The Idea That Keeps on Giving – Network TV “Blocking” and Net Neutrality Regulations

by Mike Wendy on October 22, 2010

So, there’s another spat going on in the online video world today.  As has been widely reported (from the WSJ), ABC, CBS and NBC are blocking popular shows that are available on their websites from view on Google’s emerging service, Google TV.

Apparently, Fox isn’t alone in believing its valuable property is worth something.

Notes the WSJ:

The move marks an escalation in ongoing disputes between Google and some media companies, which are skeptical that Google can provide a business model that would compensate them for potentially cannibalizing existing broadcast businesses.

That seems like an entirely rational thing for publicly-held companies to do – ensure that they don’t shoot themselves in the foot by supporting a potentially “cannibalizing” competitor.

Not surprisingly, the anti-private property crowd – like activist group, Public Knowledge – is apoplectic.  How dare the networks hold back a competing distribution model, especially if it’s the Internet.  It just ain’t right, they cry.

Exclaimed Public Knowledge:

…It is time to bring a rational structure to the rules and laws governing the retransmission of TV programming.  If online video is to emerge as an independent medium, it must be free from the power that broadcasters bring to bear.

Apparently, dust-ups like the current “crisis” represent yet another reason why Net Neutrality regulations must go forward.  In commenting the other day on Fox’s brief “Internet blocking” – which is similar in many regards to the Google TV “controversy” – FCC Commissioner Michael Copps clearly invoked the Net Neutrality mantra, stating:

We must also understand that these seemingly ‘old media’ debates can be used against the new media of the digital age, too.  For a broadcaster to pull programming from the Internet for a cable company’s subscribers, as apparently happened here, directly threatens the open Internet.  This was yet another instance revealing how vulnerable the Internet is to discrimination and gate-keeper control absent clear rules of the road.

We’re likely to see more of this spin in the ensuing run-up to the FCC’s November 30th meeting, which could include codification of its controversial Net Neutrality regulations.

Regardless, Google seems more sanguine about the present “dispute.” Said the company:

Google TV enables access to all the Web content you already get today on your phone and PC, but it is ultimately the content owners’ choice to restrict their fans from accessing their content on the platform.

That’s right.  It’s the content owners’ choice.

To PK’s moaning, the licenses that the networks use to distribute their programming does not mean their property has become the public’s, as a growing chorus of “media reformers” seem to be singing of late.

One thing’s clear from the response to this week’s “discrimantory behavior” by content providers Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC:  The so-called “limited principles” of Net Neutrality can’t be made to be “limited.” Those principles, ostensibly designed to ensure that network providers don’t act as untoward gateways to the medium, now look to be extended to content providers, too.

Reading between the lines, the “rational structure” urged by PK and others on the Professional Left can only be described as a slippery slope – one which will eventually make illicit the private property and free speech rights of anything that even remotely touches the Internet.

How can any commercial model work in this environment?  The answer is it can’t.  And that’s just what the “media reformers” are after.

Oh, well.  I guess we’ll be better off for it.  At least after the demise of commercial mass media, we’ll still have “respectable” media outlets like NPR left (wonder what Juan Williams would think about that?).

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