Regulators, Mount Up: A Look At IPTV

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Everybody knows you can see anything you want on the Internet. Thus far, the medium has been a bastion of free expression. But already Congress and attorneys look to limit that expression, first through the court system and then the legislature – and this is just the beginning.

Regulators, Mount Up: A Look At IPTV
Television And The Web: The Future Is Now

How long do you think it will take before television, radio, and the Internet completely converge? Do you think the FCC will step in to regulate content, or do you think it will remain in its Wild West State indefinitely? Discuss at WebProWorld.

The convergence of the Web and TV, if wasn’t obvious before, is now an inevitability. What’s not obvious is the future role of the FCC in this televised revolution. As more daring content is scared off to the Web, and conventional media disappears, what will happen to the censors?

While the FCC’s function covers much more than just regulating decency in society, a chunk of the agency may face a situation where public demand (and lack of fine-based revenue) could turn the government watchdogs onto the Internet. After all, the Internet, within the next 10-15 years, will be become our television and radio.

Last week, the FCC smacked CBS with a record fine of $3.6 million for broadcasting an episode of “Without A Trace” that depicted a simulated teen orgy before 10 PM in some areas. That’s $32,500 per CBS station that broadcast the show in the Central and Mountain time zones.

Don’t look for that scene on YouTube (which has its own convergence issues we’ll get to later). Your best bet for offensive (and licensed) TV is, ironically, the Parents’ Television Council, where you’ll find the raunchy clip and a titillating description (Check out the Nip/Tuck petition too for more clips and Penthouse Forum, er, PTC descriptions.)

But actually, the PTC’s ahead of the game. Huge fines like the one levied on CBS are what the WB is hoping to avoid by moving an unedited version of its new show, “The Bedford Diaries” to its Website. You’ll have to go online if you want to see the girls kiss.

The WB is showing that it won’t chance, like other networks, being fined $27, 000 for saying the “S-word” (yes, that’s how the FCC refers to it), or get involved in squabbles over whether it is appropriate to use the word “hamsterbating” before a certain time in the evening. This is precisely the reason shock-jock Howard Stern moved his program out of FCC territory and onto satellite radio.

Both AOL and Microsoft launched IPTV networks the same week FCC announced its round of penalties. AOL’s In2TV network, one would imagine, is not subject to the same scrutiny as Time Warner networks, nor is Microsoft’s German-based network.

Though currently outside the reach of the FCC, online video services have their own struggles – ones where the feds will have to get involved in eventually. YouTube, for example, finds itself in a tug-of-war between network marketers and the same network copyright lawyers.

In just a year, YouTube has grown to stream 30 million videos per day, accessible to everyone. The site already has a degree of self-censorship to avoid the obligatory 18 and over badge, but as users are able to upload at will, things do slip through the cracks.

NBC attorneys pitched a fit over a Saturday Night Live sketch entitled “Lazy Sunday” which was viewed over 5 million times on YouTube, and demanded the clips be taken off the site. But YouTube founder Chad Hurley says that instances like this are not always caused by regular users.

“There’s been a few examples of marketing departments uploading content directly to the site, while on the other side of the company their attorney is demanding we remove this content,” Hurley told the Hollywood Reporter.

It’s only a matter of time before two things: a major media company buys YouTube and other sites like it; and the federal government finds a way to step in and regulate. Lawyers, the public’s more Puritanical side, open access, revenue, and the disappearance of conventional media will demand it.

Watch for headlines like “FCC Levies Record Fine On [insert-IPTV-network here].”

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