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What’s a Multichannel Video Provider?

Washington — Nearly two weeks since the
Federal Communications Commission sought
comment on how it should define a “multichannel
video-programming distributor” (MVPD), a
“channel” and even “video programming” in an
age of Internet delivery, it has yet to receive any

While the FCC takes some time to post the
comments after they are filed — the deadline
for initial comment is April 30 —can agency
spokesperson confirmed the cupboard was
still bare.

It won’t be for long. The answer to the FCC’s
questions could determine the future of both
traditional and online program delivery. The
agency has pushed for the latter technology.

The FCC request is related to its ongoing
consideration of a program-access complaint
fi led by Sky Angel, a provider of predominantly
religious pay Internet-protocol television services,
against Discovery Communications in
2010. Discovery decided to withdraw its programming
when Sky Angel converted the
service to IP delivery from direct-broadcast
satellite in 2008. However, as the FCC acknowledged,
“the interpretation of these terms has
legal and policy implications that extend beyond
the parties to this complaint.”

In April 2010, when the FCC denied
Sky Angel’s request for a standstill order
to keep Discovery from taking its
programming off the service, the Media
Bureau sent something of a mixed
message. It said the FCC’s rules appeared
to require a transmission path
for a distributor to qualify as delivering
channels of programming, and
that Sky Angel — which delivers a subscription
package of linear and on-demand
programming over the Internet
— had not shown how it did that.

But the commission also said the issue
was not settled, and that the decision
“should not be read to state or
imply that the commission, or the
bureau acting on delegated authority,
will ultimately conclude in resolving
the underlying complaint that Sky
Angel does not meet the definition of
an MVPD.”

The FCC has not resolved the complaint,
and wants some advice before
it does so on the implications of applying
a program access complaint to
an online programming service and
whether that service does or doesn’t
need both the programming and the
distribution path to qualify. That will
come down to defining a channel as
either the programming and the distribution
path, or simply the programming.

If the FCC concluded that a transmission
path was needed to qualify
for MVPD obligations like must-carry and program
access, over-the-top video systems might
be able to deliver TV station signals without
having to pay the millions in retransmissionconsent
fees operators are beginning to have
to pony up.

If that path is not needed, the FCC pointed
out in its request for comment, it could “deter
investment in new online programming ventures
and drive some current online distributors
of video programming from the market.”
That is something the FCC does not want to do.

It might also subject such over-the-top services
as Hulu Plus and Netflix to those MVPDrelated
regulatory benefits and obligations.