Feb 23, 2011

Big Media strikes (out) again

IVI.TV ruling shuts down cable's new thorn

Blinders? Yes. But monopoly protection, too

I'm not what you call a big TV Guy: 90% of the offerings across the digital cable universe are pure cultural garbage, in my humble opinion. In fact, that 90% might even be a tad conservative a figure. Just give me an occasional PBS hit, with a ball game now and then along with my regular bites of Family Guy and the Simpsons – and I am pretty much good to go.

My good friends at Time Warner Cable (in New York) and Comcast (in Massachusetts) will satisfy my entertainment desires for a cost of .... well, I don't know how much! Both companies have a real tough time laying-out pricing figures to interested parties: I just spent ten minutes on each one's site and still do not understand what it would cost me. But I do at least know that it's quite a bit of dough for each location ($67+ taxes?); times two, given my dual residence status.

But I found a nice little workaround, so to speak, several months back. It is an online (of course) service called IVI.TV. In summary, here's how it works:

Over the air television broadcasts from four major metro areas (NYC, LA, Seattle and Chicago) are piped, in real time, right into my PC and then relayed to that big monitor sitting right over there in my comfy living room(s).

So, I am now able to view the national prime time broadcasts of ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and CW, plus local programming (news, syndicated re-runs) from those four markets listed. Neither of my two local markets (Boston and Albany) are yet in the mix, but I really don't care: none offer any value as far as delivering local news that I cannot get from other, superior sources.

My needs are met. My cost? A grand total of $4.95 per month; times one. I even get a few bonus channels, such as Bloomberg Financial and Retro TV, just for kicks. Hallelujah.

But that party just ended yesterday. A Federal court shut down the service, based on legal whining from the old school broadcast/cable cabal. Their argument is basically this: “IVI.TV is profiting from our efforts, and we don't like it one bit.”

A few points are needed to put this in perspective:

1)All of the channels involved are available FREE of charge to the consumer in the markets in which they are broadcast, when consumed in the traditional thru-the-air format

2)IVI.TV is not adding, deleting or changing any aspect of the content. In particular: it is not selling and placing its own advertising into the programming.

3)IVI.TV makes a monthly royalty payment to the US Copyright office.

IVI/TV's argument has been that its service fell under the compulsory license aspect (must carry) of the Copyright Act as applied to cable systems. The federal judge rejected that claim, declaring that IVI is not a cable system, hence such logic does not apply. Appeals are already in play.

None of this would be necessary, of course, if not for the fact that Big Media is perturbed about the whole concept. If we lived in a logical world, such a reaction would certainly be a head scratcher. After all, the long-established broadcast model is based on a rather simple formula: maximize eyeballs as a means of maximizing advertising revenue. Enter this new kid on the block, which is not only lending some muscle to that mission, but not even charging for its effort. Heck, it's even trying to pay for the privilege!

So, why isn't Big Media reacting in a logical manner, and not happily greeting its fresh new, energetic, free and proven business partner into the family? Is it just general stupidity? Well yes, but it's also a bit more of a mess than that. Welcome to the corrupt world of Old Media, and the ugly consequences of industry deregulation and its logical consequence of consolidation.

As if the dominant laissez-faire conservative approach to the Gov't/Industry dynamic hasn't done enough damage to American mass-entertainment (think: ClearChannel; Ticketmaster, program syndication, etc) by employing the classic vertical monopoly playbook, it now kicks more dirt into our face with the recent approval that allows one of the nation's dominant cable carriers (Comcast) ownership rights of one of the nation's dominant content producers (NBC Universal).

It's not the first time: the other dominant cable company, Time Warner, also owns content: TBS, HBO, Warner Brothers, CNN, etc. There's your “get out of the way of business” for you; so who cares about free, fair and equal markets? Let it be damned!

So there lies the 'illogical' response on the part of the broadcast networks, which were party to this suit along with their cable brethren. Even though the extra eyeballs being provided by IVI.TV directly benefits them, it harms the carriers. Why? Because people like me (and you) have one more reason to walk away from cable and take that $60-$200 per month with me (us). They're all under the same roof and watching the same stock ticker, after all. Brothers in arms.

Because it's all one big clusterfuck, it's really not so illogical after all, is it?

Robert Millis is principal of the Millis Group (Albany & Boston), a strategic advisory firm specializing in the media, internet, energy and entertainment fields. Email him at RMillis (at) the site named: TechValleyTimes.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

My name is Mike and I work for Comcast. If you are having trouble with pricing or any other issues, feel free to send us an email. We will be happy to look into it for you!

Best regards,
National Customer Operations