FCC must protect minority networks from content grab

E. Faye Williams

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Perhaps, nowhere is this more apparent than in the “bargains” offered for sale to consumers of color. From subprime mortgages to payday lending, our history is rife with predatory goods and services offered under the guise of benefitting consumers and small businesses in our communities.

This pattern repeats itself in a new scam called “AllVid” being promoted by Silicon Valley.

If passed, the AllVid rule would require cable and satellite companies to hand over their programming rights to big tech companies like Google or TiVo, who could use it to offer their own video services or devices. Big Tech claims “AllVid” would inject some competition in the market for set-top devices consumers use for satellite and cable television, saving them money on their bills.

But in truth AllVid would disrupt the entire television programming business, and especially small minority and diversity networks and channels and shortchange our communities once again. Thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a majority — recently warned the FCC that AllVid would be a disaster”for consumers and “cause irreparable harm to independent and minority programmers” voicing many of these concerns.

A regulatory fiat by the FCC that would allow big tech to simply poach the programming rights that others have negotiated would devastate minority programmers. Nothing would stop these companies from cherry picking the programs they offer or relegating diversity networks or public, educational, and governmental television to the fringes — a new form of video “redlining” that would leave our communities underserved. Networks like TV One, Revolt TV, BET, and Univision depend upon the audience exposure they receive from being placed near similar programming where their audiences can find them.

Even more fundamentally, if television networks must simply hand over their programming rights to AllVid tech competitors, the value of those rights will go down precipitously and there will be far less revenue for independent and minority programmers to stay in business.

This would be a challenge for all networks, but small, diversity-focused channels that lack the corporate deep pockets of networks like ESPN or Fox are particularly vulnerable.

Consumers would lose as well, as many of the privacy and safety protections that we have come to take for granted vanish into thin air. Nothing would stop AllVid companies from selling viewers’ individualized television viewing habits to advertisers (just as they do your internet habits today), airing pirated television shows and movies alongside the original, or placing adult entertainment or violent programming next to children’s shows.

The idea that AllVid is needed to facilitate video competition is ridiculous in the age of cord-cutting, where an apps revolution has already made virtually every kind of television you can imagine available on a multitude of devices from phones and tablets to smart TVs and game consoles, as well as dedicated streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire. An AllVid mandate would be a giant step in the wrong direction, driving a stake through the heart of this “Golden Age of Television.”

There is a broad consensus that government can and should do more to protect diversity and minority communities from predatory ideas. The last thing we need is for the government to pass sweeping new regulations that benefit the corporate interests of a select few, while threatening the richness and diversity of our vibrant television ecosystem.

E. Faye Williams is national president/CEO of the National Congress of Black Women.