A la carte cable may be coming to a screen near you. Just like iTunes where you can pick and choose your favorite singles, you’ll be able to pick and choose your favorite TV channels. You could ditch MTV in favor of a channel that actually plays music. You could sign up for nothing but sports channels, or ditch ESPN altogether and go for a trio of educational channels, like Discovery, Animal Planet and the History Channel.
Some family advocates applaud the idea, pointing out that families can drop Comedy Central to filter out South Park or MTV to protect their children from all that bumping and grinding.
But not everyone is so happy.
“Adopt higher decency standards,” says Jerry Falwell, “But protect the ability of cable and satellite broadcasters to share the message of God’s love with as large an audience as possible.”
The fear among Christian broadcasters is that paying per channel would mean plummeting audiences for Christian networks like the Trinity Broadcast Network or the Christian Broadcast Network.
On one hand, Christian broadcasters argue that forcing viewers to take religious programming along with all the other programming means inadvertent channel surfer conversions.
“All of these networks have literally thousands and thousands of anecdotal stories of people who were channel-surfing that came across one of their services and it changed their life for the better,” says Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity, CBN and other stations.
But if Christian networks aren’t there to be surfed—due to viewers who don’t want to pay for Pat Robertson—those inadvertent conversions won’t happen.
On the other hand, what happened to being worth paying for? Rather than floating along and offering irrelevant programming because they can get away with it, shouldn’t Christian networks be trying to offer the best, be trying to get intentional viewers, rather than just settle for channel surfers?
“If I were [Trinity Broadcasting Network], I would look at this as an unparalleled opportunity to reach people,” says Dan Isett of the Parents Television Council.
The Christian network as an evangelism approach seems like a flawed strategy, even if it does produce some results. Something akin to the Billy Graham approach, of buying time on stations people actually watch, seems like it has more potential.
And what happens when cable providers start carrying other religious programming, like the Islam Channel or the Mormon Network (and maybe they do, I’ve got less than basic cable)? Is Jerry Falwell then arguing for inadvertent channel surfing conversions for Christians as well as Muslims? It seems like more of a socialist approach to argue that cable viewers have to buy everything, rather than let the networks compete on a level playing field where the viewers can decide what they want to pay for.
The whole issue seems bizarre to me, with Christians engaging an issue you’d hardly expect them to engage, for what seems like simple self-interest.