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Media Companies Fighting for Fees — Who is Fighting for Consumers?

Television Set
Earlier this month, 20 million American homes that are subscribed to DirecTV, suddenly could no longer watch Nickelodeon, MTV or Comedy Central.  Viacom owns the content and rents it to DirecTV for a fee.  Their contract was about to expire and Viacom said DirecTV should pay 30% more.  DirecTV said that based on their size, they should pay much less.  (See Viacom, DirecTV Restart Carriage-Fee Talks; Web Video Inflames Fight Over TV Fees for the full story).  The two companies spent a week or so firing barbs back and forth and argued for what was best for each of them. The same week, CBS and other broadcasters sued Aereo, an Internet company whose motto is “Television on Your Terms”. Aereo.com lets you watch live TV, including NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, FOX, CW & over 20 local channels on an Internet device of your choice.  The broadcasters argued to the judge that it was not fair for Aero to re-broadcast their content, even though the broadcast brings advertisers to the consumer and effectively provides the same service that someone could get by putting an antenna on their roof. In effect, Aero puts up an antenna for you and then re-broadcasts the signal to you over the Internet for $12 per month.  The broadcasters are confident they will win on appeal. The issue in these two fights, and many like it, is what is best for the publishers, distributors, and content owners.  None of the articles about the legal battles mentions what is best for the consumer who pays the bill.  What consumers want is simple — choice.  Is it possible that consumers are getting tired of paying $150 per month or more to get 300 channels of content, 295 of which they don’t care about? The issue is not about consumers wanting to steal content.  They are willing to pay.  The TV issue is the same as the music issue of the past.  The content owners and distributors wanted you to pay $18 for 15 tracks of music, 14 of which you may not have wanted.  I remember attending a technology conference back in the 1990s where a rock music performer said that he was receiving checks in the mail for his music that consumers were downloading for free from Napster.  The music industry offered no way you could buy a track of music.  It took a technology leader, Steve Jobs, to show them how to do it — iTunes — and since its debut, Apple has sold 16 billion tracks of music chosen by consumers.  Most of us realize that musicians and actors have families and need to earn something for their performances.  Likewise, most of us appreciate good journalism and know that investigating a story, getting the facts, and writing about them in a way we can understand  does not come free.  We are willing to pay — we just want choices.  One of the first websites I subscribed to was Weather Underground in 1995.  I have used it nearly everyday since. What I like about wunderground is that you get the choice to have all the weather data for free, or for $10 per year, you can have Ad-Free Weather.  That is a reasonable choice that I happily make.  Avner Ronen, CEO & co-founder of Boxee was named one of Rolling Stone’s “Agents of Change” for 2009 because he believes in choice.  I agree with his simple vision, which is to purchase content once and be able to listen to it or watch it or read it on any device of your choice.  Aereo is following that same model — pay a monthly fee for the content of your choice and watch it on the device you choose.  Let’s hope the courts continue to uphold the model.