The Supreme Court Will Not Unbundle Cable

I missed this in the midst of election anxiety on Tuesday, but the Supreme Court just refused to take a case charging that cable bundling is in violation of federal anti-trust laws. As Deadline reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of a class action lawsuit filed by cable and satellite subscribers who argued that channel bundling violated antitrust laws. The subs had asked the court to require programmers and distributors to offer single channels for purchase, rather than sell them only in prepackaged tiers. In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit filed against NBCUniversal, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and others, saying the plaintiffs had not stated a plausible claim.

In a sense, this is a reaffirmation of something we’ve discussed here quite a bit: bundling and the cable business model as currently constituted are inseparable, and many, many millions of people are willing to accept the model as is, even if they don’t love it. Getting around this without killing enormous amounts of programming (something, again, as I’ve said before, that I would be okay with!) is going to take an enormous amount of innovation, and a lot of time, and in the end, individual channels in the bundle will probably cost more than we sense they ought to. In a way, I wonder if the first goal for the cord-cutting or a la carte movements ought to be targeting the provision of internet, cable, and phone services by the same company. Those kinds of bundles are convenient from a customer service perspective. But in terms of preserving the free flow of content, unrestricted by companies who have an interest in slowing down web-based alternatives to cable, that’s a bad incentive structure for the companies themselves, and poses risks for consumers who want real content choices in the future.