Apps are the Present and the Future of TV
There is an interesting, but somewhat puzzling debate brewing in tech policy circles right now that poses a basic question: Do we need a new tech mandate to ensure that consumers can enjoy TV content on retail devices? If you take even a cursory look at the consumer experience and rapid transformation of the TV marketplace, the answer is pretty clear: No.
We don’t need an FCC mandate telling tech innovators, show creators, and pay TV operators how they can and cannot distribute content. Technology, TV, and content companies have drawn similar conclusions. This most logical, consumer-driven deduction was presented in comments submitted to the FCC by NCTAtoday regarding a report from the Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC). This committee was established by Congress to explore potential new downloadable security solutions as part of the STELAR Act of 2014, which include a provision to sunset the integration ban at the end of 2015.
“Imposing an AllVid-type solution on pay TV providers is akin to allowing Hulu to show Netflix content.”
While the DSTAC Report wisely does not call for FCC action, it does describe two possible approaches for ensuring that customers can enjoy content on retail video devices like Apple TV and TiVo. One is an apps-based marketplace, the one that millions of consumers enjoy today. The other is a proposed technology mandate once called AllVid. AllVid is a vaporware solution that, in short, allows hardware manufacturers to build video devices that strip pay TV providers and their content creator partners of their ability to create a unique pay TV experience, force undesired content mash-ups, and undermine licensing agreements that have directly led to the creation of the amazing television we’ve all come to love. Imposing an AllVid-type solution on pay TV providers is akin to allowing Hulu to show Netflix content. Or even more unthinkable, forcing iPhones to run Android software.
In comments, NCTA urged the FCC to allow the app revolution that makes pay TV available on millions of smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, streaming devices, game consoles, and PCs to continue expanding and innovating. Apps from pay TV providers have been downloaded over 56 million times on iOS and Android, and are now available to more than 460 million devices in the United States. The system we have is clearly working and rapidly improving.
From the beginning, content creators and operators have embraced the app experience. ESPN released Watch ESPN, HBO has HBOGo, Showtime has Showtime Anytime. The list goes on and keeps growing. Time Warner Cable offers an app on many devices that recreates the live cable experience and Comcast has X1, an IP based solution that turns the classic cable experience into a slick, high-tech content exploration tool. And let’s not forget Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, all with amazing apps that are delivering great entertainment experiences.
We have two TV paths in front of us. AllVid sacrifices innovation, burdens consumers and creators alike, requires technology that has yet to be developed, and as we stated earlier, creates a soupy mess out of the unique, curated TV experiences that app-makers have spent so much time perfecting. Apps, however, have proven their success. They’re wildly popular, easy to use, widely accessible, and, as Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “the future of TV is apps.” It’s reassuring that the ultimate conclusion to the DSTAC report – no consensus for FCC action – is that the TV marketplace is thriving and not in need of a governmental fix.