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Dish wants Viacom, MTV to sign on to Web service, report says

Many consumers would love paying just for the cable stations they actually watch. According to published report, the Dish Network wants to help usher in a world of a la carte viewing.

Dish Network is said to be asking cable networks such as MTV to consider offering their shows on a Dish-owned Web service, according to a published report.

In a Bloomberg story today, the news wire said talks have also involved Univision Communications and Scripps Networks Interactive, parent company of the Food Network.

Bloomberg says Dish's pitch to the TV companies goes something like this: offer a relatively small bundle of shows for Web viewing at a discounted price. Financial terms weren't included in the story. A Dish spokesman said the company wasn't offering "any guidance regarding this subject."

Certainly this is the kind of thing that consumers would favor. The idea of creating virtual multichannel video programming distribution (MVPD) has been around a while. Cable subscribers have long said that they would rather pay just for the shows they actually watch, instead of the current system, which requires them to pay a bulk price that covers scads of shows they're uninterested in.

The cable companies haven't shown any willingness to break up their packages for a la carte viewing, and up to now, the companies that create shows haven't appeared to be in any hurry to change the model either.

Here's one of the big hurdles. So many of the most sought after shows are owned by a handful of companies that won't let distributors pick and choose the shows they offer. You have do take the bundles they give you. If you want ESPN, you got to take other Disney content. If you want CBS (parent company of CNET) then that could involve a conversation about licensing shows from Showtime, the pay-TV service owned by CBS.

It can get expensive fast.

But try this scenario on for size: What if Dish is successful at convincing a few cable players like Viacom, and then combines its Web service with a feature similar to Aereo's.

That's the start-up that enables users to access over-the-air broadcasts via the Web. The broadcast signals are captured with the help of millions of tiny, sophisticated rabbit ears and then Aereo transfers the signals to customers' homes over the Web.

Now, you're talking about offering some nice cable content in addition to shows, news and sports from the major TV networks. Isn't that an interesting package? Okay, let's wake up. The networks are still trying to sue Aereo into oblivion and there's no telling whether Viacom or any other content provider will buy into Dish's plan.

We also don't know whether enough consumers would pay for this kind of offering to make it viable.