Press Release

Public Knowledge Press Briefing Statement on Independent Video Programming Notice of Inquiry

April 5, 2016 , , ,

Today, Public Knowledge hosted a press briefing to discuss the Federal Communications Commission's video programming Notice of Inquiry — the first step in the process of promoting independent and diverse programming in the video marketplace. Common Cause, Writer's Guild of America-West and iSwop also participated in the briefing.

The following can be attributed to Kate Forscey, Government Affairs Associate Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“Last Thursday, Public Knowledge, (along with many allies), filed comments on the FCC’s recent Notice of Inquiry, or NOI, addressing the availability of diverse and independent video programming. The NOI is a welcome step toward opening a world of possibilities in how we consume content and what that content looks like –one that realizes the full potential of the digital era for both accessibility and exciting, diverse content.

“Things now are better than ever, but still far from what they could be. Even in the broadband and social media age, television and video in general remain a key part of the cultural conversation. At the same time, consumers are consistently dissatisfied with the way they access content, while many creators feel like they still have to struggle for the mere opportunity to earn an audience. People have access to the world’s literature and music at a few taps of a screen, so why is so much video still held hostage by the legacy pay TV model?

“One reason is that the companies who benefit most from the current state of play–dominant pay TV distributors like cable companies–control both the broadband route to the consumer that new video services need to reach viewers, and a lot of the content those alternative services need to offer to really compete with cable in the first place.  It’s increasingly obvious that a key way today’s incumbents hold back tomorrow’s competition is through economic coercion, forcing programmers to agree to limit who they sell to and how they sell programming, limiting new services’ like over-the-top’s ability to compete with traditional pay TV.  This in turn  means higher bills for consumers and underwhelming choices for viewers. Worse, these anticompetitive pressures disproportionately disadvantage diverse, independent, and niche programmers who have seen such benefits from the greater variety of carriage options innovative technologies such as over the top provide.

“This NOI came about because these systemic problems percolate at every level of the industry, and because many of us see it doesn’t have to be that way. The FCC also knows this.  Hence this NOI, and we answered their call by highlighting some of the biggest problems we see in the marketplace. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  1. The generally uncompetitive structure of the traditional cable market: cable companies don’t really compete regionally. This means that a failed carriage deal on a dominant provider in a given region effectively kills a program product. This results in hugely disproportionate bargaining leverage by Pay TV over the programmers;

  2. The control cable companies also have on over-the-top carriage.  This takes the form of both exclusionary clauses for the programmers they do accept (again, due to the unfair leverage), and the fact that many cable companies also own the broadband pipes, where over-the-top that directly competes with their Pay TV model gets carried, so they can make life difficult for online programming as well; and

  3. That ever-evolving online model offers the best opportunities for independent, niche and diverse programming that has the most difficulty getting carriage on traditional cable.  This NOI asks how the FCC can put over-the-top in the best position to compete with cable and to reach new audiences who want to hear their own stories told. (And by the way, when those voices do reach eyeballs, it turns out there is quite a large market for them indeed.)

“These are the types of questions this NOI intends to dive into. Broadband distribution of content, new devices and apps, and new platforms and services have already given us a glimpse that a new, more fundamentally competitive and fair model is possible. We just need to let it breathe.”

You may view our NOI comments for more information. Participants are also available for interviews.