In a 4-to-1 vote, the FCC ruled that cable only “must-carry” one digital signal from each broadcast licensed station in their footprint. This is being seen, rightly or wrongly, as a stunning defeat for the broadcasters and a serious win for the cable industry. “This is a major victory for consumers …” said exiting CEO of NCTA, Robert Sachs.
For broadcasters, it would have been fun to just do “business as usual” and let the cable guys carry everything – but, it didn’t happen! So what are the opportunities presented by this challenge? Let’s play the tape forward for a few probable futures:
1) Competitive, Free, Pro-consumer programming – consumers are heading toward triple-play sticker shock, so why not offer a free over-the-air alternative – several different branded channels that effectively compete with cable using an advertiser supported model.
2) Advanced Media Solutions – including broadband delivery over WiMax, 2.5 and 3G cell phones and retail distribution of digital-to-analog converter boxes that will utilize the power of the additional bandwidth to effectively compete with cable.
3) Bundle crap programming that nobody wants with your signal so consumers don’t have a choice – wow, that sounds like something I’ve seen before.
4) Lease your additional bandwidth to people who are smarter than you are so they can offer a better product and you can charge rent.
5) Aggregate the digital signals nationwide and create a free over-the-air, advertiser supported digital television model that is competitive.
6) Make a deal with your local soon-to-be-in-business IPTV provider. They will want your programming (if it is competitive and important).
Of the six probable futures listed above, I purposely left out the most likely scenario. Since most broadcasters I have met truly think that they are in the television business (they are not and never have been), they will probably just ignore or under-utilize their digital bandwidth. That being said, there is a wealth of opportunity built into this FCC decision.
If properly handled, this actually may turn out to be a very big victory for consumers. It is possible, that the broadcasters will actually be forced to use their creative and economic power to create a new media paradigm. And, through the law of unintended consequences, this lemon might make excellent lemon-aide.