The retransmission fight between CBS and Time Warner cable shows no sign of abating, but it is triggering some interesting discussions over how consumers and regulators should handle the standoff. Dave suggests that Time Warner subscribers pick up a Mohu Leaf antenna to amplify over-the-air CBS signals while cable access is cut off.
On the regulatory front, GigaOM points us to a blog post by Harold Feld, attorney and Legal Director for Public Knowledge. Among other suggestions, Feld recommends that the FCC should bar CBS from blocking Time Warner subscribers from accessing its content on CBS.com. The theory is that CBS can choose what programming it makes available online, but it can’t discriminate against a specific group of viewers.
Meanwhile, I’m left wondering why no one seems to bring up the obvious discussion point. Should we still have free TV? Broadcast networks now rely heavily on retransmission revenue, and that’s why negotiations with cable companies are such a big deal. But retrans fees trickle down to consumers, which means people are paying for free content just to get it through their cable provider. Is the idea of free TV dying out as business models evolve? More importantly, should we be trying to save it?
I believe there is a role for free television, but not necessarily in the way it exists today. (Those one-hour dramas are hard to subsidize with ad revenue.) More importantly, as more content producers move to IP delivery, we have to consider how free access to critical content makes its transition to the Internet-powered world. If we want to keep a free TV service, eventually we’re going to have to relocate it to the web.
I don’t know the answers here, but it’s a debate we should probably start. Do we want free TV in the future? And what should it look like?