Consumers should pick TV channels

Cultural trends can be confusing, conflicting and troubling, and we see that in today’s TV programming.

At one end of the spectrum is A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” where the stars are clothed, generally respectful and even prayerful. On Aug. 14, 11.8 million people tuned in.

And then we have MTV’s Video Music Awards, where men and women behave like alley cats in heat. Last Sunday night, 10.1 million people watched them.

We can shrug, acknowledge that it’s a “free country” and move on. Or we can pause and reflect. Consider:

– Kids – some of them young children – were exposed to the sordid behavior on MTV Sunday night. Even worse, the laughter and applause suggested that such behavior is not only acceptable, but also praiseworthy.

– Television and the “entertainment” industry have invaded our homes, become members of our families and helped shape our lives and our values.

– We have sat by and allowed and sometimes even encouraged it.

That brings us to a heated but little-noticed debate over the relationship between us and the television industry.

Cable and satellite companies, pressured by TV networks, sell us channels by the “bundle,” or “tier,” and if we want one or two channels that happen to be in, say, Tier One, we’re forced to buy all of the channels in that tier, including ones that aren’t suitable for children.

Oh, the industry tries to comfort us by mentioning channel blocking, but the reality is that blocking often doesn’t work. Parental supervision also doesn’t work.

Enter now the Parent Television Council, a 1.3-million-member organization that promotes decency in the entertainment industry. Its solution: Dump the tier system.

The council, energized by Sunday night’s MTV program, blasted away the next day. “MTV has once again succeeded in marketing sexually charged messages to young children using former child stars and condom commercials – while falsely rating this program as appropriate for kids as young as 14. This is unacceptable.

“After MTV’s display (Sunday) night, it’s time to give control back to consumers.”

Luckily, there’s a way that can happen. It’s called the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 (S.912).

It was introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on May 9, and it’s been sitting in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation ever since. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., is another sponsor.

The committee chairman is West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller. He has the power to move the bill forward.

An aide this week said he thinks the senator approaches the subject from a conservative perspective, and he suggested checking back in several weeks to see if there’s been any movement.

McCain’s bill would allow consumers to buy TV channels a la carte, meaning you could pick which channels to have in your home. You’d pay for only the channels selected, of course.

Some industry giants don’t think much of the bill. Suddenlink, on the other hand, seems more amenable, although it stops short of endorsing a la carte.

Jerry Kent, Suddenlink’s chairman and CEO, says, “We applaud the spotlight this bill places on a real industry problem. The ability of powerful TV network owners to force more channels and higher costs on distributors and consumers threatens to price some households out of the multichannel video market.”

McCain and Blumenthal want a la carte.

McCain says, “America’s 100 million cable and satellite subscribers are forced to pay ever-higher bills for a growing number of channels they do not watch. The American people are being ripped off.”

Blumenthal says, “Consumers should not have to pay for programming they don’t want or watch. The current antiquated, antidemocratic system imposes all-or-nothing cable packages that give consumers no control over their cable bill and prevent subscribers from voting with their feet when they are unhappy.”

So what do you think? Good idea or bad idea? If you have an opinion, you can call Rockefeller’s office at 202-224-6472. Ask for Tyler.