Public Knowledge logoYou may be asking yourself how the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to eliminate the outrageous cable set-top box monopoly ripping off millions of consumers could be stopped. You may even be asking yourself this as you review your latest burgeoning cable bill.

Welcome to the world of Washington politics, where the most powerful industries like cable and Hollywood spend millions of dollars on Congress and the policymaking process to get their way.  Not only are consumers and citizens who just want fairness and competition in the marketplace outgunned, but they face the clever political strategies that enable powerful monopolies and corporate giants to block the public interest without being held accountable to consumers.

How does this happen? The set-top box fight may be shaping up to be a prime example of how policymakers who don’t want to anger their constituents can protect corporate interests without ever having to officially come out against consumers. You just delay a regulatory process so that the clock runs out and the FCC doesn’t have the opportunity to vote to explode the set-top box monopoly.

This summer, and even now, we’ve seen the elements of this strategy play out. After Chairman Wheeler proposed rules to eliminate the set-top box monopoly and hundreds of thousands of consumers cheered the effort, House Representatives passed a spending bill prohibiting the FCC from completing new rules this year. Soon after, the Senate Appropriations Committee did something similar. Of course, they never outright said that they’re against competition or more choices for consumers; they just label the issue as “very complicated,” or they “have concerns,” or just say whatever they can think of to justify telling the FCC to take more time and not end this consumer rip-off in 2016.

Recently, Chairman Wheeler came forward with adjustments to his proposal designed to address many of the concerns raised by cable monopolies, Hollywood and some policymakers. Cable got an apps-based plan and Hollywood got its copyrights protected even more. Wheeler then suggested that the Commission vote on the proposal September 29.

So we’re done, right? Not so fast!

Over the next two weeks, you can expect to see a barrage of criticism, misleading advertisements, bogus copyright claims backed by millions of dollars in cable and Hollywood lobbying, and a massive display of spin. Again, cable and Hollywood will never outright say they’re against competition, but somehow this proposal is always too complicated, won’t work as intended, and fails to do something or other that should force policymakers to delay.

But why would cable and Hollywood repeatedly call for a delay? Because then any FCC Commissioners still debating the merits won’t have to risk voting to anger the cable monopolies or Hollywood giants. It also enables these Commissioners to say to consumers, “I feel your pain and will vote on this issue only if and when we finally figure out all these complicated details.” Naturally, many on Capitol Hill can echo these sentiments, claiming to defend consumers while cable companies and Hollywood keep offering them campaign contributions. It’s all just too perfect — no fingerprints, no hard votes, and nothing to show for all these months and years of deliberation. It’s just another day in Washington to them.

Unfortunately, it’s the consumers who end up hosed, paying more than $200/year to support cable’s ridiculous set-top box monopoly.

You may be wondering where the White House is in all this. Didn’t the President come out for set-top box competition? Didn’t he also issue an Executive Order requesting all his agency heads move forward on pro-competitive rules like this one?  Well, yes, those are both true. But will the White House actually stand firm?

You’re not the only one curious about what the White House might do to promote competition for consumers. Don’t think cable and Hollywood haven’t also considered the President’s impact. They press their misinformation campaign there as well, galvanize all the players within the Administration who always support the interests of monopoly “rightsholders” to weigh in, and hope to stalemate the Executive Branch with internal disputes. By now this strategy should sound familiar — they’re pushing for a delay, asking the White House to take more time to think about what the few content maximalists within the Administration keep yammering about.

So here we are, either two weeks away from the FCC finally moving forward to break the cable box monopoly, or another delay. Stay tuned to see what happens, or dive right in and help us peel back the disinformation and stealth by demanding FCC action and no Congressional interference!

Gene Kimmelman is the President and CEO of Public Knowledge. This article was originally posted on the Public Knowledge web site.

According to Bloomberg Technology, the remains of KlowdTV OTT service have been resurrected by the owners of the One America News Network, a conservative news channel. The new KlowdTV looks a lot like the old version, which OANN owner Charles Herring purchased after it ceased operations in June.

In addition to OANN, KlowdTV also carries conservative channels TheBlaze and Newsmax. Herring told Bloomberg, “We know there’s a demand, but there wasn’t a single place where you can pick up all three of these channels.” Other channels in the $8/month bundle include The Now Network, AWE, two GolTV channels, the Fight Network and FNTSY Sports.

It’s always nice to have choices, and I enjoy GolTV, but I liked the old KlowdTV for eScapes and other sports. Let’s see if this version of KlowdTV does any better than its predecessor.

KlowdTV error message

Update: The other shoe dropped. I just received KlowdTV’s promised email to subscribers, now former subscribers. The email began “It is with much regret that we inform you that we are permanently closing our doors.”

There weren’t any specifics about why KlowdTV had to shut down so suddenly in the middle of the month.  Maybe they couldn’t make payroll? It had something to do with money; the note included “we have been unable to raise the required capital to continue operating and expanding the platform. … We apologize for the short notice, and for failing to keep the platform going.”

So long, KlowdTV. You will be missed.

Previously: KlowdTV, a plucky company that was pioneering super-skinny streaming TV bundles, has suspended all services indefinitely. That announcement was buried in KlowdTV’s program grid page, visible only to subscribers. For non-subscribers, the only indication pops up on a sign-up attempt. The note reads “Our apologies. We are not accepting new subscribers at this time.”

Of course, for subscribers who watch KlowdTV through its streaming app on Roku, Android or Apple, the streams simply stopped working. Only on the WatchMyKlowd web page was the message “Our apologies. All services have been suspended indefinitely. Your account has been set to deactivate at the end of your current billing period. Please check your email address (the email used when signing up) for an email containing additional information.”

I’m disappointed by the loss of KlowdTV, and I’m also disappointed at how it happened. Just two months ago, I was praising KlowdTV CEO Bill O’Hara for staying proactive in handling the loss of the beIN Sports channel. Oh well. When I hear anything more about what went down, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, many of KlowdTV’s streaming channels area available on FilmOn‘s $15/month premium package. Too bad there’s no one left to offer us KlowdTV’s skinny choices.

BitTorrent logoThis week at INTX (formerly The Cable Show), BitTorrent announced a new package of live streaming video. Once it launches, BitTorrent Live will include over a dozen linear channels, including Newsmax, ONE World Sports, and the Pursuit Channel. It will all be based on BitTorrent’s proprietary peer-to-peer (P2P) streaming protocol.

BitTorrent’s blog post said that this is just the beginning. Future channels will include subscription based, ad supported, and Pay Per View premium tiers. In the words of Erik Schwartz, vice president of media at BitTorrent, “What we’re launching … is functionally a virtual MVPD.”

This announcement has attracted considerable industry news coverage, but I haven’t seen anyone else make the connection between BitTorrent Live and the true pioneer of P2P online TV, ivi. It’s been over five years since ivi.tv was fatally wounded by a federal court decision against it. Before then, ivi carried dozens of broadcast channels, distributed mostly P2P. They had a few “seeding” servers with the broadcast signal, then most subscribers served to both send and receive pieces of each show. The result was a lag time of a few minutes, noticeable only if there was a live source for comparison or if the viewer expected shows to change at exactly the top of the hour. BitTorrent Live claims that its latency will be less than 10 seconds, which would be roughly equivalent to satellite TV’s delay. I’m very curious to see what its lag time will be in practice compared with a non-P2P service such as Sling International.

All of this assumes that BitTorrent Live will launch, and that it will perform as advertised. If so, this P2P special sauce could allow networks to reach the huge simultaneous audiences that can be problematic for one-way streaming services. I’ve been saying this a lot, but maybe this could be the next big thing?

Clark Gregg playfully hugs Ming-Na Wen

Clark Gregg and Ming-Na Wen at the Disney Media Networks International Upfronts in 2013.
© Jean_Nelson / Depositphotos.com

This is upfront season. That’s when TV networks gather advertising buyers into large meeting rooms and present the highlights for the next TV season, hoping that they’ll pay top dollar for ad slots on such superb entertainment. YouTube held its own ad buyers meeting, and announced that it reaches more consumers aged 18-49 than the top 10 prime time TV shows. That led Broadcasting & Cable’s John Consoli to crunch some Nielsen ratings, and he came to an alarming conclusion. Over 1 in 10 millennial viewers, 18- to 34-year-olds, have stopped watching broadcast TV since just last year.

That was just the latest sign that broadcast TV is in trouble. Last week, Fox CEO James Murdoch said, “Over the long term, but approaching quickly, all video entertainment will be consumed over IP streaming networks.” For the coming year, online video ad spending is projected to rise by 18-28%, depending on who you ask. TV just isn’t as attractive any more.

Here at FreeTVBlog, we happen to prefer free broadcast TV. (Over-the-top video, whether free or reasonably priced, is also acceptable, but I digress.) To convince these millennials to recognize the benefits of this great resource, broadcasters just need to shift how they think about it.

You see, these millennials want instant access on demand, preferably without paying for it. The free part is pretty easy for cord-cutters who have switched to an OTA antenna, but broadcast TV seems to be the opposite of on-demand. That’s where the paradigm shift needs to come.

My Tablo gets it. When I want to choose shows to record, Tablo displays a picture list of every program coming up on my broadcast channels over the next couple of weeks. The list doesn’t care when the show airs, or which channel it’s on. I just pick this one and that one, and a few days later, it’s ready for on-demand viewing.

That’s not the only way Tablo presents potential recordings. It also includes a standard live TV grid, or I can narrow the list by channel, or prime-time only, or genre. But the paradigm shift is to think of broadcast not as appointment TV, but as a constant source of programs that can be scooped up and saved to watch whenever.

That’s what the broadcasters need to do – embrace and promote OTA DVRs as pre-planned on-demand devices. Any system of suggesting programs, or of listing every available program, will help cord-cutters appreciate the wealth and variety of choices they have for free with local TV.