As I was watching the Broncos lose at home again yesterday afternoon, there was an occasional crawl at the top of the screen telling the world that Dish customers should call Dish and complain that they might lose CBS. Or something like that – the game was hard to watch. I rolled my eyes inwardly and thought, here we go again.
The first CBS-Dish fight from over 10 years ago was the impetus for me to install a good Yagi-style over-the-air antenna on the roof. Not only did that let me bypass that dispute, it opened up the world of digital subchannels. I’ve since upgraded to a less pointy version with even better reception, but that’s only part of the reason I just don’t care this time.
When Dish sent out its nigh-annual rate increase around the beginning of this year, for the first time it broke out Broadcast TV as its own $10 charge. “Cool!” I thought, and called in to get the satellite-delivered locals turned off. That wasn’t how it worked; with my typical package of channels, that separate broadcast component was still mandatory.
Which was why I was surprised to get a postcard from Dish a couple of months ago offering to save me that $10/month if I picked up locals via an OTA antenna. They even offered to send out an installer. I called again, and this time the satellite-delivered locals went away and $10 stayed in my pocket. I no longer have PrimeTime Anytime, and my Hopper doesn’t record OTA all that well, but I’ve got a Tablo in place for my OTA DVR. I’m saving money and getting the pleasure of thumbing my nose at CBS’s tactics.
That’s the part that bugs me most. CBS already has enormous leverage in retransmission consent talks, and for the network to bug all viewers just to reach some Dish customers to increase that leverage, I think that’s a jerk move. As long as its stations continue to have an obligation to freely serve the public airwaves, then that’s how I’ll watch my CBS.
I was reminded today why I often find it hard to write anything on Fridays. That seems to be the day of the week when all the bad news comes out.
Ben Munson at FierceCable wrote about reactions to the FCC’s vote yesterday to relax media ownership rules to make it easier for broadcasters to own newspapers in their markets, and to own multiple TV stations. Supporters thought it was a gift to broadcast groups such as Sinclair, and opponents thought it was a gift to Sinclair Broadcasting.
Brian Heater at TechCrunch rounded up the evidence that the FCC will vote to kill Net Neutrality next month. There’s another case where on a Monday I might have exhorted you to call your legislators to fight to keep equal treatment for all bits, but on Friday I just see a future where Comcast charges extra for OTT services it doesn’t own.
And there’s news, also from Munson, that Sinclair is going full speed ahead on ATSC 3.0 just hours after the FCC voted to allow the broadcast standard. According to a Reuters story, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the new technology would force consumers to buy new televisions. “The FCC calls this approach market driven. That’s right — because we will all be forced into the market for new television sets or devices.” On the other hand, Sinclair calls it “the Holy Grail” because it will tells them who is watching and where, so there are privacy concerns.
There must be some good news in the middle of all this. Maybe I’ll find it on Monday.
Ben Munson at FierceCable disagrees with my assessment of the new Philo OTT service. “Since all the programmers involved in the Philo launch are also strategic investors, the service also provides them with some degree of distribution ownership … There doesn’t seem to be any reason Philo won’t have a material impact for all involved.” I’ve been wrong before.
Brian Fung writes in The Washington Post that ATSC 3.0 is just another facet of the FCC’s broadcast TV changes that benefit media consolidation at the expense of localism. It’s really quite depressing.
And Troy Dreier at Streaming Media magazine has the right response to the typical newspaper hand-wringing about using OTT services to replace cable TV. The future of video has begun, and “we can all enjoy a variety of niche services that … we can now select from. Did I say select? No, apparently we’re forced to subscribe … to all of them.” Exactly! So many of those articles rebuild a matching set of pay-TV channels using streaming services, then complain that they’re about as expensive. Which is the opposite of the point of OTT – the ability to pick and choose which channels to buy. It’s not a la carte, but it’s the closest we’ve got for now.
As FCC Chairman Ajit Pai works tirelessly to improve the lives of Comcast and Sinclair shareholders everywhere, here are a few of the latest details.
First John Eggerton wrote about the FCC in court defending its reinstatement of the UHF discount. It used to be a holdover from analog TV days when a UHF station had more limited reach and was more difficult to find on the dial compared to VHF stations. Then a few years ago the FCC noticed that’s not how digital TV works so it eliminated that holdover. But reinstating it would help really large TV station ownership groups become even larger, so that’s what Pai’s FCC did. That decision is being fought in court by Free Press, Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project, Media Mobilizing Project, Media Alliance, National Hispanic, Media Coalition, and Common Cause.
Later that day Eggerton wrote about FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s new Twitter campaign to register her concerns with the ATSC 3.0 rollout framework that the FCC is planning to vote on next week. The tweet he quoted mentioned the lack of backward compatibility with current TV sets. “Remember when I asked as part of #NextGenTV NPRM that there be complete assurances that #consumers will not be burdened w/ unwanted, unexpected costs? Not looking good despite nxt week’s @FCC action.”
And barely a half hour later, Eggerton was back again, this time about how self-described limited government group Alliance for Freedom was joining the NAACP, Benton Foundation, Common Cause, Free Press, and Public Knowledge in objecting to the FCC’s plan to cap Lifeline subsidies for telephone and internet service, saying it “will gut the program and continue to widen the digital divide.” Now maybe you’ll believe me every time I say that John Eggerton is the hardest working man in Washington.
Exactly 50 years ago today, President Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 into law. It established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which led to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio.
It’s hard for a lot of people to imagine a time when there were just three major TV networks and a few independent stations. Early attempts to set aside time for educational or cultural programming quickly faded as the commercial stations learned that they could make more money with lowbrow entertainment.
Johnson said at the signing, “It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a ‘chicken in every pot.’ We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit.”
The act came near the end of Johnson’s Great Society push to reduce poverty and injustice. It was also a natural extension of the idea that the public owns the airwaves, so all stations’ first duty should be public service. Those were the days!
If you think of the millions of lives that were improved by watching PBS’s educational programs as children (or adults), you’ll have to agree that this modest investment has paid off. Our society hasn’t achieved greatness yet, but it’s better than it could have been.