The Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 is coming soon to a Senate near you, and there are several things in it worth paying attention to.
1. Unbundling. It’s not uncommon to have to pay for hundreds of channels in order to get the handful that actually interest you. So it’s not uncommon to pay $100 and up for cable, even though you’re not actually getting anything more out of it than you did when cable cost $20 per month.
Bundling protects a business model that is rapidly becoming obsolete. It’s almost inevitable that the Internet will eventually become the normal content distribution method for television. Fighting it is short-sighted, but there are elements of the industry who are doing just that.
2. Aereo. Aereo, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a service that pulls content in from other cities that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to view. Think of being able to rent an antenna in New York City and watch the broadcasts there from anywhere else in the country. This is incredibly controversial.
But let me tell you something. The first cable TV was exactly that: In the late 1940s and early 1950s, television dealers would build an antenna on the top of a tall building or mountain, where it could pull in distant signals, then retransmit them to subscribers over a wire. The difference between that and Aereo is the type of wire involved, and the distance. That’s all. Why was it OK in 1950 but not in 2013? The result in the 1950s was an expanded audience. The same thing will be true in 2013.
Then again, fighting technology is nothing new. The VCR was supposedly the end of the movie and television industry. Instead, it dramatically expanded both of them.
3. The end of sports blackouts. There’s also a provision in the bill that if a sporting event happens in a facility partially funded by taxpayers, the events can’t be blacked out. This seems fair. It’s one thing if a sports team builds a stadium with its own money, then doesn’t let the game go on TV unless it’s a sellout. But most stadiums today are built with considerable subsidies from taxpayers, who sometimes didn’t even get to vote on whether to help finance the renovation. Ending blackouts would make that arrangement less one-sided. Those who dislike sports get no benefit from this, but at least the sports fans among the tax base would. Thinking longer-term, this might dissuade the use of tax dollars for building stadiums, since owners would have to give up a potential profit center in order to get those subsidies.