The battle between the interests of local TV broadcasters and streaming platforms continues to heat up.
Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and 19 other Democratic and independent senators this week sent a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to revive a stagnant proceeding to evaluate whether virtual multichannel video programming distributors (vMVPDs) should come under the same regulations that apply to traditional TV broadcasters, including cable and satellite TV platforms — aka multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).
Currently, vMVPDs are not required to follow the same retransmission consent rules or negotiate directly with local broadcasters to carry their stations.
The FCC initiated a proceeding back in 2014 to evaluate the inclusion of vMVPDs under the definition of MVPD to include vMVPDs, and solicited public comments, but the process never went further.
Local broadcasters argue that the lack of streaming regulation impedes their ability to enter and compete in the streaming sector — specifically the online distribution of their self-produced news programming — and that competition from vMVPDs carrying their news threatens the future of local news.
The senators stressed the local news argument in their letter.
“The shift from broadcast, cable, and satellite to streaming has profound impact on existing laws, regulations, and agreements that have been foundational in support of public safety and access to local news,” they wrote. “As the expert agency, the Commission should be developing a record and recommendations to ensure that our regulatory system – which has enabled a thriving locally focused broadcast system that is the envy of the world – is not undermined by the explosion of new technologies that were not foreseen even a mere decade ago. Accordingly, we urge you to refresh the aging, unclosed record from the 2014 proceeding by seeking new public comments to provide updated video marketplace information.”
The letter follows a similar letter from Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in June urging the FCC to “refresh” its vMVPD proceeding.
In July, companies including Disney/ABC, Paramount/CBS, Fox Corp./FOX, NBCUniversal/NBC/Telemundo, Warner Bros. Discovery, Univision, FuboTV and Roku formed a group called The Preserve Viewer Choice Coalition that is focused specifically on fighting an extension of the distribution regulations to streamers.
The entertainment companies argue that the current regulatory environment already allows local news stations to be available on streaming and other platforms, and that extending the regulations to streamers will drive up prices for consumers, as well as exceed the FCC's authority.
In September, the owners of most of the world’s largest streaming services formed a coalition to lobby against attempts to include streaming under regulations like this proposal and others, such as the Kids Online Safety Act.