challenged to think outside the industry talking points, to what consumers are
saying loudly in their marketplace choices.
As a part of a series of hearings, the Senate Commerce
Committee held a hearing on the “State of Video” communications Tuesday May 14,
Leaders from the cable, satellite, and broadcast TV
industries joined PK’s own video & media policy guru, John Bergmayer on the
panel and made one thing very clear: These industries are making a fine profit
right now and are not interested in having the power of the Internet change
Hearings such as this, that have (somewhat) balanced witness
panels are very helpful because they remind us that no matter how much we are
told through advertising that what cable, satellite, and broadcast are giving
us is what we want, these companies are in the business of protecting their
business. The technology that can
increase competition and lower the price of cable is already available in
online video. Millions of viewers
this choice to take advantage of online video options today.
However none of the witnesses (save Bergmayer) pointed to
ways to ensure that this new outlet for local, diverse content is able to grow
and compete with the traditional video providers of cable, satellite, and
broadcast. It was simply not in
their interest to say so.
Thankfully, Senator Pryor included Bergmayer as the voice of
the consumer and the Senate heard several examples of online options that are
currently disrupting the local broadcast and cable dominance with their
innovative ways to watch video. Aereo, Sky Angel, and others have brought
content to viewers in innovative ways but have been greeted with legal threats
from those who fear that millions of eyes will choose to watch somewhere else.
Given the average age of Senators you might assume that
their idea of watching TV might be stuck in the 1990’s with the broadcast and
cable industry. And yet several
Senators demonstrated that they realize there are other options.
Senator McCain led by suggesting legislation that allows
consumers greater choice in their cable viewing options. Senator Warner inquired about Aereo’s
service and suggested that broadcasters who overreact to viewers choosing an
antenna service rather than buying a home antenna by ceasing to broadcast, need
to turn their free government spectrum back in. And Senator Johnson inquired
into what the roadblocks to competition from online video are.
Instead of hearing how online video can be promoted and
grown, Senators listened to how broadcasters provide crucial local content, or
cable is offering TV everywhere options to its customers.
What consumers are looking for is choices and lower prices,
and if online video was given the same abilities to access content that other
video distributors are given in the Communications Act, they might have those
I was encouraged to see several Senators willing to think
outside the box and ask how they can support these new TV viewing choices. As with past disruptions to the video
marketplace, it may require Congress to act before we see the full potential of
this new source of content.