'A La Carte' TV Takes On A New Meaning With Streamers

Cable won a key battle in Maine, but the war looks like the industry will continue to endure big losses. When should it raise the white flag?

The cable TV industry won a major legal decision in Maine, deeming the law requiring cable operators to sell individual networks to consumers on an a la carte basis unenforceable.

Long before the streaming world hit the business, there were consumer complaints about the growing cable TV monthly fees. Plus, they wanted to pick and choose networks, from say 100 to 300 channels available. Depending on estimates, consumers regularly watch anywhere from eight to 15 TV networks.

But that’s not how traditional pay TV services work.

The industry counters: If consumers were allowed to pick and choose the networks they want, many TV networks could go out of business. In turn, pay TV providers would need to dramatically raise consumer pricing even higher.



In 2019, Maine passed a law allowing a la carte buying of TV networks. However, it seems the law wasn’t perfect. For example, it didn't require a cable operator to charge any particular price for an individual channel or program. And that’s where the things turned back in the cable industry’s favor -- there was no way to enforce the law.

Traditional deal-making have big TV networks groups -- WarnerMedia, Viacom, NBCUniversal, Walt Disney, Discovery -- making package TV network deals with cable, satellite and telco companies. In particular, this gives major media companies leverage, especially packaging highly desired broadcast networks with smaller, lower revenue (and lower cost) producing cable networks.

Now, those same companies are moving on to different kinds of packaging: TV networks on their own individual streaming services. But this isn't to say they don’t need distribution partners, as well. That comes with the growing strength for Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Samsung, Vizio and others.

So is this now a la carte -- giving consumers the flexibility to pick TV networks/programming consumers really want? Sort of.

A different kind of a la carte exists with streamers. In effect, not really choosing whether to have the main course, appetizer, desert or not. More like adding or dropping from a selection of neighborhood restaurants.

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