Consumers deserve better than blocking – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, several networks, including CBS, NBC, and ABC are blocking their online content from being viewed on the new Google TV devices that are being sold by Logitech and Sony.

The networks justify this in part because of a fear that video listings delivered via the Google TV devices will not adequately filter for pirated video content. The more cynical suspicion (which the WSJ article explicitly states) is that the networks have not yet figured out how to monetize this new viewing platform and are holding back their most popular content until they do.

What should not be debatable is that consumers expect to be able to connect any device of their choosing to a home broadband or cable TV connection and use it to access the same content they would if they were looking for it on their home computers or surfing their DVR content.

From a consumer’s point of view, watching video on a Google TV-enabled television should be little different from watching video on a laptop computer. In both cases, a browser is being used to surf online content and make it accessible. Many consumers will undoubtedly be angry if they spend thousands of dollars on one of the new Google TV-enabled televisions only to find that many of their favorite shows are unavailable.

Network using heavy-handed blocking techniques rather than finding new ways to adapt to disruptive business models is not new. Content providers fought against the VCR because it enabled consumers to record live television and play it back later and (more importantly to the networks) fast forward through commercials. It was not until later that they realized the goldmine the VCR represented in terms of the sale of content on video cassettes.

Today, content providers seem to be taking the same “fire, ready, aim” approach to Google TV and the raft of similar devices that will make their way to market in the future. Rather than realizing the potential of the new technology to both enrich consumers’ viewing experiences and the networks’ bottom lines, they are seeking to kill the new technology in its infancy.

As the ongoing Fox-Cablevision dispute illustrates, consumers are the ultimate losers in these fights between content companies on one hand and platform and technology providers on the other.  Consumers inevitably end up paying more for content (in the form of higher cable bills and pay walls) or not getting access to content at all.  Neither scenario benefits the public interest and we would urge the companies to come together to ensure that consumers are allowed to access the content of their choice without restrictions.