The National Association of Broadcasters took aim at live TV services in comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission on Monday on the definitions of "multichannel video programming distributor" and "channel." The FCC wants industry opinion on whether Web-based video services should be regulated like cable and satellite TV systems.
The broadcasters attacked live TV services that in the words of the filing, "expropriate broadcast signals at will." This reads like a broadside against a category of companies that is looking disrupt the retransmission fee system that governs relations between broadcast stations and pay-TV systems.
There's Ivi TV, which tried to position itself as an online cable system, offering monthly TV subscriptions without offering any compensation to content producers outside of a $100 compulsory license fee to the Copyright Office. Ivi was sued by a long list of TV networks, stations, studios and others. The court issued an injunction and Ivi TV is are no longer providing any service while waiting for the case to be decided by an appeals court.
Aereo, a company that makes live TV available via PCs, tablets and phones through a network of miniaturized antennas, is another online TV pure play being sued by broadcast stations. Founded by Fox Broadcasting creator Barry Diller, Aereo offers New York City residents access to broadcast programming for $12 per month. It's described in the suit as "an unauthorized Internet delivery service that is receiving, converting and retransmitting broadcast signals for a fee."
The FCC's request stems from a dispute over access to programming between the Internet TV provider Sky Angel and Discovery Communications. Sky Angel is an Internet-based TV service that petitioned the FCC Media Bureau for relief after losing access to Discovery programming. Sky Angel argued that it qualified for protection under program access rules that prohibit exclusive deals between programmers and pay-TV providers.
The FCC ruled against Sky Angel, but subsequently put out a call for comments on a possible redefinition of multichannel video program distributor that might include providers like Sky Angel as well as Netflix and Hulu.
It's not surprising that NAB didn't want a piece of the bigger picture argument, considering that Hulu is a joint venture of three of NAB's network members (Fox, NBC and ABC) and that network production arms get licensing fees from Netflix.
It will be interesting to track what advocates for the cable industry and telecoms that offer TV services, which are more likely to view Hulu and Netflix as direct competitors, have to say in response to the public notice. Comments were due Monday; reply comments are due June 14.
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