If you want History Channel, you also have to get Biography Baby or something non-fictional but equally dumb. It’s the magic of cable and satellite bundles, and it’s the Way Things Are Done. But in Canada, that might not be true for much longer, as the government is gearing up to force Canadian satellite and cable providers to unbundle channels and offer them to customers on an a la carte basis. U.S. Senator John McCain would have U.S. TV providers follow suit, should he get his way.
This is objectively good news on the face of things – when you go to a grocery store and order peanut butter, it would be weird if they made you buy a jar of Marmite, too, even if you hate the stuff. Consumer choice is generally something that should be respected, and catered to, by private business, and it’s completely within reason for a cable or satellite subscriber to expect that they only have to pay for what they want to watch, rather than for a general mishmash of things that includes, but is not limited to things they actually find interesting.
But a la carte programming could be potentially disastrous for good taste, unfortunately. If you look at the Nielsen ratings for top shows, you’ll find NCIS twice in the top 10, as well as The Big Bang Theory and two iterations of The Voice, plus Dancing With The Stars. Go to the cable charts, and you find Duck Dynasty, Sons of Anarchy and some sports. I might get some pushback on my dislike of Big Bang Theory, and I’ve heard Sons of Anarchy is okay, but by and large this is not what I would call representative of good TV. Especially given that Homeland premiered the week these ratings were taken.
The current model helps to support expensive-to-produce, riskier content by offsetting it with the cheap, saccharine pablum that your average TV viewer loves to gorge themselves on; it’s a win-win, in that the cheap, unscripted shows that involve following near braindead jerks with a camera and then hastily slapping it together get made, and draw in mass market audiences, and then those audiences buy bundles that help subsidize the stuff that’s impactful and deep, but not necessarily as much of a volume draw when it comes to viewership.
There’s some good, but a lot of garbage on these lists of the most-watched cable shows of 2012, and clever broadcast TV like 30 Rock and Fringe only managed to limp along on life support before finally getting the axe long before the eight season mark. All of which is to say that if McCain gets his way and brings cable unbundling to the U.S., it might not be all roses and sunshine – there could be a lot more faux folksy millionaire bearded fellas making duckcalls gracing your TV sets, too.
Image courtesy Flickr user _straybullet