Opinions on the rights of content owners differ among broadcasters when they are the owners who can profit from new distribution methods.
Creators should be paid a fair price for their content. Or they shouldn’t be. Broadcasters are arguing both sides of the same issue when the content is television versus music on the radio.
At the hearing on the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act, Marci Burdick, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters and Ben Pyne, president of global distribution at Disney Media Networks, both stressed the importance of retransmission consent to their business model.
The retransmission consent system gives broadcasters the right to control whether cable or satellite providers can carry their programming. Retransmission consent is one of the regulatory systems that grew up around cable, but now threatens emerging video providers.
At the hearing, Burdick and Pyne pointed to the costs of content creation and the risks that creators take when developing new programming, to stress the importance of regulation to ensure that they receive a fair return on that investment.
At particular issue was Aereo, the service that streams broadcast content to subscribers via their broadband internet connection. Burdick claims Aereo is taking advantage of an outdated regulatory framework to violate the public performance right and infringe copyright. The Second Circuit recently upheld the legality of Aereo’s service. Pyne could not discuss Aereo specifically due to Disney’s pending litigation.
Congresswoman Blackburn, vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked Burdick to explain how the broadcast industry’s insistence that Aereo is stealing their content is consistent with their refusal to pay royalties to artists whose music is played on their radio stations.
In response to the Representative’s question, Burdick argued that radio stations distribute music to the listening public for free, whereas Aereo charges viewers for the service. In her view, broadcasters are entitled to a percentage of what Aereo makes due to use of broadcaster’s copyrighted works.
But terrestrial radio stations, though they don’t charge the individual listener, do make money related to the value of the content they provide. Advertisers pay stations for access to consumers, which the radio station can only provide if they play music that listeners want to hear.
If content creators deserve fair compensation for their work, then they deserve it regardless of type of content it is or which device receives it. Burdick’s answer revealed that the distinction, though the broadcasters won’t admit it, is in who owns the content… especially if the owner is them.
Comparing these broadcaster arguments about the value of content and the importance of a fair return for creators highlights a more general point: in both television and radio, broadcasters are a powerful incumbent willing and able to utilize their market power to keep out competitors, whether through high licensing fees for online radio or through lawsuits against innovators like Aereo.
Original image by Flickr user CowGirlZen Photography.