Comcast sues to block à la carte cable channel law as consumer demand persists

Amid Comcast’s legal challenge, new research has emerged showing that consumer demand for an à la carte channel marketplace has remained high. (Comcast)

Comcast and a host of cable programmers are suing Maine and 17 small towns in the state to block a law aimed at making cable providers sell channels on an à la carte basis.

The law is scheduled to go in effect Sept. 19. Based on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Evangelos, it states cable system operators must allow subscribers to purchase channels or programs on an individually. According to Bangor Daily News, the bill passed mostly along party lines, and Governor Janet Mills is allowing it to become law.

But, Comcast – along with broadcasters including Fox, CBS and Disney as well as A&E, C-SPAN, Discovery Inc. and Viacom – have filed suit to stop that from happening. The complaint – aimed at Mills, Attorney General Aaron Frey and several Maine municipalities – is seeking to delay the Sept. 19 effective date, and throw out the law entirely. Comcast and the others argue that the law is preempted by federal law, that it violates free speech and that it puts smaller, niche channels at risk and therefore could adversely affect programming diversity.

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Amid Comcast’s legal challenge, new research has emerged showing that consumer demand for an à la carte channel marketplace has remained high. According to TiVo’s newest Video Trends Report for the second quarter of 2019, 69.9% of consumers are interested in buying only the channels they want to watch, down just slightly from 70.9% last year.

“While à la carte channel packaging may seem like an attractive option for some, the act of selecting each individual channel may, in fact, be a daunting task for others,” wrote TiVo in a report.

Indeed, there was no clear consensus on which channels consumers would most want in their individual bundles. Among the survey respondents, ABC was the most wanted (57.9%) followed by CBS. But A&E and Discovery Channel received the same percentage of responses and Fox, NBC and HBO were not far behind.

Overall, U.S. survey respondents indicated they want an average of 21.3 channels and are willing to pay $33.30 to access them.

Comcast and other cable providers have made efforts to provide consumers with smaller channel packages. Comcast’s Instant TV offers streaming access to broadcast networks along with add-on packages for kids, news and sports programming. Charter sells Spectrum TV Essentials, a $14.99 streaming bundle that includes only entertainment-focused cable channels.

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