ANA Raises Concerns About FCC Plan To Replace Set-Top Boxes With Apps

The Federal Communications Commission's newly revised plan to enable consumers to watch pay-TV without cable boxes could boost piracy, according to the Association of National Advertisers.

The FCC's newest proposal, unveiled earlier this month, would require cable and satellite providers to make television programs available to subscribers via apps. If the proposal passes, consumers will no longer have to rent set-top boxes from their cable companies, at an average cost of $231 a year, in order to watch TV. Instead, most cable and satellite subscribers will be able to watch programs on smartphones, tablets and other devices.

The agency is also proposing that the apps offer an integrated search function, which will allow people to search for programs across a variety of platforms. "Just type in the name of a movie, and a list will come up with all the places it is scheduled for broadcast and where it can be streamed (like Amazon Prime or Hulu)," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed announcing the new proposal.

But the ANA says the FCC should "assess carefully the relationship of any requirements and search functionality."

"The proposal ... threatens to open avenues for piracy of copyrighted and protected material," the organization adds in an FCC filing describing a meeting with regulators.

Dan Jaffe, ANA executive vice president, tells MediaPost the trade group is concerned "that licensed content may appear as part of search next to pirated content."

"The FCC should ensure that licensed content will be able to receive search priority," he adds in an email.

The ANA also says in its new filing that it's "agnostic in regard to technological delivery of cable programming," but wants the FCC to ensure that ads are "transmitted whole and intact" to consumers.

The revised proposal came more than eight months after Wheeler unveiled more sweeping proposed regulations that would have enabled Google and other companies to develop set-top boxes that could access pay-TV programs. That original plan was supported by the White House and consumer groups. But the potential regulations met with strident opposition from cable companies, as well as content providers and the Association of National Advertisers.

The FCC is slated to vote on the revised proposal on Sept. 29.

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