Now that broadcasters have launched their front group to feign concern over TV consumers – the same consumers they’ve been blacking out for years – one of the most hilarious/outrageous/hypocritical arguments they’re making is that pay-TV companies are “stifling innovation.” Yet, as even the most casual observer knows, if there’s anyone in Washington “stifling innovation,” it’s the broadcasters. It’s as if the broadcasters are trying to pull some Jedi-mind trick to convince everyone they support innovation when, in fact, they’ve spent years suing companies that have introduced new TV technology.
In fact, the broadcasters are so associated with stifling innovation that just last year, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, published a post at Forbes entitled, “Broadcasters: Start Embracing (and Stop Suing) Innovation.”
But let’s look at broadcasters’ attempts to stifle innovation in just the last five years.
In 2009, Cablevision introduced the innovation of allowing viewers to record TV shows to a cloud-based DVR, rather than a set-top DVR. Broadcasters spent nearly five years suing Cablevision before the Supreme Court refused to overturn an Appeals Court verdict finding the service legal. To everyone but broadcasters, the idea of eliminating the hardware of a set-top box would be considered “innovative.”
And then there are the two major lawsuits filed by broadcasters against Aereo and DISH Network that are still in the courts.
A few years ago, DISH Network created a new feature called “AutoHop” that allows users to skip commercials entirely when they watch a show on DVR. Of course, viewers can already do this by fast forwarding through the commercials, but DISH has made it easier for viewers. (Innovation!) But this will not stand with broadcasters, who argue…well, they don’t really have an argument other than that AutoHop cuts into their advertising profits. (Nevermind that DISH’s viewers are already paying for the content via retransmission consent.) So it shouldn’t be a surprise that all the courts thus far have found in DISH’s favor.
Meanwhile, Aereo gives viewers the ability to watch broadcast network television over the Internet via a tiny antenna that each viewer individually controls. Broadcasters are not only trying to crush Aereo, they’re making contingency plans if those efforts fall short. The heads of two major broadcast networks have already said they’ll take their networks to pay-TV if the Aereo decision doesn’t go their way. This despite years of claims that they’re concerned about local communities. At the first sign their bottom line was in jeopardy, broadcasters threw their affiliates under the bus.
Truth is, broadcasters have been “stopping the future” for decades now. Fighting against retransmission consent reform – and in favor of decades-old video rules – is just one long attempt to prevent a future in which consumers actually have choice of how and when they watch the television they want to watch.