John McCain Makes the Case for A La Carte Cable (Q&A)

John McCain Makes the Case for A La Carte Cable (Q&A)

Senator talks “House of Cards” and football… and mentions this may be his last term

Would we be better off buying cable stations one at a time instead of in bundles? Sen. John McCain says yes, and has introduced legislation that would make it happen.

TheWrap spoke with the Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential candidate at a launch party Thursday for Pivot, the new network that features his daughter Meghan's investigative series “Raising McCain.” (He's pictured with Meghan and his son, Jimmy.) He made the case for why a la carte cable stations would be good for consumers, without harming the TV industry.

Oh: Not to be all scoopy about it, but he also mentioned this might be his last term.

The Wrap: Can you give your elevator pitch for your a la carte cable legislation?
Sure. My mother is 101 years old. She watches television all the time, but she doesn't like football anymore. So why should she pay five dollars or six dollars extra for her cable service a month for something she doesn't watch? … Maybe six dollars doesn't mean that much to some people… but why should somebody have to pay that when they don't watch it?

What about the argument that unbundling will run some smaller networks out of business? Pivot for example might be a network that benefits from bundling.
I think that that's a concern, but I also think quality rises to the top. And if there's a quality show — look at for example what's happening now on Netflix. Now we've got a series on Netflix, “House of Cards,” that is more popular than anything on ABC, NBC or CBS. So all I'm saying is that quality will rise to the top. That's like saying if you don't get everything on the menu in a restaurant, then maybe people won't eat lamb chops anymore.

I think there's a downside to it. But I do believe that when people subscribe to cable, they are now paying far exceeded inflation over the last five or 10 years, and one of the reasons is – the best example is ESPN. I watch it all the time. I'm glad to pay for it. I'm a sports nut. But people who don't like it, they shouldn't have to pay for it. That's all.

But I do worry about the ability of entrance into the competitive arena. But now it's all gonna to be mixed up. Younger people today, more watch on their computers than [are] watching TV.

Also read: PTC Says ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Shooting Makes Case for A La Carte Cable

The Parents Television Council said today that one advantage of unbundling cable channels is that you wouldn't have to subsidize things you don't want to see. They were objecting to a school shooting on “Sons of Anarchy” this week.
I don't agree with that aspect of it. I think people make choices. Nobody forces them to watch those shows… As long as it's not child pornography, those things that are just beyond the pale — I can't blame a television show for causing violence. I just can't. Some people make that connection but I haven't been able to do that yet.

What about the idea that a show like a “Breaking Bad” or a “Mad Men” would never exist without bundling?
I think they would exist. I think that, look at [shows] now that are strictly over the internet.

[At this point two supporters of President Obama cut in to thank McCain for being on "our president's side for once in your life." McCain tells them, "The president and I, he's in his last term, I'm probably in mine, the relationship we have had over the past three years is quite good. Quite good."]

Is this really your last term?
Nah, I don't know. I was trying to make a point. I have to decide in about two years so I don't have to make a decision. I don't want to be one of these old guys that should've shoved off.

I had a conversation the other day with Barry Diller. And his whole point is, technology is going to overtake all of us. When young people are… not watching television, but gettin’ their information, their entertainment and their news through other means, then there's bound to be this kind of – you can't restrict it to just cable. So it's changing and it continues to change and that's a good thing.

Your daughter said earlier tonight that Republicans should move away from social issues and stick to financial ones and national security. Do you agree?
[At this point McCain begins to answer but is interrupted by several people asking to take pictures with him; he is graceful and charming. He is also drawn into a conversation about the plight of Native Americans, and tells an amazing story about witnessing a drunk woman giving birth in a New Mexico bar. Then he turns back to answer the question about the Republican Party.]

I think that the Republican Party mainly right now – an important part of our future, and it's not because I'm a part of it – is immigration. I saw a thing today… this year will be the last class graduating high school in Texas where the majority aren't Hispanic. You can do the math and figure out what the demographics are. If you polarize the Hispanic vote as has been happening gradually – George W. Bush took about 40 percent, I took about 30, and then it was about 20 with Romney – we will be gone as a political party. And so immigration reform won't gain a single vote. But immigration reform will put Republicans on a level playing field where we can compete for votes. Now I'm not doing it for political reasons. I'll be long gone… But it's got to be done because it's the right thing for America. You cannot have 11 million people living in the shadows forever. So that's my view. That's right now that's the most important issue for the Republican Party.

  • reggie

    Who cares what mccain has to say about anything?

    • Stuart W

      I care reggie and millions of others like me. John McCain willing to give up his health and his life protecting upper-case idiots like yourself. He walked the walk you pathetic looser. You're not fit to kiss his grits.

  • Cate

    Amazing. Telling me it should be a free market system but won't address the real problem; the 1993 retransmission must carry Le that lets free TV broadcasters charge cable guys who then pass those charges onto me. A law written before the Internet was invented. I Dare him to be truly free market and go against the NAB who protects their golden goose law that hs singlehandly costs me 38 dollars more a months for TV that is supposed to be free.

    • MobileVortex

      Would you prefer that the cable doesn't carry the major networks and you have to buy an antenna, and switch your cable/input everytime you want to watch something that is offered over the air. Why should the cable guys get to boast that they carry the major networks, but not have to pay for them. It costs money to provide you free OTA signal, why dont they get any money for it. You yourself said your are paying for something that is free, why not stop paying?

  • Justin

    mobile vortex…sad for you that you don't understand. FOX ABC etc, gets a free license to operate a free channel from the American people/FCC. if they want to charge us for their signal, charge as much as HBO …then I want four things1) I want
    some of that profit to go back to the American tax payer or we should charge for the exclusive license 2) I want the channel commercial free 3) I want retransmission consent must carry to go away or at least revised so that FOX or CBS turn off the cable networks that have nothing to do with must carry law as a negotiation ploy to hold customers and operators hostage and 4) I want a cap put on the amount of stations the big broadcasters can own and operate….they are asking for more.

    Retrans was supposed to protect the small station owner in a local market. written before the Internet was invented and telephone and satellite were available to customers. And when broadcasters owned less that 20% coverage in the marketplace. Now those companies have bought up the little station guy owners to the tune of almost 40 % and forced other into larger station groups that the CBS ABC etc are minority shareholders in. All because the more they own the more they can take advantage of this adequated law. we gave the signals for free to braodcasters, they now charge the operators for the free signal who have to pass it back to us…no rabbit ears needed. Cable operators happy to carry the free signal for free…it's the broadcasters who now say they want a fee for free TV…

    • MobileVortex

      Where are you getting your information? FOX/ABC do not get free licenses to operate OTA. In fact they have to pay thousands of dollars to do so. They also operate with stricter rules then that of cable networks. Regardless they (the cable companies) are retransmitting and making money off of the free OTA networks. they should get any of that change back? The money that the local affiliates get does go back into the community. they sponsor community events, produce and promote these events. host telethons and other fund raising events for local businesses/charities. While i will agree most of the smaller groups of stations are being bought and consolidated, this is not true everywhere, and what you're proposing will absolutely kill them off. I would be all for all the cable and satellite companies to drop all the free OTA networks and see how the general public reacts. I am willing to bet that more people will drop cable and just go free OTA with “rabbit ears”, as that's where the best programming is. Even if these stations provide it their programming free OTA, if another company wants to use it they should have to pay for it.

      Its simple, you don't like it don't buy it. If these cable companies thought they could do without these major networks, they would.

  • Equalizer18

    He WILL NOT be missed….