I don’t get it. Definition of a television picture gets higher and higher. Yet the FCC’s jurisdiction gets more and more fuzzy.
The latest is the latest inquiry into what constitutes a MVPD (multichannel video programming distributor). Listen up! This is important.
You’ve probably visited a currently-defined MVPD in the last few hours. At least if you watched a program on cable or satellite or telco-delivered system. Right. These guys distribute video programming across multi[ple] channels. Hence the acronym.
However, the commission now wants to take a broader view of MVPDs – from a regulatory standpoint. Translation: we want to regulate those emerging services which slowly are becoming MVPDs. So, who’s that? Well, start with Hulu and similar services. Then toss in Youtube. And, eventually, as is usually the case with regulation, every other form of video service that offers more than one (operative word being multiple in the acronym) channel.
So, what’s the big deal? None, I suppose. Oh. Wait. Must-carry rules and retransmission consent agreements are an everyday part of MVPDs. Let’s throw those on the backs of online distributors. After all, copyright laws aren’t enough. And so-called spectrum fees or other regulatory fees? Why sure, if they’re going to be regulated, they need to pay for that regulation.
But it gets more insidious than that. Here are some random insidiousities to consider. (Yes, I know that’s not exactly a word.)
· It opens a door for yet another tax on these smaller operations
· It can subject them to content regulation
· It can force them to begin captioning much of their fare (think I’m kidding Check out Broadcast Engineering, Volume 54, Number 5, May 2012, page 42.) No. It’s not required of Hulu yet…but if they become an MVPD, who knows?
· EAS anyone? Should all MVPDs be bound by FEMA and FCC rules for EAS? In a way, it’s a good thing – if you’re watching some idiot trying to jump 50 oil drums with a garbage truck on Youtube and there’s a chlorine leak somewhere in the county, don’t you want to know?
If we look back, we can trace the steps from cable being limited in the number of channels it carried. Then it was forced to expand. Then local origination was forbidden. Oh, then, it was mandatory…and along with it, public access channels.
We went through must-carry…and the leapfrogging fight. At each turn, it seems, there was a flip-flop, or if not, a decision that said that what had been ordered in the past was radically wrong – even though the industry had operated fairly well during that time.
Now – flash forward. Not too far. It’s a time when there are no more “networks” or “channels.” Long time, you think? Remember that networks exist[ed] to distribute programming. Broadcast networks were forbidden from becoming MVPDs. They only had one feed. They couldn’t provide multiple sets of programming at the same time. If you doubt that, give NBC a call and ask them what happened to their Blue Network.
As networks evolved, they became brands. Some, like DuMont, went the way of Peak Toothpaste. Others survived and morphed – supported by O&O stations which provided channels. These were specific, assigned groups of frequencies that standardized television transmission and reception in the US. And as the O&O’s grew so did affiliates who took the networks’ feeds at least part of the day in exchange for compensation paid them for carrying their network’s commercials. As they grew, the O&O’s and the affiliates became brands in and of themselves.
We gradually became accustomed to seeking out specific content on a given network by going to the channel distributing it locally. Cool. If you want to continue living in the 20th century. But not na’more. We do find content by way of networks. But we also find it through hundreds of other sources on the web, in the cloud or, today, via VOD on cable, quasi-VOD on satellite, heck, even RedBox can be considered a distribution channel.
And as these hundreds of channels grow in popularity, the call for a network – in the classic sense – is diminished. And channels – as in TV or cable channels – well, who cares. You’ve heard me say it before – nobody cares what kind of car delivers their pizza. It’s the pizza. And, similarly, few care about how the content gets to them. It’s the content itself. Yeah, you want me to trot out the “Content is King” bromide. Well, I won’t. Uh oh. I just…well, moving on.
People are proving that they can find good content. Kids are best at it. The car-keys set is almost as good. Frankly, we’re all getting better at it. Good thing. The days of getting 125 GRP’s to promote a program on air are gone. “Back then” you could burn those off with a few shared :30’s and some voice-over-crawl announcements. Not anymore. Networks are finding it harder and harder to promote their programs. Channels find it increasingly difficult to promote and protect their brand…because it IS about the content now, and not about the channel.
Now, please take all of the last few paragraphs and use it to frame the concept of MVPDs. Just as audio streaming and computer audio recording and editing is whittling away at the need for a label, so is the ability to do the same with video eliminating the need for channels and networks. So if everyone can do it, how do you regulate everyone and require them to submit to new laws on distribution – or the old ones which are being applied in an archaic manner? You can’t.
Where does it go from here? You only have to think about it for a second before you realize that if you have the ability to tell someone about some new content, you have a good chance of sampling. After all, isn’t that what a network or channel does with its promos? If I can tell you about a new show, I have a fighting chance you’ll give it a shot. And where’s the best place to do that? “A witch.” (Sorry, that’s the answer to an entirely different Monty Python question.) The best place is the EPG – electronic program guide.
If I have control of that, I get to decide what you see when you go to it. It won’t matter where it comes from. You may make your choice to watch it based on who produced it or wrote it, or who’s starring in it, or whatever. But, regardless, I have first shot at you with the EPG.
And there’s been an ongoing fight there – well over 10 years - but I’ll leave that for another installment. If you want to read ahead, remember this suit?
Meanwhile, grab some chips and salsa, sit back and watch the government try to thread this MVPD needle. And if you have Slingbox® or a similar device, and you can have two people watching different programming on their laptops with it, ask yourself, “Am I an MVPD?” Then, when the government comes a knockin’ at the door, tell ‘em, “We already got one.”