Stay away, Washington; Let "TV Everywhere" grow, evolve

Public interest groups want federal watchdogs to look into TV Everywhere models but Washington should step back and let the chips fall.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Public interest groups today are calling on federal watchdogs to launch an antitrust inquiry into plans for a "TV Everywhere" strategy, which would have TV content providers asking consumers to pay higher subscription fees for access to certain online programming.

According to a Washington Post report, the groups see that effort by the TV industry as a means of stifling competition and subjecting consumers to unnecessarily high subscription fees.

But that's hardly the case here. In fact, had other media outlets - from newspapers to music labels - had the foresight to extend their models - or a version of them - to an online format when things were just evolving, those businesses might have been better equipped to ride the storm. But the idea that consumers need Washington to step in to protect them isn't very strong. Consider this excerpt from The Post's report:

The public interest groups allege collusion between video service providers such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Verizon and Direct TV to keep video content behind a subscription-based pay wall. Programmers of content -- Viacom and NBC Universal, for example -- are inclined to keep traditional business arrangements with cable and satellite video companies who have subscription fees and a guaranteed audience that advertisers like, according to the public interest groups. As such, they are "starving" new competitors to cable and satellite firms such as Boxee and Vuze who need access to choice shows and movies to attract viewers.

I don't buy that for a second. To make the assumption that the big content programmers - such as Viacom and NBC Universal - are the only ones who produce quality content is off-base. Just as bloggers were able to make a name for themselves and go head-to-head with mainstream newspapers and garage bands tapped the Internet to bypass the Hollywood labels, so will video content producers.

Also see: TV Everywhere: We're not just ready; we're already doing it.

The TV industry is in a state of rapid change. No one knows where this is going - subscription models vs advertising models, set-top boxes vs Web-connected TV screens, or even the rise of cloud-based on-demand access. Instead of jumping in and crying antitrust to the feds about the TV Everywhere efforts, we should be giving the traditional players a chance to stay in the game and experiment with a model that just might work.

They know, just as well as you and I, that there are plenty of options out there for video entertainment. If they want to keep the customer base they have, they're going to have to not only give the customers an experience they'll enjoy, but they'll also have to do it for a price that makes all parties - including the viewers - happy. Otherwise, why would we ever agree to pay?

It sounds to me like TV Everywhere is an example of a free market evolving and adapting with changing times. Washington would be wise to leave it alone and watch to see not only where it goes, but also what it spawns.

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