Jan 29, 2010
Holding the Keys to the Content Kingdom
The war over the delivery of digital content continues to rage and new battlegrounds are introduced every day. It’s being waged on many fronts and by many conglomerates. Some battles are making their way through the courts, and others via the board room. And now a series of recent events are shining a new light on how consumers may soon be impacted.
Much of this traces back to the current spat over net neutrality working through the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. In August of 2008, the FCC dinged Comcast for their policy of bandwidth throttling. In essence this is the practice of allowing certain content to flow freely from the source to the customer, while other content is given a lower priority and the delivery is slowed. While this action by the FCC was, at the time, heralded as the pillar for the future fair-use of the internet, it seems now that it may have been outside the commission’s jurisdiction to make such a ruling.
This has further implications with the announcement last December that Comcast would eventually gain control of NBC Universal from GE. With their history of bandwidth abuse, it is sure to cause some concern as the Department of Justice review’s the deal. Comcast will now own the pipes, the access, the content, and may have a free pass from the Court of Appeals to monitor and throttle content on their network as they see fit. This is a dangerous amount of control especially given their other transgressions in cable TV.
As content continues its migration online from traditional outlets, companies like Comcast and Time Warner will be able to turn their customers into captive audiences delivering their own content faster than the competitions. If you’re ISP is Time Warner then perhaps the connection to NBC’s website will be suddenly slowed or USA Network will start appearing in the high hundreds on your TV dial. Meanwhile, Comcast Triple Play subscribers may find their access to HBO.com come to a crawl.
An alternative Orwellian vision of the future may include marketing partnerships that are priced for preferential treatment. Advertising blocks purchased in packages across multiple networks and properties would include prioritized delivery as well. Where advertisers used to wield power over the content of shows, the new paradigm may shift to seeing the networks penalize marketers for such maneuvers by blocking consumer access to product sites or network ads.
Although the future for the consumer does not have to be so bleak, there is certainly one important take away; buyer beware. It’s no longer enough to hold trust in access providers that all content is created, and delivered, equal. And while the war being fought over the 1st & 2nd screens may look to be drawing to a close, the battle for the 3rd screen is only getting started.