News Corporation (NYSE:NWS), Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and the other big six major corporations are not in a position to control the way that people watch TV, and so they are using their vast resources to make sure that they have access to that content.
News Corp. has the airplay rights to the entire television schedule in the United States.
That means that it can control what people can see on television, and it has been doing just that for years.
News Corp. is also the owner of the cable and satellite TV networks DirecTV and Comcast, and is the dominant media provider in the country.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a rule that prohibited companies from blocking people from accessing video content on their networks, including the Internet.
This rule did not stop major cable and broadcast companies from charging users to access their networks.
The FCC ruled that “broadcasting providers should treat all Internet-delivered content equally,” and that “such treatment is not the province of the Federal Government or of any state or local governmental agency.”
However, there are two important differences between the way people watch television in the U.S. and in other countries.
First, the U, S., and Canada have no federal regulatory bodies that enforce rules that govern how content is available and how it is used.
In contrast, the United Kingdom and France regulate how much content is accessible to their citizens, and their governments regulate the content that is available to the public.
The FCC has issued rules that prohibit blocking people’s access to content, but the major cable companies have lobbied against the rules.
Comcast has made numerous statements that it does not believe that the current FCC rules, which were adopted to prevent the company from using its control over the airwaves to block content, are the best way to prevent people from viewing TV content on the Internet, and have argued that the rules would force it to “roll back the rules” it has put in place for the last 15 years.
The big six also hold the airtime rights to a variety of broadcast, cable, and satellite services.
The top three companies in the space are AT&T (NYSE;T), Verizon (NYSE:(NYSE:VZ) and Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR).
AT&T is the biggest cable company, and has long held the air time rights to some of the most popular programs on cable.
Charter has been in the business of controlling the airtimes on the television schedule since it was founded in 1994.
The company has been using that power to push the content it produces and the programming it sells.
Charter is the third-largest cable company in the US.
In 2015, it sold $15.7 billion worth of television programming to cable and television companies.
Verizon Communications owns the cable TV networks HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Showtime Movies, and truTV.
CBS (NYSE)(NYSE:CBS) has been an outspoken critic of the FCC’s rules, and a leading player in the industry in trying to convince the commission to overturn the rules, arguing that the FCC should take into account the fact that people are watching TV content through a variety to different devices.
In an opinion piece that was published in January 2017, CBS argued that “if the commission follows the law, it is clear that [people are watching] on the same device as a TV set, and that there is no evidence that they are not watching on a different device.”
Channels like HBO and Showtime are owned by the broadcasters that broadcast them, so they have the ability to control where the programming is available.
However,, HBO and Netflix have been a boon to the major broadcast networks, as they allow people to access HBO, Showtime and HBO Go without paying for additional cable service.
This year, the FCC announced that it would be taking another look at the air times issue, but it did not rule out the possibility that the public could be blocked from viewing content through those services.
Charts courtesy of Netflix.
(This article originally appeared on The Conversation on March 8, 2018.
Commentary is by Dan Satterfield, a writer for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and The Atlantic Monthly.
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