FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Death of Broadcast

With Congress raising indecency fines for broadcast radio and TV to $500,000 per incident -- and at least one Senator (Ted Stevens [R-Alaska]) threatening to regulate cable TV next -- one has to wonder what kind of future lies in store for TV and radio as we know it. Are creative types going to risk "pushing the envelope" knowing that they risk incurring millions of dollars in fines if they offend the wrong people? Even producers of children's programming aren't immune, as we've seen from the recent Spongebob Squarepants and Buster Bunny controversies. It would seem that truly creative people are going to migrate to the least regulated media -- namely the Internet -- while leaving broadcasting for only the safest, least controversial (i.e. politically and socially conservative) programming.

Meanwhile, the anti-censorship Center for Creative Voices has found common ground with the pro-family watchdog group Parents Television Council in supporting a la carte cable TV choices. This way, a family with young children could subscribe to cable TV and get, say, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel without getting MTV. Says Jonathan Rintels of Creative Voices: "In many ways, I think the debate may be between Old School/Old Media vs. Technologically Savvy New School/New Media – that Sen. Stevens, as well as some of his Hill colleagues, push the old Central Command and Control censoring solution for cable because they don’t know/understand the pro-consumer, pro-personal choice/individual freedom technology that’s out there now with more about to come down the pike."

The real concern, though, is not whether the pro-regulation crowd has a clue about technology, but whether they have a clue about the First Amendment...

Most observers believe that the drive to regulate cable TV is unconstitutional and won't fly. Indeed, the FCC recently determined that the movie Saving Private Ryan is not obscene for public broadcast, despite its being filled with obscene language -- further muddling the definition of obscenity. However, in our highly divisive political climate where cultural conservatives appear to be gaining political clout, anything is possible. Sen. Stevens and his colleagues may be "old school," but they have the power.

FOOTNOTE: A blog called Stay Free Daily has dredged up an old PSA from the 1960s urging California voters to oppose pay TV. The 30-second clip is available in BitTorrent and QuickTime versions.

Source: BuzzMachine, unmediated