Editorial: Set-Top-of-Mind

If FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is to be believed, the FCC’s just-released set-top box is only about creating a competitive video marketplace so prices will go down and the number of innovative ways to access video—apps, dongles, newfangled boxes—will go up.

If that’s the case, the FCC must make sure the language of its final order makes clear what can and can’t be done with cable ops’ set-top box content.

Some broadcasters have complained to the FCC about pop-up ads on smart TVs that could violate kids TV ad limits. Given there are no FCC rules preventing such ads on smart TVs or other video access devices, the FCC is considering as part of the set-top proposal whether to adopt rules related to whether popups would violate those limits.

But that consideration clearly anticipates that new ads could be placed around multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) video streams on new navigation devices. That’s one of the things of most concern to MVPDs when it comes to the issue of disaggregating their program streams, particularly if that programming becomes a vehicle for those new ads without their getting a piece of that new action.

That’s one of many issues the FCC will need to resolve. Another is how the agency protects consumer data privacy—given that its rules on CPNI (customer network proprietary information) do not extend to tech companies and edge providers/app developers—and how it protects copyrighted content.

We’re not saying the set-top marketplace has been particularly competitive, but we join Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in saying the chairman’s answer may not be the “precise way forward.”