'Walking Dead' Producer Hammers FCC Set-Top Plan

The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd clearly does not like what she has been hearing out of the FCC recently on set-top box reforms.

Hurd took to the op-ed pages of USA Today Tuesday to slam the proposal by Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler to open up set-top box data and program streams to third-party navigation device makers and app developers.

READ MORE of MCN's coverage of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to unlock set-tops

Wheeler has said the proposal does not threaten copyright protection of the economic model of programmers, but Hurd seems thoroughly unconvinced.

"If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approves Chairman Tom Wheeler’s regulatory proposal to 'open' set-top boxes, it will make piracy as easy and dangerous in the living room as it is on laptop and mobile devices," Hurd wrote. "Imagine Madison Square Garden being forced to open its doors to allow street vendors to sell fake and knock-off New York Knicks merchandise alongside the legitimate items in the stadium stores. Think of the advantages the street vendors would enjoy by not paying to license the goods they were selling."

Hurd left no doubt she has a very personal reason for her anti-piracy passion. "The season five premiere of my show...was illegally downloaded by roughly 1.27 million unique IP addresses worldwide within 24 hours of its debut," she said. AMC's The Walking Deadtrails only HBO's Game of Thrones among the most-pirated shows.

Cable operators and program producers have been pushing back hard on the proposal, saying the marketplace is already providing navigation alternatives, The National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Motion Picture Association of America are getting together this week to demo those alternatives for the press in an effort to put an exclamation point on the issue, though NCTA Chairman Michael Powell has not been shy about outlining the reasons he thinks the FCC is way off base and the other options available instead.

And clearly neither is Hurd. "I'm afraid that all of us who create, market and broadcast legitimate content will be like the zombies on my show: the walking dead....Don’t get me wrong. I love zombies. But the AllVid proposal is an idea that should never have been brought back from the dead."

"AllVid" is a reference to an earlier FCC effort to wed traditional and online video in a single gateway device.

Cable operators say that the FCC's latest navigation-device and set-top-box unlocking proposal is an exhumation of that, while Wheeler says it is not. Hurd says they are "unsettlingly similar" and would be similarly "disastrous."

The FCC is currently collecting stakeholder comment and even if it approves the proposal, with or without modifications, it would take a couple of years to take effect.

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.