Amazon to FCC: Many OTTs Don't Want Program-Access Rights

Amazon does not want the Federal Communications Commission to classify some over-the-top providers (OTTs) as Multichannel Video Programming Distributors covered by program-access protections, saying there is no pressing need to do so.

"As the commission noted in its [Notice for Proposed Rulemaking], MVPD status is attended by a large number of regulatory privileges and obligations, including the right to seek relief under the program-access rules and obligations relating to program carriage and good faith negotiation with broadcasters for retransmission consent," Amazon said. "However, many OTT providers have no desire to avail themselves of these rights and obligations."

It then upped the estimate, saying "most providers" don't want to be more like MVPDs.

In reply comments on the FCC's tentative proposal to do just that, Amazon said the online video marketplace is working fine without FCC intervention.

"In light of the excellent results achieved over the last several years, Amazon does not see why the commission would risk interfering with the OTT marketplace, which is still growing and changing, at this stage in its development," the company said.

Amazon argued that services offered by Amazon, Netflix and Apple represent a whole new ballgame, not another team in the MVPD league. It said that planned services from Dish and HBO are an effort to be players in this new space, a space it and others have been building for years.

If the FCC proceeds with its plan, Amazon said, the agency needs to clarify some things. Those include that so-called "binge watching," even if in a linear fashion, as in one episode after the other, is not linear TV; it is on-demand viewing, which the FCC is not classifying as an MVPD service.

Amazon said the need to clarify that issue suggests there is too much emphasis on "linear" in the FCC proposal and too little clarity about what it means and how it could be applied to online video distributors as they evolve. "Under the commission’s proposal, 'linear' appears to be the only word that prevents the majority of OTT providers from being regulated, yet many have no interest in replicating the model that the commission is seeking to graft onto digital media platforms."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has shown no interest in discouraging the growth of online video, instead signaling the redefinition is a way to help it grow into a stronger competitor to traditional cable by making sure programming co-owned by the cable competition is not unfairly withheld for competitive -- or more to the point, anticompetitive -- reasons.

Broadcasters have told the FCC they do not think that good faith bargaining requirements on retrans negotiations should apply to OTTs, who do not want to carry linear versions of broadcast TV channels.

 Amazon agreed and said: "This noteworthy consensus should caution the commission that there is perhaps less need for regulation than it may have first assumed."

Still, those same broadcasters are fine with redefining linear OTTs (which they generally call OVDs), while Amazon is not. And those broadcasters definitely don't want OTTs to have the option not to be redefined, while Amazon said they should have that flexibility.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.