WASHINGTON â€” Trying to preserve their electronic pulpits, the nation’s religious broadcasters find themselves in the unusual position of fighting an effort by anti-indecency groups to thwart channels offering racy programming.
The issue involves a debate over whether cable companies should continue offering subscribers mainstream and niche channels in bundles, or let them buy what they want on an a la carte basis.
The gist of the article is that in the past, some televangelists have pushed for â€˜decency standards’ on all channels (i.e. punishment for â€˜wardrobe malfunctions‘). The way the current system is set-up is that channel operators (i.e. networks) bundle certain programs together which are sold as one branded package (e.g. ESPN picks shows to place into certain timeslots, continuously tweaking the lineup throughout the year). In addition, cable companies themselves also bundle certain channels together in packages (e.g. ABC Family, Disney, Nickelodeon).
In addition, many cable companies currently have legalized monopolies on broadcasting rights for a certain geographic area. And to complicate things further, you have contractual packaging deals between these cable companies and the networks that include a wide variety of programming (from children’s cartoon shows to “adult” movies).
Members of Congress and various consumer groups are now pushing for legislation that would unbundled the packaging deals with channels, so that consumers can pick and choose the particular channels they wish to buy, without having to pay for ones they do not want.
Do to relatively low demand, many of the televangelists believe that their market share would decline if unbundling were to occur, from the article:
Christian broadcasters, including such big names as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, worry that changing the current system will cut into viewership. If that puts them on the opposite side of where they usually stand in the indecency debate, Crouch said, “so be it.”
But Winters contends that religious broadcasters oppose more cable choice because they “are very fearful of losing any market share.”
To preserve viewership, big religious broadcasters such as Trinity, which owns 33 TV stations, and Daystar, operator of stations in San Francisco and 44 other U.S. cities, are pushing the government to expand regulations requiring that cable operators carry local, over-the-air channels such as theirs.
That has put them at odds with other religious programmers that don’t own TV stations, such as INSP and Gospel Music Channel. They fear their shows will be crowded out by channels that cable operators have to carry.
“I don’t think the answer to indecency is necessarily more religious programming,” said Gospel Music President Charles Humbard, son of televangelist pioneer Rex Humbard. “The answer is for people who know better to correct what’s going on â€¦ by extending broadcasting indecency rules to cable.”
Again, what many commentators and legislators have failed to discuss is the legalized geographic monopolies they have created with cable companies. By deregulating the industry from the very bottom, issues of decency standards would become a non-issue that would be regulated via the private market.
In the meantime however, in their frenetic effort to create â€˜family-friendly-only’ channels, some of the Baptists have become the bootleggers*, trying to unilaterally benefit by forcing their product onto other providers vis-Ã -vis legislation â€“ having their cake and eating it too.