The Important Battle Between Cable Ops and Copyright Holders

Carl Weinschenk

IT departments should pay attention to the ongoing battles between residential service providers -- mostly cable operators at this point -- and copyright holders over whether or not streaming is covered under existing distribution contracts.

It seems a bit far afield, but there are a couple of reasons to keep an eye on the issue. The models under which video is distributed will affect the load on the public Internet. That, in turn, will influence the quality, pricing and availability of the public networks that organizations use to reach customers, employees and partners. In a broader sense, issues of control of broadband networks are important to IT departments simply because their organizations use them. Who is in charge matters.

The question is fairly simple: Do contracts -- written when cable operators' sole job was the quaint task of delivering programming to television sets-cover all the cool ways that video can be delivered today? The cable operators maintain that the contracts allow them to deliver to mobile devices. The programmers disagree, of course, and want to be paid more for the use of its content in this way. They also want to clear the field and perhaps cut out the cable operators through mobile apps and over-the-top broadband services.

GigaOM's Ryan Lawler, writing about one of the operator/copyright holder conflicts, offers perspective:

Through the filings, it becomes clear that the fight is not so much about whether or not Time Warner Cable should have to pay for broadband streaming rights to reach the iPad, but who has the right to control and decide how a cable network's content is distributed.

This isn't the only turf war going on. Peel enough layers off the net neutrality fight and there also is a battle for control. This one, which is between the service providers and the government, is more complex. But, at its heart, it's about who will be the landlords of broadband delivery networks, who will be the tenants and how they will relate to each other.

It's likely that how these and other questions are answered will have an impact on a far broader scale than the immediate issues at hand. Technology has exploded during the past decade, and the business models, regulatory schemes and laws are rushing to catch up. Nature abhors a vacuum. Lawyers, politicians and marketers love them, however, since it means their services are needed.

Skirmishes are going on now between service providers and programmers. From a legal perspective, the baby likely will be split somewhere in the middle. Thus, it's important to each of them to move quickly and control as much of the marketplace as possible now. It's only a bit of a stretch to say that possession (of market share) is nine-tenths of the law.

The short-sighted view is that this isn't IT's fight. It is true that there are parties that will be far more immediately impacted and that IT departments have far bigger immediate concerns. They should, however, track the issue since what is decided today will impact them in the future.

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