Preachers and pornographers unite

remoteKudos to The Washington Post for picking up this Religion News Service article by Piet Levy on the problems religious broadcasters see with à la carte cable plans. The subject has been around for awhile. It has received heavy coverage in publications such as National Journal‘s Technology Daily and a segment on NPR’s On the Media, but mainstream press coverage has been scant.

It’s an excellent look into how Washington lobbying works. You would think that religious broadcasters would be thrilled with the idea of consumers being able to choose what cable channels they receive, but this is surprisingly not the case:

The fear among Christian broadcasters is that a proposal to allow consumers to reject MTV or Comedy Central would also allow them to drop the Trinity Broadcasting Network or Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Cutting off that access could hurt religious broadcasters.

“We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,” said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. “In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.”

Evangelical and family groups support the concept of “a la carte” cable legislation, which would allow cable users to subscribe only to the networks of their choice.

The article does an adequate job of explaining the two cable channels’ fears other than possibly losing viewers. Religious broadcasters are worried that they will end up “witnessing to the choir” and that channel-surfers will lose out on conversion experiences.

cable dishThis is definitely a concern, but what to do about viewers who want to receive family-friendly channels such as ESPN and CNN but want to avoid FX, Spike TV and Comedy Central? Well, here’s the answer:

“That’s why we have remote controls,” [Michael Goodman, media analyst for the Yankee Group] said. “If you don’t want to see it, turn the channel. Or if you really don’t want to see it, use the parental controls.”

But [Lanier Swann of Concerned Women for America] said because many children are more tech-savvy than their parents, it is simply not enough. Besides, she said, the main problem is that cable subscribers are required to pay for material that they find objectionable.

In an effort to appease critics, the two main cable providers, Time Warner and Comcast, announced “family tier” packages late last year that carry only what they construe to be family-appropriate stations, such as the Disney Channel, Discovery Kids, the Food Network and CNN Headline News. But the critics are still upset.

“The ‘family tier’ system is a straw man designed to fail,” Swann said. “. . . I don’t think we need the same individuals who promote, produce and air the type of programming we’re trying to avoid to be allowed to define what is family-friendly.”

I wonder whether FX and Spike TV are equally concerned. I would think they wouldn’t have the same “preaching to the choir” concerns, but are they worried about losing audiences?

As a consumer I want to control what I pay for. I don’t like paying for Lifetime and the other two dozen channels I never watch, but I also understand the concerns of the television evangelists, not only from a financial perspective, but also from a, well, evangelistic perspective.

I guess the next question is whether government policy is supposed to be directed to support religious goals. President Bush’s much heralded faith-based initiatives would seem to say that yes, government action can encourage religious activity, but I know more than a few groups that would strongly disagree with that ideology.

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  • Barry

    Actually, I think pornographers would want a la carte services so that they could specifically market adult entertainment without being concerned about a cable market that includes Nickelodeon. Currently, there isn’t “porn” on basic cable. But a la carte services–like an “adult tier”–would possibly allow some boundary-pushing.

    So actually Concerned Women for America and the adult industry are probably allies here.

  • dpulliam

    Barry, my headline was not intended to say that porn is available on basic cable. I was playing off the idea that you have two sides that are usually diametrically opposed to each other coming together to protect their interests.

  • Stephen A.

    Yet another example of conservative, family-values people shooting themselves in the foot.

    A la carte cable plans are a solution to the problem of people being forced to pay for what they don’t want – i.e. smut, softcore porn, and graphic violence. I’d like to see this explored further. Do these conservatives have some kind of odd lasseiz faire view of the market that makes them want to preserve the Smut Tunnel known as Cable as is, continuing to pipe filth into their homes, and charging them for it?

    Also, doesn’t CBN think they can compete with other news networks and religious channels? If Pat’s as popular as he claims, millions of viewers will pay the portion of their bill to include his network, and other religious programming.

    Also, as Barry notes, I don’t know why the ‘adult’ market doesn’t see this as a way to offer hardcore porn to those who truly want to pay for it, while keeping it out of those homes that don’t. I don’t see a downside here, but if I was an editor, I’d like this to be fully explored in future articles.

  • c.tower

    It would be interesting to see what channels would survive and flourish under a “pick what you like” system; I supect the results would suprise us all.(For example: Cartoon Network has a actively loyal fan base-but the older viewers{ie PAYING viewers}watch for it’s “Adult Swim” programming, which had to slowly build up around time).As appealing as “pick your own” may sound to your average suscriber, it will SERIOUSLY hinder any attempts to launch new networks, which will just not be able to attract audiences without a chance to establish a clear identity. (You KNOW what you’re getting with Comedy Central- why take a chance on some unproven rival that promises “almost as funny” programing?)

  • Rathje

    This isn’t the only lobbying in Congress that is being ignored. and the Christian Coalition are also teaming up to oppose attempts by major telecommunications to gut “Network Neutrality” on the Internet.

    Right now, anyone can post a web page, give it a few attributes that can be picked up by search engines, and voilla! Your webpage on the virtues of, say … big game hunting is JUST AS ACCESSIBLE as a webpage by gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson.

    Well, if AT&T gets its way, you’d have to PAY to be visible in your own ISP’s search results. Basically, you’d have to pay AT&T for your website to be visible to Internet users who use AT&T internet service providers.

    This too has gotten almost zero media attention and it presents almost identical contradictions when you consider the conflict between the religious community and freedom of speech on the Internet.

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  • MikeD

    The problem for consumers with an ala carte system is that you will not be able to flip throught the channels to discover what you want to watch. You’ll be stuck for better or for worse with the channels you would find yourself loyal to.

    I also suspect that for many people paying cable would increase their bills.