Creative Unions, MPAA Reject FCC Set-Top Revamp

Momentum continues to build against the FCC's app-centric/standards body-centric revamp of its "unlock the set-top” proposal

Amazon, app developers, and Rep. Frank Pallone have recently expressed their concerns with inserting a standards body into an MVPD-supplied app approach to creating competition in video navigation.

The latest to weigh in, in a joint announcement, were unions including SAG-AFTRA, RIAA, DGA, along with the Motion Picture Association of America—programmers are already on record with their concerns—the Independent Film & Television Alliance, and others.

Those groups said they flat out reject the revised plan, calling it a job-chilling intrusion into the creative community that would force "one-size-fits-all licensing terms on an industry that is as varied and diverse as the movies, music and shows we make."

App developers raised similar issues.

The new FCC proposal would create a standards body that would license the MVPD-supplied app that would allow for integrating search for traditional and online video, but the body would be answerable to the FCC.

“The creative community, with near unanimity, has made clear from the start that we support competition in the set-top box market," the groups said in a joint statement. "We do not profit from set-top box fees and welcome new distribution opportunities for our creative content," they pointed out, but added: "it cannot come at the expense of the millions of Americans who make a living in the film, television, and music industries. By all reports, the FCC’s revised set-top box proposal fails to address concerns we have repeatedly raised. Instead, the FCC creates an unacceptable and unworkable de facto compulsory licensing regime that requires creators to allow their work to be shared across multiple platforms without compensation and without regard to the creators’ rights to exclusively control their distribution."

FCC staffers have been trying to persuade uneasy members of Congress that the proposal protects content and creativity and would not create a new compulsory license arm of the FCC. But critics remain unconvinced, in part because they are relying on those assertions and have not seen the details of the revised plan, according to a source familiar with those discussions with both Congress and stakeholders.

Wheeler has scheduled the set-top proposal for a vote at the Sept. 29 open meeting, but ISPs and programmers are pushing back, including with commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has had issues with the proposal from the beginning. While voting for the rulemaking proposal, she said changes needed to be made and was getting the full court press from Hollywood last week with the message that changes still were needed.

"Chairman Wheeler has repeatedly made it clear that the proposal will not interfere with the terms of licensing agreements between content-owners and pay-TV service providers," said FCC press secretary Kim Hart. "In fact, the apps-based approach taken in the proposal is one that the content owners explicitly urged us to adopt, as they told us their content would be safest if it remained within the MVPD’s app."

AS to the licensing body, Hart said it has "no role over private programming license agreements. The only purpose of the licensing body -- comprised of pay-TV providers and programmers—is to develop a rules of the road for third-party device manufacturers to get access to the apps. The limited role of the FCC in this process is to make sure that consumer device makers respect the rights of content owners, to ensure the licensing process is fair and that there is a competitive marketplace for devices in a reasonable time."

An FCC official speaking on background said that by giving programmers a role in the licensing body, those programmers have a direct say in how the apps are licensed. The source said it would be hard to imagine that programmers and pay TV companies would agree to a process that does not protect copyright. They said licensees will only get access to content in an MVPDs app after they agree not to alter or interfere with content or ads in any way.

The FCC's role in the licensing bopdy would be to review the license to ensure it is not unreasonable, anticompetitive or would stifle competition.

But what the FCC would conclude did that is an x faxtor that concerns programmers and ISPS.

The full list of those signing on to the statement is: A2IM, American Federation of Musicians, the Copyright Alliance, CreativeFuture, Crossings TV, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), IATSE, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), MPAA, NMPA, RIAA, SAG-AFTRA, and Vme TV.

John Eggerton

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.