Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Who cares about Napster for digital TV? The insane wholly owned subsidiary of Disney, Senator Hollings, has a mini-version of his dreadful CBDTPA bill edging through an industry cartel called the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (``BPDG''). They want to ban devices that would enable digital TV programs to be shared online.

Unlike music files that are "meant" to be bought on CDs, why does it matter if free broadcast programming are redistributed by whomever? The answer has to do with pricing power against advertisers in local markets.

The big problem here is really ad-skipping a la TiVo. The broadcast industry runs on the conceit that people who watch ads then go and buy stuff AND they've convinced Congress that free-TV is a God-given right. Advertisers feel the only good audience is a national one, and since "media-diversity" nuts (and broadcasters) block non-broadcast media consolidation, the big four networks continue to corner this market (although their % viewership is falling).

So assume that ads now exist in banners at the top and bottom of the screen and TiVo can do nothing to skip them, why should the big networks care if people pass around their shows? Firstly, it shifts power from distributors to content providers (who assemble audiences by making good shows, not stringing together good lineups). Content providers don't oppose this because they need ancilliary syndication and video tape markets to make up production costs (broadcasters don't pay 100% of the cost of shows anymore).

But redistribution mostly hurts local stations, which only exist because of collusive anti-merger rules set by the government to support "media diversity" (some people actually by this, but then they join the rest of us and watch "Friends"). Redistribution shatters the local broadcast advertising markets these regional stations rely on, so they want it banned.

What makes all of this so funny is that digital TV is a non-issue. All of the above works just fine with analog signals that TiVo converts into digital with no problem. While the group claims to be talking about the future of TV, it's just about preserving the past by slipping anti-TiVo legislation in via the back door.


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