OTT Proves Another Digital Divide

WASHINGTON — The trade groups representing cable operators and TV stations are at odds over the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to define some linear online video providers as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), but even some of the broadcast lobby’s network members are more aligned with cable’s reluctance to have the regulator step in.

The National Association of Broadcasters has said it believes the FCC should apply both the rights and responsibilities of being an MVPD to over-the-top platforms, while the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has said the agency should leave the nascent online video market alone to develop without inserting itself into the equation.

The issue is gaining currency as more programmers launch over-the-top services that mirror traditional pay TV. The redefinition of MVPD — which would, at a minimum, extend program-access rights to online video distributors (OVDs) — would not apply to on-demand services, only those providers offering around-the-clock “channels” of linear programming.

The FCC has also said it wouldn’t apply the new definition to “TV everywhere”-like online access to conventional cable services, though it has asked whether it should.

In FCC filings, the NAB said it backed the redefinition of an MVPD as a modernization of the rules that takes into account Internet video distribution and boosts pay TV competition.

In a separate filing, though, three of NAB’s network members — identifying themselves as video programmers, not broadcasters — told the FCC to back off, or at least hold off . CBS Corp., 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Co. (parent of ABC) — Comcast-owned NBCUniversal did not sign on — told the FCC “there is no market failure to address, and that imposition of additional regulation may limit, rather than increase, the opportunity for consumers to obtain their desired video programming in a myriad of new ways.”

Asked if Comcast associated itself with either argument, a spokesperson said, “We didn’t file ourselves and didn’t say anything specific about anyone else filing.” Comcast is the NCTA’s largest member; NBC is a member of the NAB.

The NCTA in its filing said the FCC should let the marketplace work without intervention and, in any event, the definition of MVPD can’t be stretched to cover OVDs.

The NCTA said the FCC does not have the authority to change the definition of MVPD, and even if it did, the change would do nothing to boost competition. “The commission may not, as a matter of law — and should not, as a matter of sound public policy — deem OVDs to be within the scope of the statutory definition of an MVPD.”

The NAB, by contrast, wants to make sure the FCC applies more than just programming- access regulations to OVDs. It wants online providers to be subject must-carry, syndicated exclusivity and other responsibilities that go along with MVPD status, or at least with cable MVPD status.

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.