The latest round from the a la carte camp is by Cesar Conda in National Review. He favors the recent pressure on cable companies to force a la carte offerings of cable channels. I respect Conda and will leave challenges on economic and legal grounds to my colleagues Adam (here and here), Tom and Randy. But it's a stretch to argue that it is a free-market move to force a provider to adopt a new business model. Free markets develop pressure for such changes internally, without the strong hand of government. (That hand is still done there if it's done through pressure in merger reviews or via Capitol Hill.)
There is one aspect of Conda's piece I'd like to focus, on however.
He writes this of an a la carte world:
If cable operators unbundled their programming, parents could buy the Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon, and other family-friendly fare without being forced to pay for objectionable material.
Hmm. I'm a parent of two children (10 and 7) who apparently monitors the content of channels a bit more closely than some. Discovery and Nickelodeon family-friendly? Well yes and no. Nickelodeon is mostly harmless. The Nick Jr. shows are actually educational (and more fun than many PBS shows). The shows aimed at kids a bit older are sometimes morally redeeming (Wild Thornberrys, for example, although some might question parents hauling their kids around the world to various jungles and they could be offended by their adopted son, who acts like the missing link). Other times they are vapid but funny (SpongeBob). Then sometimes they're just plain crude, like CatDog (a cat with a dog where it's rear should be, or the other way around depending on your perspective) or The Angry Beavers (I can imagine what some church ladies might think of that title, and I suspect the show's creators wanted them to think of that).
But how did Discovery get on there? Does Conda think the network is all about space shuttle documentaries and the life of the butterfly? Hardly. Here are some currently airing Discovery shows:
* 48 Hours: Hard Evidence (episodes include Deadly Secret, Fatal Attraction, Kidnapped, Killer Next Door, Time to Kill, Why did Eric Kill?)
* Against the Law (episodes include Getting Away With Murder, Why did Josh Kill?)
* Anatomy of a Shark Bite
* Anatomy of a Snake Bite
* Anatomy of a Tiger Bite
* Anatomy of a Velociraptor Bite (made that one up to see if you were still with me)
* Angel of Death
* The FBI Files (episodes include Brutal Abduction, Cop Killer)
* Psychology of a Suicide Bomber
I don't mean to pick on Discovery, which actually remains one of the best channels on cable (I love American Chopper). What I want to point out is that every family has its own standards on what is right and what isn't. Conda says under a la carte parents can choose Discovery and not be forced to pay for objectionable material, so does that mean they should get a refund for the airtime devoted to Angel of Death? A la carte won't remove from parents the one responsibility that they should never shirk from; knowing what their children are watching.
And after the tykes are off in bed, they can learn why Eric killed via 48 Hours: Hard Evidence and why Josh killed on Against the Law.