Showbiz Groups Say FCC Set-Top Box Proposal Could Have Harmful Impact

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A number of entertainment industry groups, including the MPAA, SAG-AFTRA, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the Directors Guild of America, IATSE and others representing content creators, are expressing fierce opposition to an FCC proposal to compel cable and satellite TV providers to open their set-top box platforms to competition.

The groups are filing comments with the agency on Friday expressing concerns that the move would have an adverse impact on content creators’ ability to protect copyright and be compensated for their work, according to a joint announcement.

The deadline for filing comments to the FCC proposal is at midnight.

Other organizations planning to file comments include the American Federation of Musicians, the Copyright Alliance, CreativeFuture, Crossings TV, IATSE, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, the National Music Publishers Assn., SoundExchange and VMe TV.

The FCC, in a 3-2 vote in February, moved forward with a proposal to “open up” the set-top box market by establishing a technical platform that would let third-party manufacturers like Apple, Google, Roku or Amazon create their own set-tops capable of receiving cable or satellite TV programming.

Another organization that represents content creators, the Writers Guild of America West, issued a statement of support for the FCC proposal, citing its potential impact on spurring competition.

The White House announced its support for the proposal last week.

In a joint filing, 21st Century Fox, A&E Television Networks, CBS Corp., Scripps Networks Interactive, Time Warner. Viacom and the Walt Disney Co. said that the proposal “would require that content provided today to existing distributors under detailed licensing agreements be distributed to a new group of both device manufacturers and app developers, none of which would be bound by any commitments to protect and secure content.”

They added, “By inviting third parties to aggressively seek to profit from the content companies’ investments without incurring any of the obligations that effectively safeguard and thereby promote the creation of valuable programming today, the commission’s proposal reduces the incentives to continue to create the great programming that consumers enjoy.”

The cable and satellite industry oppose the proposal. In addition to concerns about protecting copyright and compensating content creators, they also cite the impact on consumer privacy, minority programming and re-engineering costs.

The National Cable and Telecommuncations Assn. issued a “white paper” legal analysis earlier this week arguing that the proposal exceeds the FCC’s legal authority and ignores copyright licensing terms.

“The proposed rules would erode consumer privacy, spur digital piracy, and threaten the very competition and innovation the FCC claims to promote,” the white paper stated.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is a champion of the proposal, and has said that it is simply trying to “get to that basic American concept of competition” with the set-top plan.

“All we are saying is, ‘Cable operators, you can go ahead and control your product,” he said in an interview on Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM in February. “But have an open platform so that anyone can build a device, and then let’s compete on who can offer the better device.’” He cited the average cost of $231 per year that consumers pay pay-TV outlets to lease set-top boxes, even after the cost to make them has been recovered.

He said that that such things as privacy and copyright protections would remain in place.

The proposal will return to the FCC for a final vote, but no date has been announced.