click to shareFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image by via CrunchBase

This post is a part of a series about media, regulation and technology. It is aimed to encourage conversation and exchange opinions, and is not a legal advise or a single comprehensive article.

Regulators are facing new and complex challenges in the recent years, when new technologies are changing the way people consume media.

In The Past Things Were Simple

In the past years, Media and Medium were one. In this post I define media as the type of content being delivered (TV show, Radio Show, etc), and medium as the carrier technology (Broadcast TV, cable, RF, etc). In this environment, regulators that were in charge of the medium, in a way of providing licenses, could control the content itself.

Also content had one main format – all TV shows were moving pictures seen on TV sets. All radio shows were audio delivered via the air, based on regulated spectrum regime, and so on.

Another important angle was that cost of delivery was relatively high – broadcasting requires considerable investment in technology and licenses. The requirement for such an investment was an automatic filter that enabled only large companies to play this game.

Types of Regulation

Media regulation could be divided to two:

1. Competition – regulators are protecting the citizens from monopoly, by stopping one from forming, and in most cases, restricting existing ones.

2. Content – regulators are protecting citizens by prohibiting specific types of content from being broadcasted in specific hours or in specific channels, as well as require tagging specific content as appropriate to a specific age or population.

The New Paradigm

Technology changed fundamentally the digital media landscape. In short it decoupled media and medium. One can view a TV show over the Internet, with services such as Hulu, buy it from iTunes, or view it on a mobile phone.

This major change created the following regulatory challenges:

1. New players are providing media . But it is not the whole picture. Telecom companies are gaining ground in this area with services such as BT Vision. In many countries, telco companies are regulated separately, through telecom regulators. Therefore regulators face challenges when telecom companies become media companies, which leads to convergence of regulation.

2. Some of them were not regulated in the past, at least not as a major market player – iTunes is a great example of a product from a computer company that changes the viewership habits of consumers, by selling music and TV shows. The same goes for Netflix’s and Blockbuster’s move in this area – brick and mortar retail comapnies are changing their focus to digital distribution, while Aamzon turns into media distributor as well.

3. Smaller players can distribute media – look at company such as blip.tv. It has 20 employees, but it is a video network with 40,000 shows that release a new video episode every week. By using tools such as blogTV and ustream everyone can open his or her own live broadcasting operation. As the barrier of entry for media delivery is being lowered (though it still costs money), smaller players can be a part of the media market. And as new marketing paradigms, chiefly social media marketing, offer low cost alternative to the expensive traditional marketing, which in turn enable smaller companies reach their consumers. Is it possible at all to regulate such players?

The Result – Complete Mess

Laws are general, and aimed are creating frameworks. The reason is simple – legislation is a very long process. Therefore it is based on concepts and wide definitions. However. this area is being disrupted as well. Here are some example:

1. What is a broadcaster? If one will see every person who streams media as a broadcaster that needs to be regulated, then every 16 year old boy in BlogTV should have a lawyer by his side. by the way, this issue is problematic not only in video content. One can look at podcast as a radio on demand application – should every podcaster get a broadcasting license?

2. What is a TV station? If I am creating a video playlist on my computer and broadcasting it to the world – does it make me a TV station? If I am opening a VOD service – am I a TV station? If so – YouTube is a TV station, as well as blip.tv, and every other video hosting solution.

3. What is TV content? Is it a creative format? Is it determined by the first medium which the content was presented?

4. What’s linear program has to with it? Is there a difference between on demand services and linear services?

5. Is there a difference between regulation of TV content when it is being watched on TV or through the Internet? In other words, should there be a difference between the regulation on Hulu and the regulation on NBC?

A lot of questions, and many conflicting answers.

In the next posts about regulation we will review how the EU, UK, and US regulators tackle these issues.