Megan McArdle has a post about the merits (or lack thereof) of cable channel unbundling based on a post on The Coyote Blog explaining why he doesn’t believe it should be legislatively mandated. I’m against laws mandating unbundling of channels, but I don’t have the time and energy to debate the subject (my benevolent Webmaster and I have done so on multiple occasions). If you want to know why I believe as I do, ask and I’ll let you know.
But I am going to explore one aspect of bundling, which is that because some people are paying for channels that they’re not watching, some portion of the cable-buying public is subsidizing the viewing habits of another portion.
That’s happening now with sports channels, especially ESPN. As it stands now, sports channels are subsidized heavily by people who don’t watch sports. Cable systems bicker every now and again, threatening to drop various sports channels, or demand that they become optional premium stations (like the movie premium channels).
I could go on about how major league sports’ growth is currently driven by forcing the non-fan to pay in many different ways, but that’s a bit too much of a thread drift.
While Levasseur is correct that major league sports growth is financed muchly by non-sports fans (particularly in publically-financed sports venues), I believe that he has it backwards as it pertains to cable television.
I would be willing to bet money that ESPN and the Fox Sports affiliates are among the highest rating cable channels. I also suspect that without those channels, cable subscriptions would drop considerably. If you have any contrary data, feel free to prove me wrong. But insofar as that is the case, it is actually ESPN watchers* subsidizing the rerun networks (TNT, USA, etc) and niche channels (the do-it-yourself channel, fighter plans channel, and so on) which I would wager garner much lower ratings.
So hate on sports all you want and complain as loudly as you like about how publically-financed sports stadiums and student fee financed collegiate athletic programs are unfair to non-sports fans. I’ll agree, for the most part. But insofar as cable and satellite TV is concerned, I believe that they are doing you a favor.
* - Sports fans aren’t the only ones. Cable news networks, for instance, do better as well. Popular original programming channels such as The Cartoon Network and Comedy Central also have large followings and are helping subsidize the less popular networks.