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Media Timeout: Legislation could lead to big TV sports changes

[ 0 ] May 13, 2013 |

John McCain is tackling the rising cost of cable television, and it might bring down the gaudy numbers fueling sports networks.

McCain, an Arizona senator and former Republican presidential nominee, introduced legislation last week that would enable viewers to pay for only the channels they want, instead of having to accept packages put together by cable providers.

Officially titled the Television Consumer Freedom Act, media members have dubbed it TV a la carte.

“(The bill) is about giving the consumer more choices when watching television,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “It’s time for us to help shift the landscape to benefit television consumers.”

Should such a bill pass, it could be good or bad for sports fans.

On one hand, you wouldn’t have to pay for the Hallmark Channel or VH1. On the other, ESPN might demand a hefty subscription fee.

Remember, TV revenue is a primary force in conference realignment. When Rutgers and Maryland were invited last November to join the Big Ten Conference, Sports Illustrated estimated the move could bring $100-$200 million annually, based on the 15 million households in those markets.

But what if some of those households take a pass?

The Big Ten Network currently reaches 80 million households through more than 300 cable, satellite and other outlets.

“A key driver in the increase of cable cost is sports programming,” said Steve Purcell, a group vice-president for Mediacom. “As you see new networks come out, every single one of them wants to be paid. That’s why they’re creating the networks. That’s where the cost begins to inflate.”

McCain’s bill enters Congress as an underdog. Cable companies would likely prefer to keep premier channels bundled with less popular ones.

Purcell sees potential problems when it comes to determining prices for individual channels.

“I think you’ll discover the technology is there,” Purcell said of switching to an a la carte model. “The difficulty may come in, how do you choose the specific channel lineup you want?

“I think the concern is, on some sides, how much does each channel cost? And does it become more than less.”

Category: Big Ten

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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