FCC on Verge of Giving Online Video Providers a Key Ruling

Tom Wheeler - P 2013
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With votes coming any day now, the Federal Communications Commission could be primed to begin a process that would give online video providers like FilmOn and Aereo access to some of the advantages enjoyed by cable and satellite TV services.

In October, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler expressed support for modernizing the interpretation of "multichannel video programming distributor" so that it is technology-neutral. Online video providers hope that it's the first move towards allowing them compulsory licenses to broadcast programming or at least, open up a right to negotiate retrans fees in good faith.

This morning, Politico ran a report that indicates that Wheeler has gotten support by two Democratic Commmissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel. The website indicated that "two GOP commissioners would like to make edits to the rulemaking, and discussions are still going on. But right now it looks more like a done deal with three Democratic votes."

FilmOn, which like Aereo has locked horns with broadcasters and has met with FCC staff, tells The Hollywood Reporter that it is also confident that three votes have been locked up with a potential unanimous decision coming.

Of course, as our earlier report indicated, the details could matter as broadcasters fight to ensure compensation as well as syndication exclusivity.

Fox, CBS, Disney and other broadcasters have fought the change and have even hinted at legal action. Fox told the FCC, "Extending the definition of an MVPD to nontraditional distribution platforms, such as online distributors, ... raises a host of regulatory and practical issues, including whether the FCC’s regulation of MVPDs can be extended to the Internet without an explicit Congressional directive to do so."

Aereo itself is in bankruptcy, but has based its plan to emerge from Chapter 11 largely on what the FCC decides. In the company's bankruptcy petition, Aereo's lawyer wrote, "If the FCC elects to permit internet transmission of local linear broadcast channels, then the Debtor, assuming its continued viability, expects to be able to operate profitably within that framework."

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner