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Thursday, May 09, 2013, 07:24 am PT (10:24 am ET)

US Sen. McCain working on 'a la carte' cable TV bill

Senator John McCain is working on a legislative proposal that would, if enacted, significantly reshape the landscape of the broadcast and cable television markets by pressuring cable providers to allow their subscribers to choose which channels they want to pay for.

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McCain (R-Ariz.) will reportedly introduce his legislation in the next few days, according to The Hill. The Arizona senator was formerly the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and has pushed similar legislation in the past to little effect.

McCain's bill would, in addition to urging cable providers toward a la carte pricing, ban the bundling of broadcast stations with cable channels owned by the same entities. This would, for example, keep Disney from requiring that cable providers pay for ESPN in order to carry ABC. The bill also puts an end to the sports blackout rule, which keeps companies from carrying a sports event if the game is blocked out locally.

Notably, McCain's bill also includes a provision that would punish broadcasters who pull high-value content from over-the-air television in order to put it on cable channels. This section of the bill is aimed at broadcast television networks that have said they would do just that if U.S. courts do not stop Aereo, a service that rebroadcasts their channels to subscribers' iPads and iPhones over the Internet.

While the future of the bill is uncertain, it highlights the increasingly complex situation broadcasters and cable providers find themselves in. Consumers are less willing to pay for steadily rising cable costs, and a number have turned to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple's iTunes in order to get the content they want without paying for scores of other channels.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently noted this trend toward piecemeal content consumption, saying that he believes such is the way of the future. Hastings predicted a world where "apps replace channels."

"Existing networks, such as ESPN and HBO, that offer amazing apps will get more viewing than in the past, and be more valuable," Hastings wrote. "Existing networks that fail to develop first-class apps will lose viewing and revenue."

Hastings' Netflix, along with the streaming service's rival HBO, are at the forefront of the television-as-app movement. Both companies have released rich app content on Apple's iOS and other platforms, allowing users to mirror their content on other screens and to interact with content using mobile devices as a second screen.