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.