Liberty Media CEO Sees Benefits in A La Carte Proposal

Greg Maffei - P 2011
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Greg Maffei says a bill from Sen. John McCain has "many positive attributes" and discusses Charter's cable consolidation plans.

While most TV network owners have spoken out against a la carte pricing of pay TV channels, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei on Wednesday said some kind of industry solution to recent programming disputes was needed if sector players want to avoid government intervention.

The "benign" and "positive" relationship between networks and pay TV distributors that used to exist has been strained by rising programming costs and recurring disputes, he said.

"If you don't have some market-based sensitivity, I think you do risk having intervention" from the government, Maffei told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference in New York.

Asked about a proposed bill from Sen. John McCain based on the a la carte model, Maffei said "there are many positive attributes to it," even though he said he couldn't predict if the bill would pass.

Maffei also discussed the consolidation strategy of cable operator Charter Communications, in which Liberty earlier this year acquired a 27.3 percent stake. It has since been seen as potentially driving U.S. cable consolidation as Liberty chairman John Malone has always touted the benefits of size.

"I'm not sure we have to lead the charge," Maffei said. But he said high programming and network costs in the cable business make scale matter. "There are a lot of opportunities for synergies." He was asked about Time Warner Cable and smaller cable firms as possible targets, but simply said they would have different impacts.

Maffei also once again reiterated that Liberty likes Charter's outlook, management and low broadband penetration. In addition, there is the "incremental value option from M&A," even though this potential is so far unrealized.

Maffei on Wednesday also once again pushed for more usage-based broadband pricing in the cable business, which he called "logical and fair" and a "reasonable proposition." He argued that "getting consumers attuned to that sooner rather than later" is important.

Maffei also described SiriusXM Radio as a long-term investment for his company.

Twitter: @georgszalai