The FCC’s announced intention to deregulate cable set-top boxes has sparked a debate on the effect such a change might have on programs targeting minority groups.
Many of the advocacy organizations for diversity in programming are opposing the change. They foresee that universal set-top boxes will give viewers access to digital channels on an equal footing with broadcast and cable. Their concern is that this new competition will drain advertising revenues from existing minority networks, thus stifling the ability of those networks to deliver quality programs. A related fear is that they will face competition for ad time even within their own programs, as technology companies use viewer data from the new boxes in order to place high-value targeted ads in their shows. As Alfred Liggins, the chairman of African-American focused network TV One was recently quoted in the LA Times, “If an advertiser can get our audience for a lot less money with a lot more data … then that devalues our business and devalues our content and puts us in a really precarious situation.”
Those on the other side draw the opposite conclusion from the same premises. They look at the much lower barriers to entry faced by digital content providers over traditional broadcast and cable networks. Add to that the greatly increased ease of access to audiences afforded by a universal set-top box, and the proponents of the rules foresee a flourishing of options for minority audiences of all kinds.
On its part, the FCC has acknowledged its obligations to advance diversity without much in the way of specifics. One can hardly fault the Commission for this, however. The proposed rulemaking was only announced in mid-February. Interested parties are lining up on either side, and the battle to shape (or kill) the rules is just beginning.