Indecency dialogue comes under fire

Oxygen's Laybourne most vocal opponent

NEW ORLEANS — A group of leading television programming execs told Congress on Tuesday to lay off when it comes to deciding what is and isn’t decent content.

They also urged Congress to reject any efforts to require cable and satellite providers to let consumers choose which channels they want on an “a la carte” basis, rather than providing pre-set packages.

Geraldine Laybourne, chairman, founder and CEO of Oxygen Media, was the most forceful opponent of Washington’s latest efforts to regulate the TV biz.

“We have an economic business model that works,” she said. “Instead of a la carte, we have a smorgasbord.”

Laybourne made the comments while appearing on a panel discussion at the National cable & Telecommunications Assn.’s National Show, along with Showtime Network’s Matthew Blank, E.W. Scripps Co. prexy and CEO Kenneth Lowe, Fox Networks Group head Tony Vinciquerra and NBC Cable Networks chieftain David Zaslav.

Letter perfect

Earlier Tuesday, Laybourne joined 19 other top female execs from cable TV nets in signing an open letter to Congress urging lawmakers to reject any and all a la carte proposals.

“As women television executives, who have strived to create quality programming, we take pride in the fact that our networks have vastly expanded programming choice and diversity for American consumers,” they wrote. “Government efforts to dictate how our programming is packaged or marketed would be bad for consumers because it would give them less choice and less diversity in programming, and it would increase the price they would pay for this inferior set of offerings.”

The group of female execs — which included Mindy Herman, prexy and CEO of E! Entertainment Networks; Judith McGrath, prexy of MTV Networks Group; Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and prexy of Disney/ABC Television — was responding to calls by conservative advocacy org Concerned Women for America, for Congress to enact al la carte pricing requirements.

If customers are offered a choice of selecting their own TV package, the execs argued that advertising would dry up and new innovative channels would fail to catch on, because viewers would not be able to use their remote control to stop on the channels if they saw something interesting.

Blank also accused politicians of taking up the indecency issue in an election year just to score political points. “It’s a very convenient issue,” he said. “No one is really in favor of indecency.”

Zaslav and Vinciquerra offered a more nuanced approach. Instead of accusing lawmakers or trying to censor what people watch, Zaslav said Congress was simply trying to draw the right line on what will or will not offend modern audiences.