Under The BRIDGE
Friday, May 25, 2012
Of M.V.P.Ds, Channels & The Great Panty Twist
Once upon a time, back in the mid-1990s when many fairy tales were
circulating about satellite (it will never work! no one will willingly
put a dish on their roof! etc.), the cable guys were the only game in
town with "cable" programming. The smarter cable guys – those who had
kept their eyes on digital advances with satellite – knew that this
programming was a critical ace in the hole. They knew that satellite in
the form of DBS would work ... and that people would happily accessorize
their houses with little pizza pie dishes if they could get the
So it passed that cable operators built as many
walls as they could around said programming. They issued white papers
explaining why they shouldn't sell it; they cited laws and statutes to
prove they didn't need to sell it. The FCC did not agree: In December 1994 it opened the gates for DBS services to carry cable programming.
here we are, coming up on 20 years later, and the same story has the
same folks, plus their competitors in satellite and telco, in the same
group panty twist. Of course this time we have some slick new acronyms
... think M.V.P.D ... and a new rallying cry: NO! YouTube, Netflix
et al are NOT M.V.P.D's and therefore they should have NO guaranteed
access to M.V.P.D. (ever try to type that three times in a row?)
channels! (That "channel" is another key word but explaining it all
gets my panties in a twist.)
The FCC, which has grown fatter and
slower with time, responded to the whole to-do by asking for public
comment ... which, of course, is a nifty way to not decide for a while.
Now, however, the public comment is in. It really doesn't say anything
that you wouldn't expect with the exception of one service (Synback from Jack Perry, who is known for his Geneva technology and Antennaweb/Decisionmark
etc. roots) which claims the ability to fulfill all the obligations of a
full fledged M.V.P.D while also enhancing the "local" in local
Whether that will sway the FCC we don't
know. But that isn't the point of this piece. The point, rather, is
that a potentially huge ... make that HUGE ... change is in the wind.
And knots of worried lawyers can be found from New York to L.A.
discussing the definitions of "M.V.P.D." and "channel" and, most
problematically, the law of unintended consequences.
Suggests our good friend John Hane of Pillsbury Law
(who, as usual, is deep into the fray), the way the FCC rules could
reach into all sorts of pockets: Not just those of online video
distributors (OVDs to you acronym addicts) but also into those who would
retransmit programming via iPads, Xboxes and all those other new techno
tools touted as 2nd, 3rd or 4th screens for "cable" programming.
"There is so much going on here, on stage and behind the scenes,
politically, economically, competitively, in FCC regs and copyright
law," he notes. "In legal strategy planning sessions, people have to be
thinking they'd better be very careful about what they ask for, because,
well, the wheel's still in spin."
So do be careful what you wish for ... and keep a close, close eye on the FCC wheel of fortune.•