Moving Forward on "Ditching the Box" not "Unbundling the App"
Yesterday, NCTA submitted a 30+ page filing (plus over one thousand pages of supporting technical specs) that provides additional information requested by the FCC about the open standard-based apps proposal presented several weeks ago by a group of independent programmers, NCTA and pay TV companies. This information supplements our prior efforts, both within the Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC) and through briefings requested by the Commission, to explain how the HTML5 standard works and why reliance on an ”apps approach” offers a more productive path forward than the NPRM’s ”content unbundling approach” when it comes to competition, content diversity, copyright protection, and consumer welfare.
Our filing yesterday provides additional detail about HTML5 and suggests how the FCC can operationalize an apps-based approach that will advance the cause of retail device competition while respecting the rights of content creators and distributors.
The good news about this recent interest in the apps proposal is that the Commission appears to be responding to the torrent of criticism unleashed by the NPRM which proposed unbundling pay TV programming and other important elements of MVPD service. We are happy to continue engagement with the Commission on this important issue and remain optimistic that we can achieve an outcome that will protect content, privacy and licensing agreements – as Chairman Wheeler has promised Congress on many occasions. But to accomplish this aim, we also ought to be clear about what the apps proposal will do and what it will not do.
So let’s be clear. What the apps proposal will do is allow consumers to choose to watch their cable service without the need for a set-top box. What it will not and should not do is to permit third parties to ignore copyright law and the decision of content creators as to how their content is packaged and presented to consumers.
Regrettably, some advocates seem committed to the extreme position that “ditching the box” is insufficient and that the FCC must go further to “unbundle the app.” But that idea is simply wrong. It is at odds with the statute, sound policy and the very virtues on which an apps proposal is premised – permitting device makers to build competitive devices that incorporate MVPD offerings while protecting consumer privacy and other public interest goals, as well as protecting the rights of content creators and distributors.
As any casual observer of the retail marketplace can see, devices like Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and others already compete based on their interfaces – the manner in which they present content to the consumer on their “home screen” and not based on the how programming is presented inside individual apps. After all, the FCC has no power to unbundle the offerings of Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go or hundreds of other apps. This argument that pay TV content needs to be treated differently is simply a red herring by advocates who have long argued for the complete unbundling of pay TV services.
We welcome an honest conversation about how the apps approach can allow consumers to “Ditch the Box” if they choose. But in doing so we should be wary of those who will advance proposals under the guise of a “revised” apps proposal or who claim they are accepting the apps proposal but merely “bolting on” elements of the original proposal. Those advocates are merely trying to pour old wine in new bottles in an effort to subvert the virtues of the app proposal.