The maverick wants to cook the TV industry's golden goose.
Specifically, McCain wants to require pay-TV distributors to give consumers the option to buy channels on an individual or a la carte basis instead of the current system in which they must buy large bundles of channels.
He is also interested in protecting Aereo Inc., the start-up that delivers the signals of broadcast TV networks -- including
Fox and CBS have even threatened to take their programming off broadcast TV and create cable channels if Aereo wins in the courts. Broadcasters are currently paid by cable and satellite operators for their channels, and they fear that if Aereo survives, it could threaten that revenue stream.
According to Washington insiders briefed on McCain's plans, the senator's proposed legislation would give the
Many of the details of McCain's proposed bill are still sketchy, and his office would only confirm that he is drafting a la carte legislation.
This is not the first time McCain has tried to push a la carte on the television industry. A previous effort in 2006 failed to gain much momentum.
The second time may not be the charm. McCain is no longer a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the FCC and the media industry, and top lobbyists doubt he still has the juice to push the bill through.
Next week, the Senate Commerce Committee is set to hold a hearing on the state of the industry, and top lobbyists from the cable and broadcast industries are scheduled to testify. McCain's office is scrambling to have proposed legislation ready.
The issue of selling cable channels in bundles has divided much of the media industry. Although many consumers blame the cable and satellite operators for how channels are sold, the reality is that it is often the programmers who dictate the terms.
Big media companies such as
At the same time, though, it also gives programmers leverage to get unpopular channels carried, distributors say. In February, New York cable operator
Consumer advocates argue that offering channels on an individual basis would save subscribers money. The pay-TV industry says that is not the case because if a network such as
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.