By Keith Reed, Globe Staff
Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable provider, said yesterday it
will offer a package of family-friendly channels in 2006, following
increasing pressure on the industry from legislators and regulators to
curb access to violent and sexually explicit content.
The family tier will be composed of 16 children's, news and other
networks including the Disney Channel, CNN Headline News, Nickelodeon
and the Food Network, but must be bought along with Comcast's basic
package of about 30 local broadcast, Spanish-language and public
access channels. It will also require a $4.50 per-month digital
set-top box rental. In total, the package will cost roughly $29.45 per
month in Massachusetts and will allow subscribers now taking more
expensive Comcast packages to pay less and take fewer channels.
It might also help the cable industry stave off proposals to force it
to offer a la carte pricing, which it has resisted, and could help
Comcast and Time Warner Corp. complete a major deal that needs the
approval of the Federal Communications Commission, analysts said.
Together the companies have bid $17.6 billion for the assets of
Adelphia Communications, in a deal that if approved could see
one-tenth of the cable subscribers in the country get new providers.
Time Warner's cable unit said earlier this month that it would offer a
family tier of its own.
"That's why the family tier is suddenly being announced by those two
companies. This is a good way to get some brownie points" with
regulators, said Adi Kishore, director of media research at Boston
consultancy the Yankee Group.
Media companies broadly have faced a crackdown on sexual and violent
content, led by conservative legislators and regulators, since singer
Janet Jackson's breast was infamously exposed for a fraction of a
second on live, prime-time television during the 2004 Super Bowl
The FCC has leveled stiff obscenity fines against TV and radio
broadcasters who use public airwaves, but doesn't have the same
authority over how cable companies package content for consumers.
That hasn't stopped its chairman, Kevin Martin, and some conservative
senators, notably powerful Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, from
suggesting legislation that would impose indecency standards or even a
la carte on the industry if it did not address their concerns. Cable
companies have scrambled to mount a response since a Nov. 29 hearing
before the Senate Commerce Committee, which Stevens chairs.