back to article FCC death vote looms for the Golden Age of American TV

We’re living in a “Golden Age of TV”, and the United States makes the most envied popular TV drama in the world. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire raised the bar for everyone in TV drama. More cash is invested in content: last year Netflix alone spent more on shows than either the BBC or HBO. It takes more risks and …

  1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    A solution to the problem already exists

    And it is called CableCard. Just because the cable companies have worked hard to make CableCard a failure does not mean that it is. TiVo proves that CableCard works quite well. The solution to overpriced cable boxes is to make it cheaper, and thus easier, to be certified by CableLabs. That move can quickly open up the cable box market. You would also need some electronic program guide, ideally a cross-platform one.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: A solution to the problem already exists

      Except that CableCARDs are ONE-WAY ONLY. They're useless for on-demand and other applications that require two-way interactivity.

      1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

        Re: A solution to the problem already exists

        Every cable box rented today is required to use a CableCard. They seem to handle two-way communication just fine.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: A solution to the problem already exists

          Under what law? Last I checked, there's no CableCARD slot in my DVR box.

          1. Wade Burchette Silver badge

            Re: A solution to the problem already exists

            It is not a law; it is a FCC rule. And it is a newer rule. I recently turned in an old DVR without a CableCard and a new cable box with a CableCard. It was hard to find the CableCard because it was hidden in back, screwed in, with a sticker on top.

    2. WalterAlter
      Pirate

      TV Schmee Vee

      Does nobody suss that YouTube, Vimeo, et al have the potential to become the new entertainment networks? Hip, fresh material from Thug Life and Russian Car Crashes to Indy Nidel's "The Great War" series keep me happy for hours every evening and it's 100% commercial free and my choice. They're not called YouTube "Channels" for nothin'. C'mon kids, let's try not to forget that the Internet is PEER TO PEER, no more top down hierarchical data flux, every human a broadcast executive. It's driving the Wall St. aristo-oligarch debt farming raw materials looting financier New World Order globalist fascist Illuminati apoplectic. No, really and truly...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: TV Schmee Vee

        I AGREE!!!!!

        Now, can someone tell me where these YouTube channels are? All I ever seem to find are crappy little clips and the occasional full length documentary, usually an inane conspiracy rant and lots of so-called "programmes" produced by useless amateurs who think they know what production values are.

        Wifey spends some tine on instructional handicraft videos but they all seem to be narrated by cheesy females who start every video with "Hiiiiiii Guyyyyys" and who don't know when to stop talking and just show you how do whatever it is they think they are experts at.

  2. Mage Silver badge

    We’re living in a “Golden Age of TV”

    Really?

    Maybe a great time to be a USA media company producing garbage that's eagerly devoured because UK channels have outsourced and racing to the bottom with reality TV.

    The Golden Age for the UK and viewers ended in the 1980s.

    We've seen the rise in Europe of the US style cable that I saw in early 1980s (and later Satellite) which has diluted content across too many similar channels, now often subscription, and sport move from FTA to people sometimes needing THREE subscriptions!

    Though I agree, the FCC has lost the plot. They also seem determined to cripple Free To Air TV as well as give too much power to Amazon, Murdoch, Google's YouTube, Netflix and Apple etc, all of whom are parasites producing hardly any content and destroying FTA channels.

    1. whoseyourdaddy

      Re: We’re living in a “Golden Age of TV”

      We are already Wal-Mart-ing FTA TV by skipping commercials with DVRs or pirating the shows.

      Why would retailers buy air time if it makes no difference?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: We’re living in a “Golden Age of TV”

        It's the "Golden Arch" of TV.

        Fast food, somehwat fatty and bland.

  3. Purple-Stater

    All I want is...

    1) To be able to plug my cable wire directly into my TV and watch.

    2) To be able to purchase a simple recorder, for cable, that gives me the functionality of a 1985 VCR.

    My cable provider no longer has options for either of these, and it sucks.

    1. The Indomitable Gall
      Coat

      Re: All I want is...

      Your watch won't be much use tethered to a cable.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: All I want is...

      The television companies have been fighting back against the VCR since it first came out. They basically made a "no VCR" world a prerequisite to going HD. Otherwise, they'll refuse and stick to SD.

      As for plugging the cable directly into the TV, that creates a problem if standards change over time (like ClearQAM being removed) and your TV can't be updated to support it. I'd much rather see an interchangeable module (based on open standards that anyone, source and builder, can follow) that can be plugged into the TV so that it's easy to keep the TV up to date over time since the normal working life of a TV is at least a decade.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: All I want is...

        for me "interchangeable module " = PC

        I have £150 tv with old pc worth £20 attached to it. It is Waaay smarter than these so called smart TVs my friends are paying 1000s for , and then excitedly listing all the little icons like Amazon, iplayer , email , netflix.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: All I want is...

          "for me "interchangeable module " = PC"

          But for the average consumer that's not acceptable for two reasons. One, something's sticking out of the TV when they don't want something like that (think wall mounts with no shelves nearby). Two, they don't want another remote (just control the whole shebang with the TV's remote with no programming needed). That's why we need a module: it hides in the TV and uses the TV's controls.

  4. fnj

    Golden age my foot

    As a USAian, color me thunderstruck. I find USA commercial TV to be a vast wasteland. OTOH I am awestruck by some of the UK productions: Endeavor, Wallander, Luther, Wolf Hall, Inspector Morse, Sherlock, Churchill's Secret.

    1. Indolent Wretch

      Re: Golden age my foot

      You may have already seen it but the Inspector Morse episode that you absolutely must see is called "Second Time Around". They absolutely hit it out of the park. Depth, great dialog, wonderful back story, important background just hinted at, treats the viewer as an intelligent human being. Fantastic in every respect. According to IMDB not everybody loves it but then, hey, they're wrong!

      If you haven't seen it, find it and watch it. Preferably twice in order to do homage to its title.

    2. Purple-Stater

      Re: Golden age my foot

      Here, here! I'd give up American TV altogether if I had ready availability to the documentaries (history, science, nature, food, etc.) of the BBC and Channel 4. Nothing in the US can compare.

    3. SlackJawedYokel

      Re: Golden age my foot

      Yes, please bring that BBC (or preferably unified UK) streaming service to the states. I'd pay $8-$10 a month for it, without hesitation. But it needs to include EVERYTHING. Yes, I live in California, but I do want to learn to speak Gaelic, damn it.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Golden age my foot

        I don't think that's possible because of licensing restrictions for some of the shows.

      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: Golden age my foot

        But it needs to include EVERYTHING. Yes, I live in California, but I do want to learn to speak Gaelic, damn it.

        You can already get Welsh!

        http://www.s4c.cymru/clic/e_live.shtml

    4. JEDIDIAH
      Linux

      Re: Golden age my foot

      What you see is being filtered. It's like the classics of any genre. The crap falls away and isn't visible any more so you forget about it. You don't see the other 90% of the dreck. So you end up with a false impression of some bygone era or some other country.

    5. DanceMan

      Re: Golden age my foot

      After I cut the cord I discovered a sub-channel of the PBS station I can receive OTA here in Vancouver, MHz Networks, which carries European dramas in the evenings. "A French Village" (Un Village Francais) is a series that follows life in an occupied French village in WWII. It is simply superb and I highly recommend it. In French with English subtitles.

  5. Grunchy

    Ugh breaking bad, sopranos, the wire? I've never watched any of these shows. I literally do not know what they are about.

    Neither game of thrones and all these other contemporary shows - they are too violent, too full of politically correct themes that I find distasteful both for the message & overtures of 'normalizing' their creepy behavior. Homosexuality is just an open door to perversion, sorry if that offends you, but that's exactly how I see perverted gay pride parades. I boycott everything I dislike, which is becoming everything that is broadcast.

    I like Smithsonian channel, Nova, Nature, and such. News & weather. I get an enormous kick out of Adventure Time, which seems to me to be the best show on the air, even if it is geared towards 8+ audience. Other than that - broadcast TV is dead. My other favorite show is Roadkill which produces about 1 show per month, and only on Youtube.

    Oh Well There's Always Books To Read - problem solved.

    1. Havin_it
      Trollface

      I sure hope you haven't watched any nature docs featuring any of these species, then.

  6. Timo

    EPG subscription

    I never understood why the Electronic Program Guide is a separate piece of information aggregated and provided by a third party. With the whole move to digital TV it seems there would be enough spare bits in the datastream to transmit the EPG, and it *could* be updated in near real-time.

    Except it didn't work that way. I guess what may have happened is that TV Guide and other companies (think newspapers and yellow page printing companies, not media companies) started something as a service to the TV companies, and that model hasn't been disrupted for some reason.

    Well that and the TV stations proved that they were not capable of handling subcarrier data - for a few years in the 90's many VCR's were sold with the capability to automatically set their time from the TV signal so they weren't blinking "12:00" forever. I heard that many people had problems with it because the time sync server at the TV station was not maintained, so many VCR's were showing the wrong time, and could not be manually overridden.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: EPG subscription

      The time-setting was set up by the government, which is why the signals are typically transmitted on PBS stations (read: a government-supported network). As for the EPG, that's considered a data aggregation so is subject to copyright, making it a "limited resource" that the aggregators want to protect because it means money.

  7. lowwall

    The rules have evolved

    In Google’s ideal world the curation and content management of the “appified” DSTAC are absent, giving Google users the ability to take what content they want and present it all on YouTube, without having to enter the kind of negotiations for content that everyone else needs to do. Google users can stick the latest hit HBO show into another YouTube channel, and there’s nothing about the show’s creators or HBO can do about it.

    This may be what Google wants and even what was in the initial proposal, but these rules have been through the comment period and have been extensively revised.. The rules currently being voted on require bundlers (e.g. cable companies) to give their customers the option of replacing or augmenting the current rented hardware box with apps so they can watch the shows they have paid for on whatever device they own and avoid paying the box rental fee. The crucial point is that the apps would be provided by the bundler. The bundler would still be in control of billing, DRM and providing the content. This rule does not require the cable companies to offer channels a la carte, not does it require them to stream it through any other platform.

    If you don't believe me, here's how Forbes describes it:

    The cable industry responded with a proposal that, instead of opening up their signals to all comers through APIs, would require operators to implement their own apps on a wide range of device platforms... Functionality of these apps would be limited compared to the functionality available on operators’ own STBs: for example, apps would not support digital video recording (DVR)...

    The proposed rule that goes up for a vote on Thursday resembles the cable industry’s proposal, but it includes stricter requirements for app functionality, including DVR. It requires operators to provide subscribers with free apps on “widely deployed platforms, such as Roku, Apple iOS, Windows and Android,”...

    Let’s look at the effects that this proposed ruling would have. It would help make up for the appalling lack of competition for video and broadband internet services in the United States by forcing operators to compete with third parties on reception devices. They’d have to offer STBs that are cheaper and easier to use, and they’d have to get creative in thinking of new ways to add value to their devices compared to the Rokus, Apple TVs and Amazon Fire TVs of the world, not to mention Smart TVs, iPads, Google Chromecasts, etc. (High quality end-to-end tech support would be a good starting point.)

    Note, the FCC decided to postpone the vote. The sticking point is on technical licensing and oversight issues, not the basic premise of giving an app option to the rental box.

    1. lone_wolf

      Re: The rules have evolved

      "apps would not support digital video recording (DVR)..." so we can keep screwing you over and over again to watch something more than once?

      How is this to the consumers favor, i guess the networks are finally going to get the FCC to kill the DVR.

  8. G Mac

    Hmm, still no mention of a la carte channels

    As somebody who has recently moved in the US I am looking for a TV service. The amazing thing is that I *still* cannot get fully a la carte channels, and from what I can see DSTAC does not address that - meaning I still get bundles of stuff I don't want. If Google can break that apart then I am all for it. Now folks may raise 'diversity of channels' concerns but if that is an aim then do it transparently with (for example) a specific tax versus a hidden tax via the bundle. And if a bundle turns out cheaper than a la carte then guess what I will take the bundle ;)

    "Google’s proposal takes an end run around both private contracts (previously held to be sacred) and property rights (similarly so)."

    Wow so much angst. Here is a newsflash - contracts get renegotiated all the time. And I don't see how property rights are violated - stuff gets licensed successfully everyday - is Andrew saying Google will steal content without paying for it? Can I get a reference to that outcome please.

    BTW, private contracts and property rights were already crapified by the mortgage industry (see MERS - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortgage_Electronic_Registration_Systems). By creating a free for all database to avoid registering property transfers (you know, like had been done for centuries so that folks can find out who owns what) they so seriously screwed the private contracts that they required fraud to 'fix' them - AKA robosigning.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Hmm, still no mention of a la carte channels

      "As somebody who has recently moved in the US I am looking for a TV service. The amazing thing is that I *still* cannot get fully a la carte channels, and from what I can see DSTAC does not address that"

      And it never will for the very reason you note: niche channels would never get the support they'd need to stay on the air although they have their diehard fans. That's why channels are rarely independent anymore and tend to be part of a company portfolio. Because of this, it becomes an all-or-nothing proposition because Discovery Networks would hardly be interested in selling you Discovery and not support their other channels like TLC, ID, Military, etc. Even the big broadcast channels are tied to major media conglomerates (ABC to Disney, NBC to Comcast, CBS to Viacom, CW at least partially to Time Warner, and FOX is self-identifying). It's just like with newspapers; they'll ONLY sell them as a whole because it's the ONLY way they can stay running. Otherwise, someone would've tried it already and run away with the market.

  9. fishman

    $20B/year

    The cable companies charge $20B/year renting the cable boxes. The boxes are worth $100-$200, and the companies charge $10-$15 per month rent. SO most of the $20B/year is profit.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: $20B/year

      This estimate clearly must be in error. I know this because a Comcast CSR told me just yesterday with a perfectly straight face that the STB the rent me for $20 a month costs them $1600. The notion that they could find a lower cost supplier of a box with the capacity of a couple of Raspberry Pi s, a terabyte disk and an OTS tuner, together with a hand held controller with the capacity of another Raspberry Pi, more or less, and a handful of control buttons, apparently escaped them completly.

      $100 probably isn't quite enough, but $200 - 250 should be possible for a large run and allow for the power brick and decent profit. Two sanity checks: first, their assertion that they will provide a piece of computer equipment at a rent so small as to take nearly 7 years to recover the cost, and second, that the power brick for the STB is rated at 36 Watts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: $20B/year

        "This estimate clearly must be in error. I know this because a Comcast CSR told me just yesterday with a perfectly straight face that the STB the rent me for $20 a month costs them $1600."

        I would stare them in the face, make an even straighter face, and ask them, "Is this $1600 you state the official price? Can I have this on record? Because otherwise I will ask iFixit to tear down a decommissioned box like this and break down the costs component by component, present the results back here with a lawyer, and ask for the source of the discrepancy before I sue the you for price gouging."

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: $20B/year

          I was trying to maintain civility in hope (dashed) that they could provide a decent workaround for accessing the new browser version of their scheduling and TV management application which, as of Tuesday, September 27, depends on installing the current version of Flash. The prior version did not require flash at all. I am more than a little unhappy with them and would drop their service in a heartbeat if there were a decent alternative.

  10. Doc Ock

    This is the Golden Age ?

    I dread to think what the Dark Ages looked like.

    Don't even bother going to the cinema, you'll only have your intelligence and your wallet insulted.

    Ghostbusters (2016) anyone ?

  11. DougS Silver badge

    You're missing a fundamental problem

    Cable cards allow third party devices to have direct access to the video stream. Meaning it can be recorded. The "app model" does not provide third party devices with direct access to the video stream, it can only be displayed. So if Comcast decided to put forth an app that didn't allow recording, then you'd still need to rent their boxes to record. They could drop recording from their rented boxes, and then you'd be forced to watch TV live again.

    That's what the networks really want, they view this as a golden opportunity to get control over when and how their viewers watch their programming - to have control over whether something can be recorded at all, and if it can whether commercials can be skipped, how long it can be saved, etc.

    You're buying into the stupid 'security' argument. If they were able to insure the security of cable card devices, why shouldn't they be able to insure the security of 'gateway' devices that perform the same function in software?

    The cable companies and content providers pushed this 'app' model because they didn't like the gateway that preserves the same amount of consumer control that cable card allows for. When the FCC said "fine, we'll go with an app model" now they're unhappy that third party devices would be allowed to present their own UI - they want control of the UI as well. The only reason people buy Tivo is because its UI is better than cable company boxes (some are pretty good now, but a lot of cable companies still use archaic boxes that could be running DOS 6.22 by the looks of them)

    The cable companies want the alternative to be so awful that everyone continues to rent their boxes. Content providers want to take back control over the content and force everyone to start watching commercials again. The "golden age" may end like the author says, but he's too clueless to understand that it is what he's supporting that would end it.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: You're missing a fundamental problem

      If it can be displayed, it can be recorded, because fundamentally, it MUST be decoded to be able to display it (since our Eyeballs v.1 can't grok encrypted video), and remember the HDCP master key, at least for the vast majority of TVs that matter, has been broken.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: You're missing a fundamental problem

      "That's what the networks really want, they view this as a golden opportunity to get control over when and how their viewers watch their programming - to have control over whether something can be recorded at all, and if it can whether commercials can be skipped, how long it can be saved, etc."

      The reason the VCR came to vogue was precise because people's lives CAN'T be scheduled around their favorite programming. How does one watch the latest Survivor (DISCLAIMER: Just an example of a show that ONLY appears in prime time) if they're scheduled the afternoon shift (3-11PM, for example)? Or live one-time-only events like a grand final, the Olympics, or whatever. Once they're gone, they're gone practically forever and viewers who miss out for whatever reason get ticked. That's why cable companies still offer recorder boxes. Otherwise, a competitor provides a recorder and you have a defection. Networks are actually aware of this, which is why they offer SOME of their shows on-demand, but the system is complicated, plus what of the lesser shows that don't appear on-demand. That still leaves the narrow window of opportunity to catch it and they may not be home at the time.

  12. EJ

    And... the FCC voted to delay the vote.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/technology/fcc-cable-box-vote-delayed.html

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Clearly their sense of drama is lacking.....

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our data should be owned by us.

    Make our data, data we generate, data that is us, ours. Make us, individuals, the sole owner of their data, that like us cannot be sold into data slavery to forever profit others at our expense. Then enforce the data piracy laws with the same intensity as they are now.

    That is as much a game changer as ending slavery, and giving people basic rights.

    In this case it would mean a system that has people paying for content, to watch, and being paid to be watched, or not.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Our data should be owned by us.

      Sounds simple enough, but there is lots of gray area potential. For example, your current employment. Do you own this datum as an employEE, or your boss as employER? What about those giant conglomerates with tentacles across multiple industries. If you do business with ONE branch of it, are ALL the branches entitled to the same data since they're all essentially one company?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Our data should be owned by us.

        Lots of room for grey but not when it comes to work. At work my employer owns me, they can record me, send me into hazardous areas, have me do work that has killed others, work crazy hours and shifts and as for data, any data I generate at work they claim.

        If I come up with an idea at work they own it. Of course if I don't say it or write it down I could always claim it is mine but it would be up to the court to decide.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Our data should be owned by us.

          Considered you might be working for the wrong person?

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Our data should be owned by us.

          But who owns the information that you work for your employer? It's a datum about BOTH you AND your employer, so that's where the gray area begins. You want ownership to be black and white, but joint ownership clouds the issue. Who gets to make the call on dissemination when more than one party owns the datum and they may possess conflicting interests on dissemination (one side insists on publishing it, the other insists on keeping it private)?

          And that still doesn't address the idea of subsidiary data and its relation to the parent company and from there to other subsidiaries.

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