Will the FCC destroy television?

As technology evolves, the challenges facing television and digital media companies over maintaining ownership of creative content becomes ever more important. This issue is especially crucial for the growing numbers of independent media companies catering to independent and diverse audiences. Over-The-Top providers such as Amazon, Apple and Roku are expanding rapidly and offering a digital alternative to cable and satellite providers, all through an apps based platform which has been embraced by consumers.

Ovation has successfully created an independent channel that is exclusively devoted to connecting the world to arts and culture. Our viewers enjoy arts-related series, documentaries and films as well as Ovation original productions.  And through our Ovation Foundation, we have contributed more than $15 million in support of arts institutions and education. 

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Our company, like so many independent programmers, has worked hard to build a unique brand that resonates with our audience.  That’s why a proposal scheduled for a final vote this week at the Federal Communications Commission should raise passionate concern.

Supporters of this proposal believe that it will “unlock” set-top boxes from pay-TV providers and create more competition in the video marketplace.  In reality, this proposal has the potential to unleash a series of negative consequences for consumers and content creators.

The FCC wants to create what it calls a “standard license” that will govern how entertainment channels such as Ovation TV and hundreds of others distribute content.  Instead of bolstering our current legal protections, the FCC’s proposal would give the federal agency the right to nullify whatever contract terms it considers “unreasonable” and thus to allow third party devices to distribute content without complying with the copyright and security terms that are crucial aspects of entertainment contracts.

There are implications for increased piracy as the rules of this plan would undercut today’s existing multi-layered copyright protection system.

Never before has a Federal agency taken such a far-reaching step against the legal rights of the creative community.  In a recent Congressional hearing, senators had the opportunity to hear more about the FCC’s latest proposal from all five FCC Commissioners.  Democrats and Republicans both expressed concern with the idea of the FCC creating a licensing body and said the proposal set forth by the Commission needs more work.

This proposal will significantly interfere with every content and media companies’ ability to continue negotiating contract terms for the content we create.  If approved, the proposal would undercut our ability to secure and protect important issues such as channel placement, advertising and especially protections from companies who would take our content without compensating the artists or producers.

The plan would also threaten current funding and marketing efforts that encourage quality and diversity in entertainment. Under the FCC’s plan, programmers and content providers have no security that the key terms of agreements negotiated with cable and satellite providers will be respected by device makers.

For Ovation TV, the cumulative effects of this would undermine our ability to fund high-quality programming and maintain the significant support we offer to artists and art organizations.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on this proposal on Thursday.  Much more work needs to be done before the FCC’s proposal is finalized.  The Commission should pursue a simpler apps-based approach that protects content and will allow Ovation and companies like it to continue creating the exciting new content that audiences crave.

Mr. Segars is the CEO of the Ovation Television Network


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.