Congress building

Senator John McCain introduced a bill today to perhaps change the way cable operators bundle and offer programming. Senator McCain’s bill attempts to change a broad practices meant to be more consumer friendly:

  • Forcing cable operators to break up programming bundles, so you aren’t required to buy 100 other channels just so you can get the one channel you want to watch.
  • Prevent programmers from moving shows from (free) broadcast networks to paid cable networks, think of when Monday Night Football moved from ABC to ESPN.
  • Change FCC rules regarding blackouts. For example, NFL games are prohibited from being carried on local cable broadcasts if the tickets to games aren’t sold out.

Senator McCain has made a similar attempt to change the way cable operators do business in the U.S. without much success. Considering the lobbying power and the amount of money made by cable operators, media conglomerates and sports league licensing fees, consumers are unlikely to see any changes as a result of this bill.

What may cause cable operators to change their tune is pressure from new streaming media outlets, including services like YouTube’s paid subscriptions launched earlier today. Disruptive media distribution services like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix are more likely cause shifts in how cable operators work rather than any legislative action. We’ve already seen some media companies augment how they distribute their cable content, even offering shows for free, and rumors of Apple‘s own TV project further bring up talks of piecemeal cable products, like the way consumers purchase apps and music from iTunes or Google Play. Upstarts like Aereo are causing big networks to worry.

The real story here is traditional media is again at a crossroads. Streaming media has changed (and will continue to evolve) the way people consume content and by giving options for consumers to bypass traditional distribution channels.