Video Streamers: We Shouldn't Have to Relay Emergency Alerts

A test of the wireless emergency alert system
(Image credit: Jeff Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The companies behind the top streaming services agreed with the FCC that delivering potentially life-saving emergency alert information to the public is of "paramount importance," but they argued their OTT services should not be required to participate in that system, saying it would not appreciably increase the number of people who get such alerts, but would appreciably increase the burden on streamers if they were required to deliver them.

And the obligation would not just be on the major streaming video services, they said, but Peleton, and even online instructional yoga videos.

Broadcasters agreed that streaming companies should not be required to carry the alerts.

The streamers argued the FCC's Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert System (WEAS) are already robust programs that ensure "timely and relevant" alerts get to the public, which the FCC is making better in the proceeding on which the commission sought comment.

One of the comments the FCC wanted was whether those improvements should include extending the alerts beyond traditional media to the new, and burgeoning, streaming services. Congress mandated that the FCC explore extending alerts to over-the-top.

The Motion Picture Association, whose members include the studios behind Disney Plus, Hulu, ESPN Plus, Peacock, Paramount Plus, and HBO Max, said no.

"[T]he Commission should advise Congress that it should not seek to expand the class of entities required to participate in EAS to include streaming services," they said, adding to do so would could create "alert fatigue," not to mention being "tremendously burdensome" if not "entirely impracticable" as a technical matter, they said in comments to the FCC.

On that last point, they echoed arguments long made against defining over-the-top services as MVPDs.

"Streaming services are less like physical networks and systems that provide EAS today and more similar to the providers of content delivered over such systems." Like an individual broadcast network or cable channel, they said, "because such content providers do not control the underlying distribution architecture, do not have knowledge of where a particular end user receiving their content over such distribution architecture might be located, and are far greater in number than the EAS participants, these individual content providers are not responsible for delivery of EAS alerts."

The FCC's EAS obligation is imposed on individual TV stations and cable systems, not the content providers.

Among the technical challenges they cite:

1. "Streaming services’ relative lack of knowledge as to a user’s precise location;

2. "Difficulties in geographically targeting alerts in a service that is provided on a nationwide basis and delivered over the public Internet; and

3. "The total impracticability of streaming services monitoring for, ingesting, and delivering EAS alerts."

They said any of those demonstrates the infeasibility of applying alert mandates to them.

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.