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Comcast mulls offering family programming

Comcast Corp. Thursday said it would consider offering a family tier of cable programming to address indecency concerns brought by the Federal Communications Commission.
/ Source: Reuters

Comcast Corp., the top U.S. cable operator, Thursday said it would consider offering a family tier of cable programming to address indecency concerns raised by lawmakers and media regulators.

Co-chief financial officer John Alchin’s remarks come a week after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin called on cable companies to give parents more tools to protect their children from racier content.

Martin also said allowing subscribers to pay for only the channels they want, also known as a la carte pricing, could be in the best interest of consumers.

While Comcast opposes a la carte pricing, Alchin said a family tier is “something we’re considering.”

“If there’s a need for a family tier and it could be accommodated with programming contracts, we can meet those concerns,” Alchin said at the UBS Global Media Conference here. He said a family tier was one way to balance consumer interests in affordable pricing packages and address indecency concerns.

“We’ve always been strong advocates of parental controls and have always catered to individual needs of customers to block certain channels,” he added.

But asked about a la carte pricing, he said, “I don’t see how it works. Our lowest basic package is about $1.50 a day. If you ask consumers to pay for channels individually, the cost per day goes well beyond that.”

Time Warner chief executive Dick Parsons told attendees at the Credit Suisse First Boston Media Conference, “The cable industry needs to find a creative response to mounting concerns. The industry is working through a series of different approaches (to address) these concerns.

Time Warner controls Time Warner Cable, the second largest U.S. cable operator after Comcast.

For its part, the cable industry has sought to provide tools to block objectionable programming. The industry spent $250 million in a media campaign to educate parents on how they can control what their kids watch.

But Martin has complained that they have not done enough.

“I think that consumers would probably benefit from being able to have some more direct choice in some of their ability to select what video services they want to get,” Martin told reporters after speaking to the Practicing Law Institute telecommunications forum in Washington.

“I think it’s all uncertain whether we encourage them or discourage them,” he said, adding that he hasn’t spoken to Comcast about its family tier plans “I think that’s a good thing. I’ve certainly been encouraging all kinds of providers to try to address the issues.”