FX had a celebrity-filled screening of the season-two debut of hit drama series The Americans at The Paris theater in New York City on Feb. 24, and an after party at The Plaza's Palm Court. Click through for more photos.
What's Rockefeller's Next Step for Internet Video Exam?
After the Senate Commerce Committee’s curious April 24 hearings about “The Emergence of Online Video” , lingering - and unanswered - questions remain:
Why did Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) call the hearings, and what does he plan to do next to determine (as the session’s subtitle asks) “Is It the Future?”
Although the idea of updating the 1996 Telecommunications Act was bruited about several times during the session, there is no serious expectation that Congress will start that arduous task so late in the term, or even next year. Nor is there any definitive plan for next steps in the online video exploration. A Committee staffer told me he is “not sure” when any follow-up hearings might be scheduled, acknowledging only that this week’s session was intended to “sort of get the ball rolling.”
Since no legislation is in the works, the hearing - which deliberately eschewed broadcasters, cable companies and telcos - was even more perplexing. The media and telecom giants, who ultimately will have a big say in any eventual legislation, cleverly avoided any responses to Tuesday’s session - although a few predictable glib lobbyists’ Tweets and commentary popped up during the hearing.
So other than providing a platform for a few Senators’ pet projects - such as Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and his “Next Generation Television Marketplace Act” (S.2008, a pro-broadcasting overhaul of the retransmission consent-must carry process) - what did those two hours of dialogue accomplish? Aside from letting InterActive Corporation CEO Barry Diller defend his Aereo venture’s copyright stance, the two-hour blabfest looked like merely a typical Washington posturing event. It gave Microsoft’s Blair Westlake a chance to promote a new Kinect game controller feature that lets kids play along with Sesame Street telecasts; Amazon lobbyist Paul Misener pitched his company’s Kindle e-reader; both of them asked for ‘Net Neutrality support.
(To the inveterate cynics, the session also provided a reminder to the rich organizations and their PACs that it’s time for some campaign contributions.)
But there may indeed be real ramifications, if only very long term. Rockefeller, as stated in his opening remarks, wants “to know if the emergence of online video will do more than improve content and expand choice.” After taking a dig at “escalating bills” from cable and satellite companies, he smacked “crude” programming and asked how “disruptive technology” can affect the TV industry and consumers.
And that’s where the curious process really begins. We all know the caution about the ugly dangers of watching sausage or legislation being made. In the case of Rockefeller’s hearings, which were allegedly in the works for six months fueled by Silicon Valley interests, here’s the thinking. Rather than invite cable operators, telcos or broadcasters as the first witnesses and establish the battle lines, the Senate Commerce Committee opted to let technology companies lay out their plans. The morning’s fourth witness, Nielsen’s Susan Whiting, was on hand to offer data-filled veracity about the growth and outlook for online video.
Now Rockefeller can use this initial session to put legacy media and telecom companies on the defensive, responding to the promises and visions of this week’s witnesses. They will have to put into the record their survival plans in a realm defined by IAC, Microsoft and Amazon.
Despite the calls, which have been heard for years, about revising the ‘96 Telecom Act, such action is unlikely. (The call by Sen. Dean Heller, R-NV, for FCC oversight hearings is far more probable near-term, although Rockefeller shows no interest in such a probe.)
Several analysts have noted that the ‘96 Act has only one reference to the Internet. A rewrite, especially if it includes Internet clauses, will be a lengthy process in today’s toxic political environment. Among other things, the number of parties - including the Justice Department, Pentagon, Federal Trade Commission and FCC - that want a role in such revisions will be daunting. Even more significantly, legislation which puts any controls on the Internet will send the wrong message to the world. At a time when the U.S. is telling other countries to keep their hands off the Internet, legislation to control the Net would make us look hypocritical.
Any tinkering with the ‘96 Act is likely to generate surgical modifications of portions of the bill, possibly to reflect the changed nature of the industry in the past 16 years: telcos as IT companies, MSOs as multimedia conglomerates; digital startups not even born in ‘96 (think Google, Facebook) with global reach.
The underlying message of Rockefeller’s hearing was accurately that we’re in the midst of historic change. The session does open an official record about the competitive value of Internet video. It’s worth skimming through the nuances during the two-hour set piece (archived here if only to become familiar with get whatever eventually becomes the rubric for “future television.”
But don’t expect any actions in the near video future.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com