Comcast to offer `Family Tier' fare

16 channels to cost about $15 a month

December 23, 2005|By STACEY HIRSH | STACEY HIRSH,SUN REPORTER

Comcast Corp. plans to roll out a 16-channel, family-friendly programming package early next year, the company announced yesterday, as the cable industry works to combat criticism that too much of the programming it sells is not suitable for families.

The "Family Tier" package includes channels such as National Geographic, HGTV, the Weather Channel, the Disney Channel, CNN Headline News, C-SPAN and Discovery Kids.

The move comes as cable companies have faced government and consumer pressure to exclude violence, sex and other topics from certain cable packages and to promote more family-oriented programming.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin called on the industry last month to give consumers the option of buying channels a la carte, paying only for the ones they want to watch.

Time Warner Cable announced last week that it would launch a family package early next year as well.

Comcast's family-friendly package, which will be launched in 99 percent of Comcast's markets including Maryland, will cost an average of $31.20 per month. That price includes an average of $12 for basic cable, $4.25 for a digital cable box and $14.95 for the 16 Family Tier channels.

Comcast has more than a million subscribers in Maryland. Most customers have basic cable and expanded cable, which includes an average of more than 65 channels and costs an average of an additional $38, said Jim Gordon, a Comcast spokesman. Some customers, though, are buying Comcast's digital box, which gives them access to parental controls, an on-screen programming guide, 3,800 hours of video on-demand content and access to "tiers" of programming, Gordon said.

Comcast offers a Sports Tier package for $4.95 a month - with channels such as NBA TV and the Tennis Channel - and a Hispanic Tier package that costs $9.95 a month and includes stations such as MTV Espanol and Telemundo.

Consumers will still be able to get all 16 channels in the family package through existing packages, the company said. "As we've seen with some of our Hispanic Tiers and some of our Sports Tiers, these are categories that consumers have a great deal of interest in," Gordon said.

The family-oriented package meets a demand for indecency restrictions on television, said Andrew M. Schroepfer, president of Tier 1 Research, a Minneapolis research and consulting firm.

It is also a move the company must make, Schroepfer said, to compete in an ever-changing telecommunications market that will eventually offer consumers the chance to watch television over the Internet and buy channels a la carte.

But it is difficult to find a package of television stations that everyone agrees on, Schroepfer said.

Some parents, for instance, may feel reality television shows on the networks are not family-friendly programming, he said, yet the networks are included in the basic cable package that is needed to buy the Family Tier.

"At the end of the day, every person is going to have a different opinion about what should be in there," Schroepfer said.

stacey.hirsh@baltsun.com

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