How Unlocking the Cable Box Could Open Opportunities for Latino Producers, or Not
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission moved forward on its plan to unlock cable boxes so that third parties, likely in the technology industry, can manufacture their own platforms without compatibility issues. The initiative may revolutionize how consumers access pay TV, but part of the FCC's next step will also look at barriers to distribution that the new rules could break, which could help Latino producers find their audiences.
This week the cable box went another step towards becoming an open, unlocked platform. The FCC voted on Thursday 3-2 to move forward to the public comment stage of its notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue. Part of this exploratory stage includes taking a close look at the barriers to distribution that independent and diverse video content producers face on cable systems and elsewhere.
The vote moves forward on rule changes that would free the cable TV box from cable companies. Consumers generally tend to rent cable boxes from their providers, and besides cloud-connected Comcast's X1 platform that is slowly rolling out to parts of their market, cable boxes tend to be slow, old, and have software interfaces that remain relatively unchanged for years.
Under the new rules, cable companies would agree on a technological standard for their TV content that third-party technology industry players could access and work with, creating a larger competitive marketplace that Wheeler believes would bring innovation to the industry and more choice to consumers.
Will the FCC Dig Deep on Diversity & Access?
But more so, if the FCC takes full account of the barriers to distribution that smaller producers face, especially Latinos and other people of color, the new rules it implements around the cable industry might help those producers get better access to cable TV audiences, which would help diversify an industry that currently struggles with homogeneity.
The FCC's proposal for unlocking the cable box has generated controversy, but mostly from industry players. It looks like the move would be good for consumers, no matter what, but will it be good for Latino producers?
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), an organization that advocates for Latinos in media and draws attention to issues that keep Hispanics from succeeding in TV, Hollywood, and other media, certainly hopes so.
"At the heart of each item considered by the FCC today is a simple proposition: pay-TV companies must be responsive to their customers, particularly those who have been historically underserved. Consumers typically want choice, innovation, lower prices, and content that meets their needs," wrote NHMC president and CEO Alex Nogales in a statement released to Latin Post late Thursday.
"By moving to open up the set-top box market to competition and take the first step towards exploring barriers faced by diverse content creators, the FCC is examining two critical pain points faced by consumers and video programmers alike," he added.
"Communities of color have long experienced barriers to both producing and consuming diverse, culturally relevant content," concluded Nogales. "We thank Chairman Wheeler, Commissioner Clyburn, and Commissioner Rosenworcel for their favorable votes and strong statements of support today."
The organization has joined with other media advocates to issue a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler urging the FCC to move forward with the proposal, stating, "It would benefit free expression and diverse content by creating a new way for creators to reach consumers, while spurring innovation by bringing the same openness to the video device market that has benefited smartphones, PCs, and other areas of consumer electronics."
Pushback From Cable Industry & Conservative Latino Group
Meanwhile, the FCC's proposal will result in the government picking winners and losers, particularly favoring Google, argues the cable industry -- as well as the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), who spoke to Wired on the issue.
"This is a gift to Google to give them access to the information that is moving away from them in the marketplace," said National Cable and Telecommunications Association lawyer Paul Glist. He argues that Google has been losing ad dollars to consumers increasingly using apps instead of search to find content and information. And if Google had access to create its own set-top box, it could find a new way to insert ads into its own programming.
The ostensible advantage Google might gain if the rule change goes through would hurt, not help Latino producers and other independent, small networks with niche audiences.
"They're asking us to trust Google?" argued Rosa Mendoza, Executive Director of HTTP. "All of us know about their diversity record. The only people that are going to benefit from this are Silicon Valley companies."
Good or Bad? You Tell Us!
What do you think? Does Google stand to benefit more than Latino producers and consumers, or is it high time that cable TV customers have more choice in the platforms they use to navigate their favorite programming? Let us know in the comments!
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