Live Streaming TV Online? The FCC Could Make It Ubiquitous, if Wheeler's Proposal Succeeds
Whether or not the Federal Communications Commission will favor Net Neutrality in its upcoming (monumental) decision is still unknown, but a recent statement by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler may pave the way towards a new Internet revolution: streaming TV online.
As we previously reported, real Internet TV streaming services -- television programming that runs "over-the-top" (OTT) of a broadband Internet connection -- will soon be available, after a long wait and several failed attempts by tech companies.
Before the FCC even commented on online TV, though, OTT options were already coming out of the woodwork: HBO is finally launching a version of HBO Go in 2015, which won't require a pay-TV subscription to access; Univision (partnering with DirecTV's new online TV offering) will launch a Latino-centric online package called YaVeo; and CBS is already providing online content for a $6 subscription -- meager though this early offering may be.
FCC Wants to Enable More Internet TV
But now, in a recent blog post on the FCC website, Chairman Wheeler has announced his intentions to reassess FCC rules that would give Internet TV providers the same regulatory advantages that cable and satellite companies currently enjoy.
Things are still up in the air (as everything seems to be under Wheeler's FCC), but if the FCC follows up on Wheeler's proposal, the agency would open up programming content, which has previously been locked down for only traditional pay-TV providers, to streaming Internet TV providers.
Under the new extended FCC rules, streaming Internet TV providers would be treated the same as cable and satellite companies, when it comes to negotiating, licensing, and carrying TV stations -- whether they're traditionally cable-based or broadcast stations.
Not a Big Deal, Really...
While Wheeler's proposal actually follows an identical request from the Supreme Court-clobbered and now-defunct Aereo TV service, the extension of FCC rules to OTT TV streaming services isn't as revolutionary as you might think.
First of all, it doesn't apply to services like Netflix or Hulu. The proposal is to extend the definition and its associated TV licensing opportunities of "multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD)" to TV services that use the Internet for distribution of linear, streaming programming.
That means it'll apply only to Internet TV services that offer pre-scheduled live TV channels (just like cable or satellite) for a subscription fee. Don't expect an explosion of high-quality free Justin.TV-type out of this change, because the online services will still have to pay for content, and therefore, so will you.
Secondly, these content licensing privileges have been extended before. As Wheeler mentioned in his post, Congress mandated the same access to cable channels for up-and-coming satellite services in 1992 to help them compete in the marketplace (which obviously worked).
...But It Could Eventually Be HUGE
For cable-cutters who are the least bit interested in sports, that's the one thing that'll suddenly get their attention. It's the holy grail of the potential low-cost, small-batch, pseudo-à la carte live-streaming Internet TV audience.
ESPN and other necessarily-live TV content, such as news channels, would at least be in the realm of possibility for live online TV streaming under the rule changes. Not to say it would happen, because ESPN is the lifeblood of legacy pay-TV services and they will never let it go without a hefty bidding war.
But more competition from online TV services, under proposed new paradigm, could eventually help break up those enormous bundles that cable-cutters hate.
So someday -- in the far-off utopian future -- you might be able to watch "Monday Night Football" live, without paying half a monthly mortgage's worth of cable bills.
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