Does The ‘TV Everywhere’ (Almost, But Not Quite) Business Model Violate Antitrust Laws?

During a video advertising summit meeting held in New York during the first week of June 2011, representatives from Comcast/NBC, TimeWarner’s Turner, and Disney’s ESPN, predicted that TV “everywhere” was imminent, and that by 2013, three-fourths of TV content would be available online and on mobile devices.

The representatives are already aware of the impact that Netflix is making, but they also think that broadband caps could be what would hold it back, to say nothing of trying to clear the rights for much of that content.

Since Comcast is both an owner of cable-phone-broadband systems, as well as a content provider through its ownership of NBC, USA, Syfy, MSNBC, CNBC, Versus, Golf Channel, Weather Channel, Bravo, Oxygen and a few other channels, it can be argued that the idea of “TV everywhere” advocated by Comcast, among others, could clash with their own idea of capping their subscribers’ use of broadband.

But putting aside the cap issue and whether Comcast is conflicted or not regarding it, the idea that more and more TV content will be on more platforms in the years to come might very well explain not only the proliferation of smartphones, but also broadband set-top boxes, such as Roku, Boxee and iGuGu.

But during the E3 show in Los Angeles that same first week of June 2011, Microsoft’s XBox, best known generally as a video game playing device, made the somewhat stunning announcement that it, too, would like to join the set-top box front. Though the TV-related features, ranging from Netflix to Hulu to YouTube, won’t go on XBoxes until this fall, Microsoft’s Mark Whidden said that the voice-control feature slated to become part of the revamped XBox Live means the user would not have to worry about navigating through the menus to find the content.

Of course, with the idea of “TV Everywhere” catching fire more and more amongst both cable companies and cable channels, what’s to say some of them won’t take advantage of the opportunity to extend that concept to XBox, like AT&T and TimeWarner’s Turner Networks has already decided?

In order to be part of “TV Everywhere”, though, you have to subscribe to the channels by having both cable TV and broadband, which can be trouble if you have just the broadband but not the cable. What this means, I suppose, is that this idea of “TV Everywhere” can be qualified with a statement that “everywhere” means the provider, working in conjunction with producers and other copyright holders, decides what content will go everywhere.

It explains why, for example, ESPN’s broadband service, ESPN3, obliges cable systems to pay an extra fee per subscriber before it can go on those particular cable systems, just like ESPN charges those same systems, per subscriber, for their regular channels.

Perhaps when more and more existing cable systems convert to what’s called Internet Protocol [IP] for their video transmission, hopefully, you might see it split into three parts—1) the live kind; 2) the time-shifted kind; and 3) the on-demand kind.

In January 2010, Marvin Ammori of the organization Free Press, wrote that the “TV Everywhere” business model concocted by cable systems and channels “can only exist with collusion among competitors” that “appears to violate several serious antitrust laws,” and that discussions to set up the business model “avoid[ed] a paper trail.” For its part, the report continues, cable distributors have referenced that some newspapers have been charging for access to website content, but the monopolistic power of cable and phone companies, as the report also mentions, combined with their denial of content to pure online TV distributors, ensures a lack of competition as well as a group boycott, which can be grounds for an antitrust suit.

True, we want TV to be everywhere, but not the way it’s being pushed right now. If the customer mattered, every TV show, past and present, would be everywhere, from YouTube to smartphones to tablets. It’s so unfortunate that it does not, at the moment, appear to be the case. One would hope that an antitrust suit over “TV Everywhere” can break up the cable providers like a suit over phone service broke up AT&T in the mid-1980’s.

Come to think of it, isn’t AT&T, now that they’re in cable and Internet service, somehow part of the “TV Everywhere” issue?  And do you think TV should really be everywhere you would want it to be?