NAB: Pai Has Lots of Questions About OTT

Related: NAB Show 2015 Complete Coverage

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai says that there are all kinds of over-the-top video competitors to traditional cable and satellite operators and that as far as he is concerned, it's all good.

"From my perspective, the bottom line is that all of this is great for consumers. Americans have access to a wider variety of video programming over a wider variety of platforms and devices than ever before. Today, I can catch Mad Men on my laptop while my wife keeps up with the Kardashians on television and my son watches Sesame Street on an iPad," he said in prepared remarks for his turn as moderator of an NAB Show panel with the hip title, "You Down with OTT? FCC’s Wheeler: Yeah, You Know Me.”

"Complaints that there’s nothing on television worth watching are being replaced by regrets that there isn’t enough time in the day to watch all the shows that make this a new Golden Age," he said, perhaps the first government official to include Kardashians in TV's Golden Age.

The FCC has proposed defining linear over-the-top providers as MVPDS, and Pai concedes that the growth of OTT has presented "challenges" to regulators. Pai is not ready to declare the time ripe for regulatory intervention, teeing up questions rather than providing answers — which he would be unlikely to do on an item currently before the commission.

In fact, Pai voted only to concur in the NPRM when it was adopted last December, rather than giving it his full-throated approval. He concurred in part because he said the FCC needed to resolve the definitional issue in terms of a petition pending for years.

Pai's questions include:

"What role, if any, should the FCC play in this dynamic space? Should the Commission continue to allow the vibrant online video market to flourish and evolve on its own? Is Internet video regulation a solution in search of a problem? Or has over-the-top video become too important for the FCC to ignore? Are there problems in the marketplace that can only be resolved by FCC intervention?"

He pointed out that there are arguments on both sides, including from broadcasters who are divided over the reclassification, and between broadcasters and MVPDS, who are also divided. He also pointed out that online video distributor Amazon does not support reclassification.

In fact, Amazon told the FCC that most OTTs don't want reclassification, even though the FCC has billed it as a way to give them nondiscriminatory access to vertically integrated programming from their distribution competitors.

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.