic” stuff tomorrow. I happen to think that’s a pretty reasonable fear.

  • Andy Freeman

    Umm, “sexist” and “homophobic” speech is already being suppressed, thanks partly to our media “friends”. In other words, we’ve already slipped past that point on the slope.
    Media is mostly hostile to speech by not-media. At best certain media folk don’t pile on while they’re asking for not-media help wrt porn speech by media.
    I’m not interested in supporting free speech rights for people who campaign against my free speech rights.
    But, let’s suppose that I was. Why would I care about these rights? It’s not like there’s actually a shortage of nipples in public view. Am I supposed to get excited because an FCC fine might mean that some cable exec doesn’t get to buy a bigger house in Aspen? Or, that cable viewership drops?
    I don’t have a problem with porn-speech being in the penumbra of my political speech, but our media friends have killed that option.

  • Karen
  • Mark