Former FCC head Michael Powell talks future of cable

FCC Chairman Michael Powell

Big cable companies continue to just get bigger. In response to Comcast and Time Warner's merger earlier this year, AT&T and DirecTV are thinking of doing the same. Which got former FCC chairman Michael Powell thinking: Why are all these mergers happening?

"One of the things I think is a serious issue is that the economy has been strained," he said. "I think the model has to find a way to find more affordable, more accessible packages, given the strains of the economy."

A la carte, however, is not one of the ways to get around the strain.

"True a la carte...would actually cost consumers a lot more," he said. "If something like ESPN--which is sold to the cable system for a little over $5 a [subscription]--had to be sold a la carte, that product would be sold for $20 or $30."

One of the possible solutions, of course, might lie in the ubiquity of the internet. But Powell--now the CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association--says the so-called internet "fast lane" the FCC had considered is not the answer.

"[Netflix] can't afford to have jittery or interrupted bits," he said. "You want to watch a two hour movie that is uninterrupted, so making sure the network can handle that level of quality is what the buyer wants."

Powell, however, still likes to consume his programming on the big screen, via video on demand. True Detective in particular.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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