*Google is supporting a Federal Communications Commission proposal that would allow the company access to the TV set-top box market, and this new legislation could have a negative impact on content creators of color. Essentially, the government is giving Google a shortcut into the market that will allow them to circumvent negotiating for programming rights like Apple, Netflix, Roku and others have had to do. This could pose a difficult challenge for film and TV creators color to negotiate and enforce licensing agreements.
Since Google is not required to adhere to the same privacy laws that traditional television companies have to use, they would be able to track viewer data and track consumers with targeted ads in an unprecedented way.
Many senators and Hollywood insiders are speaking out against the FCC’s attempt to ignore their own legislation and protocols to favor Google. EUR/Electronic Urban Report reached out to Keith Clinkscales of Revolt TV and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke to gain further insight on how handing over our TV’s to Google would impact content creators and broadcasters of color.
“The reality of the situation is that the toughest problem facing minority networks is the cost that the big places have in being able to fit us on. If the cost rises, it’s very easy to say no to taking a risk on new channels,” Keith explained. “It’s a difficult business out here in television, and when costs rise, the first people to go are the minority networks. So the challenge with the set-top boxes is that, they’re opening up something that might not need to be fixed. The market will fix itself. As opposed to having the FCC tilt the scale in the direction of one way or the other. Inherently, nothing is wrong with Google. It’s just, right now, the overall cable television business is one of the greatest changes ever in history, and those changes take time to take place and take time to have the cost adjust.
Doing this right now will cause the big companies, (such as Comcast and AT&T, Charter, Time Warner), to have to spend an exorbitant amount of costs to retool their existing boxes and also descend against an insurgent from all the technical players. As opposed to the president and the FCC showing leadership and getting everybody together to have a conversation so we can have an orderly transition over a period of time.”
A set top box is the device that most people in America use to access television but are primarily in the domain of the cable industry and the Direct TV and Satellite industries. Congress woman Clarke said, that this proposal would “open up the market for new devices which are set-top like but interface more with the technology sector.”
“This will have a dramatic impact on television programming because basically it’s disrupting current industries to expand the universe of usage,” she said. “I think this could potentially have a very adverse impact on creators of color if we don’t study how this disruption will impact those industries.”
Additionally, Congresswoman Clarke points out how “we see a lot of advances being made in the application world, so there could be a point where you don’t necessarily need a box as such, but you need an app. So the marketing is morphing in so many different directions, and again, the concern for me is looking at this evolving landscape and looking at how to the extent possible we sort of hold harmless the smaller companies that have to operate in the communications ecosystem and are looking to grow and looking for more opportunities to be positioned for growth.”
Considering how technology is changing the way viewers access content, many wonder how television itself can still be relevant in this tablet and smartphone age we live in.
“I think that TV itself is defiantly relevant. It’s always relevant. Television will remain important. Now, the places where we watch television has expanded tremendously. We’ve gone from just the TV’s in the home to over almost a billion devices where you can watch television. That whole concept of what television is continues to change but television itself and the power of it will continue to escalate,” said Keith.
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“We know that the landscape is changing, that there are new emerging industries that create sort of a hybrid dynamic. I believe that there’s still within that construct, a place where broadcast would still be a part of the dynamic but it will probably take a different form,” Clarke explained. “So that network would become also a hybrid of the technology space and the broadcast space. I think that we’re certainly in a communications transition given advances in technology. However, I don’t believe that-that excuses or relieves us of an obligation to study the impact of those emerging industries within the ecosystem that currently exists.”
A study came out last year that says 43% of people prefer finding new video content by using personalized recommendation engines that track what they’ve watched and suggest similar content. Keith agrees that these people would essentially benefit from Google’s TV box, but “Google being able to help consumers” is not “inherently bad,” he said.
“What’s a challenge is that, big companies pay a lot of money for rights to do certain things. Ya know – you pay rights to be able to air the NBA games and NFL games. When something like this comes along, there’s different ways technologically that those properties can be exploited, and not the way that the rights holders have intended. I’m not saying that I’m opposed to technology innovation. I’m all for it. My audience is all for it. The thing that is concerning is when rights are not protected, costs go up. Costs going up are not good for people of color,” Kevin stressed.
Under the Communications Act, Google wouldn’t be subject to the same consumer privacy standards cable and satellite providers must adhere to. So industry players want third parties to certify they’ll follow the same rules.
Congresswoman Clarke explains that “there are contractual agreements for how the programmers currently operate,” and the concern with these new Google set top boxes is, “will those agreements be honored by other devices that are basically third-party devices?”
“What is the connection between the content provider and the media that is showing the content? Would there be the same type of arrangement made? Does that open them up to piracy? There are a host of issues that come along with that. And when you enter into the tech space, issues of how the information that is gleamed from viewer habits becomes another issue, and privacy. There’s some concerns about privacy as well,” she said.
If this regulation passes, consumers who are concerned about how these Google set top boxes might affect their programming need not work because the “proposed rule is not to make the boxes mandatory.”
“What it does is, it gives more choices,” said Clarke, who explained that there would basically be “a new set top box market created so that you can purchase a device that is commiserate with your screen capabilities, whether it is a Smart TV or a handheld device. Anything with a screen would be able to access content. That’s where the change is.
The argument is that, “consumers are currently paying too much for their current set top boxes, and there’s a way of bringing that cost down by opening up the market on set top boxes. That may very well be the case, but we don’t know because there have been no studies that indicate that there would be a significant drop in cost for individuals who go with other devices. We just don’t know whether their programming would come a la carte and they’d have to pay certain ongoing fees. We just don’t know what that amounts to. But even beyond that, this creates a disruptive element that could have an adverse impact on content providers of color, and multi-cultural media.”
So what can black content creators do to stay ahead of the game? Kevin believes that first and foremost, “it’s important to make sure you get focused on your content.”
He added: “Focused on the things that are working with your audience. If you look at something like “Black-ish,” that’s a great show that has a wonderful appeal to African-Americans and the bar continues to rise because the entire content bar, white, black, Hispanic – whatever, continues to rise. Being great now-a-days on television requires a lot more focus, and now you have new players coming in. HBO is a very strong player. Showtime’s a strong player. Netflix is a strong player and Amazon is so slouch in this area. You have all these different companies coming in and putting together awesome content. So for you to be good, you gotta be good for everybody.”
Both Clinkscales and Congresswoman Clarke agree that the FCC hasn’t fully thought through this planned proposal, but Keith says he and his colleagues will “go ahead and make the necessary changes” if the proposal passes.
“The market will be impacted if this goes through, and if it goes through we’ll prepare for it and we’ll go ahead and make the necessary changes. I do not think the FCC has thought through the full impact of this, especially to the networks like the one I operate with. And I definitely think that it will have some deleterious effects. Great talent will always be great talent and they’ll find a way to work, but it is hard enough for us now to get these certain positions and it matters. Rights matter. These rights are important and you can not be casual with them. I fear that the FCC is being casual. They’re having a fight with the big cable companies and they have not thought this through. I would ask President Obama to step in – who has always been a friend of not just what’s going on with minority community, but also just entertainment in general – and take a different look at this.”
Future of TV Coalition, an industry group counting Comcast, Dish, Time Warner Cable and others among its members, described the FCC’s set-top box proposal as “an assault on consumer privacy,” per InsideSources.com.
“I have embarked, along with many of my colleagues on the educational campaign on the Hill, and I think that the most important thing is really bringing some transparency to what these impacts can be,” said Congresswoman Clarke. “The average consumer is not familiar with the ins & outs of these industries that brings them their content, so it’s not something that they would be sensitive to. But we know that for generations now, we have been working to create a far more diverse and inclusive communications medium. In the cable space, we’ve made significant strides with the disruption of that.”
“There is no certainty that those emerging broadcasters and content providers will occupy a similar space, in terms of advertising, in terms of support structure. So that could mean for many who embrace the ideal of a diverse and inclusive content, a significant challenge both for being able to access that content, and secondly, these emerging industries are part of the fabric of an economic ecosystem. So, those who are employed throughout the business infrastructure that brings us our content will also be adversely impacted.”
The public has the opportunity to make public comments by signing a petition until May 22, 2016. You have a say in the future of television, and the right to tell the FCC to reject this mandate by signing here: http://futureoftv.com/#join