CBS Claims It Will Pull All Content Offline Unless It Can Be An Anti-Competitive Ass

from the baby-talk dept

Contract disputes between cable companies and broadcasters have gotten increasingly ugly as programmers demand more and more money for the same content. These retransmission fee fights often result in consumers not only losing access to content they’re paying for, but it places the consumer in the position of PR pinata, as each side tries to get consumers annoyed at the other guy. After a few months of bickering, on-screen tickers and blacked out content, the two sides usually agree to a new confidential contract, which then winds its way to the end consumer in the form of yet another cable bill rate hike.

But there’s been another troubling aspect to these fights that almost stumbles into net neutrality territory.

Back during a 2010 contract debate between News Corporation and Cablevision, News Corp. took the unprecedented step of blocking all Cablevision broadband customers from accessing Fox content online, whether they subscribe to TV or not. Viacom did the same thing last year when it blocked all CableONE broadband customers (via an IP range block) from accessing Viacom content online. In other words, broadband customers who may even be paying for TV through another provider (like satellite), still found themselves caught in the crossfire, unable to access publicly-available content online.

It’s a muddy practice that stumbles somewhere between a net neutrality violation and vanilla jackassery. And it’s one of several problems the FCC is trying to resolve after Congress directed the agency to put an end to these shenanigans and re-examine what constitutes “good faith” negotiations after the industry failed to self regulate. As the FCC ponders action, CBS apparently thought it would be a good idea to start throwing threats around. In a recent filing with the FCC (pdf), CBS basically states that should the FCC ban this behavior (which CBS has also engaged in), the broadcaster will take its ball and go home:

“Local broadcast stations have a duty to transmit programming for free, over-the-air. They have no obligation to make any of that programming or any other content available online. The fact that many stations choose to do so for free as a routine business practice is in stark contrast to other content providers, including online newspapers and other media providers such as Netflix and Amazon that place their content behind paywalls.”

CBS of course made a similar threat during the Aereo trial, stating they’d be pulling all broadcast television off the air if the company didn’t get what it wanted (in that case, Aereo dead, in this case, a spineless FCC). From there though the threat gets clearer. Stop us from obnoxiously punishing paying customers for our own inability to get deals done in a civil fashion, CBS warns, or the future of television will die!:

“Prohibiting a broadcaster from limiting access to customers of an MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] with which it is having a dispute in order to protect its negotiating position would be a strong disincentive for stations to make their content available online as a general practice.”

In other words, nobody will put content online if the FCC prohibits companies from engaging in asinine behavior that hurts paying customers. But CBS apparently didn’t get the memo that they no longer have the power they used to. In the new internet video era there’s a little something called competition. No longer can CBS sit on its legacy throne, engaging in anti-competitive behavior, flinging threats and pouting without repercussion. With streaming services like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon all vying for consumer attention via original programming, a broadcaster pulling its content offline is a one-way ticket to irrelevance.

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Comments on “CBS Claims It Will Pull All Content Offline Unless It Can Be An Anti-Competitive Ass”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

"Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

They should absolutely follow through, pull their content from online offerings. In fact they should remove their content entirely, both online and over the air, to really drive the point home of how there’s no competition in their field at all, which means people either accept their terms, or go without entertainment at all.

That’ll certainly show their (former) customers.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: "Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

+1 Insightful, because you took the words right out of my keyboard.

Screw CBS. Screw Disney. Screw all of these asshats.

The world would be a better place without their antiquated, racist, misogynistic programming where the highlight of such piss poor programming has a show where two people are battling a hacker by using a single keyboard together.

I’m so looking forward to the day where the Emmys and Oscars are battled out between Amazon and Netflix original broadcasts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

I’m so looking forward to the day where the Emmys and Oscars are battled out between Amazon and Netflix original broadcasts.

They could lose out to some ad-hoc group of people publishing on their own site, or via Youtube, such as Star TrekNew Voyages. It is no longer necessary to have the involvement of a large company to produce a T.V series.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

…I’m so looking forward to the day where the Emmys and Oscars are battled out between Amazon and Netflix original broadcasts…

I’m surprised you didn’t include Grammys in your comment 🙂 We’ve been slapping that industry around awhile!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

“I’m so looking forward to the day where the Emmys and Oscars are battled out between Amazon and Netflix original broadcasts”

I’m so looking forward to the day where the Emmys and Oscars are finally acknowledged by the public for what they really are: a self-serving promotion founded, financed, and run by the same big Hollywood studios that essentially put themselves on both the giving and the receiving end of these so-called “awards”.

When Amazon and Netflix start receiving anything more than a possible token showing at these awards, it just means that they have finally become part of this circlejerk.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Oh by all means, don't let me stop you from blowing your own foot off."

where the highlight of such piss poor programming has a show where two people are battling a hacker by using a single keyboard together.

Oh MAN but you got that right! That’s like my favorite example of how bad TV is at getting computers right. My dad was watching that show when I came over one day, so I watched a few minutes until that scene. I actually did a spit take and burst out laughing at how stupid they were… and remember, the lady in the scene is SUPPOSED to be some kind of Uber-genius.

TheResidentSkeptic says:

At least they won't have to worry

about cord cutters anymore.

The executives can be happy in their 1950’s world of 3 channels..

Although the inevitable outcome does scare the hell out of me… thousands of CBS workers all losing their jobs, watching their pension funds being decimated by all the golden parachutes filling the skies over their heads..

Geno0wl (profile) says:

Please do this

This is literally just threats and bluster. CBS is acting as if they don’t make money from online content. Which nobody with any business acumen would take seriously.
If they were loosing money from online content, they would have pulled their content a long time ago. If they were loosing money and still were chugging along months and months later with the same business model and no changes…then CBS online should pull their content regardless of what the FCC is doing.
But they won’t, because $$$$$$$$$

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Please do this

Exactly this! They’re not martyrs for providing content online. Like it or not, in a few years that’s pretty much all they’ll be serving, save for a few “traditional broadcast” holdout instances where online access isn’t so good for reliable video streaming. At that time they’ll be crying the exact opposite, that broadcast content is really expensive and that they should be allowed to drop those folks.
These threats are childish and that multiple broadcasters have already followed through with blocks with relative impunity just helps drive home the point that a regulator needs to step in. Quite like two bickering kids at a kindergarten.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Please do this

Very true. The only reason I haven’t switched to 100% online TV is the crappy DSL and no competition for online broadband where I live. CBS is arguably the WORST at making their shows easy to watch online. Any time I miss an episode of Survivor for some reason, it’s a pain to try to watch online due to the combination of crappy DSL + crappy CBS online streaming.

Andy says:

Re: Re: Please do this

I actually live in the UK and we have a thing called freeview which is a digital broadcast system , this has been upgraded and upgraded again to include HD content then to includ online players like netflix and bbc iplayer, where i can watch live tv and pause and rewind and even using the same guide watch the last weeks episode if i missed it.

The UK broadcasters fund it with help from the government but realistically they are in the process of using the internet to provide a better tv viewing experience, i don’t use it much but most people do use it all the time and it is completely free to use although you have to buy a freeview box which costs under $200, but which right now supplies almost 100 channels, some rubbish but some that show old movies or documentaries etc.

If the US government had, like in the UK, forced the broadcasters to fund the system then the US would not have a problem with cable as you could easily buy the right to access a pay channel on its own on the same box.
Some people would buy cable but it would be those that did not know better and not for the average person. Damn i can even get all the important sports channels for a very small monthly fee if i was a sports nut.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Please do this

You forgot to mention the mandatory annual TV license which funds the BBC, and is required if you watch or record any TV programs as they are broadcast, including over the Internet. Therefore your freeview box costs you £145 a year, even if you never use it to watch the BBC.

Anonymous Coward says:

Personally, I just don’t care what CBS does. I don’t do TV any more. So if they go off line, off air, or cater entirely is totally meaningless to someone who doesn’t use their services.

In essence I have banned them from my viewing habits without nary a threat to do so. Can’t tell you how peaceful my place has been ever since the commercials quit screaming and hollering.

Andy says:

Re: Re:

I actually forgot about advertising and when my wife asked me to watch some part of a show she thought was funny and advertisements came on i was actually amazed as i believed they had removed them all due to people leaving them due to advertisements taking up to 15 minutes and more for every hour you view and disturbing you at the most important parts of a show, unbelievable that they still have adverts and have not grown up and tried to challenge the internet, it is no wonder people are cutting the cord at a faster rate every month and no wonder that places like netflix and youtube and many others are doing such a lot of business.

I honestly thought they had stopped advertising colour me embarrassed for that , i wonder how they can justify this to there customers and why they do not care about how many are stopping watching liveish tv

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Oh please oh please oh please…
Stomp your foot a little harder, and hold your breath a little longer… you see because when you manage to nearly kill yourself with this tantrum you might scare the other dinosaurs into waking up to reality.

Shocking I know, but there is other content out there that can replace you… and holding consumers hostage will motivate them to click 3 more buttons than before and discover a wide world of content you don’t own, don’t control, and puts most of your rehashed crap to shame. Once they discover that, unless you are going to put a chicken in every pot and a new care in every garage, they won’t come back.

Please plunge your viewership numbers into the toilet, be forced to slash your ad rates, then stand before those shareholder who you owe value to and explain why you decided it was a good idea to stick your dick in a hornets nest and pump away wildly.

Just because you could hold the public hostage before, doesn’t mean you can do it now. Prove me wrong, do it again… I triple dog dare you.

Ryunosuke says:

And they wonder....

They wonder why they are losing MILLIONS of subscribers. Even though Cord-cutting is a myth and/or fad. They wonder why this newfangled internet thingy is so popular.

The Legacy cable broadcast companies are like… they are like grandparents with Alzheimer’s and I think it’s time we put them in the old folks home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1000x this. Pirates are consumers who spend more per person than non pirates. They are the people who buy the collectors editions go to the concerts of their favorite bands. They are the ones who have been screaming for better options and getting stuck with half-assed broken solutions that no one expects to even be able to use in another decade based on prior experience. We don’t want to pay a premium to see more commercials. We don’t want to try to watch a TV show from 30 years ago and be told that the video we want to watch is not available in our country. Your content is not as sacred as you want to believe and the longer you dangle the lure out of reach of consumers, the fewer consumers are willing to wait for you to get your act together. You didn’t invent entertainment and people will continue to create it long after your companies have ceased to exist.

alternatives() says:

Re: CBS bluster

When did they last have content anyone watched?

Well there is the show that mentioned in 2014 and was still being talked about here on Techdirt that at least one person claims to watch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cbs has the shittiest online offerings of any of the big companies already. Their “current” content is only available on their site. And only recently have they started liscencing SOME of their shows’ older seasons to places like netflix. I have pirated their shows for years because their accessability has been so horrible.

Andy says:


Sometimes i wish we could force companies to actually do what they threaten, taking there content offline would just mean that there value would be enough that netflix could buy them outright and not have problems with stupid silly threats and massive fees for worthless content with one or two fluke good shows thrown in.

Let them go please whoever can cause them to, there threat is not a threat it is is a reward to all those that have ever fought against copyright maximalists.

John85851 (profile) says:

But why are our shows on pirate sites?

Today CBS threatens to take all its content offline and tomorrow it’ll be complaining why so many of their shows are now on the pirate and file-sharing sites.
Oh, wait, people actually wanted to watch the shows that they took offline and this is the only way to do it? And now CBS and its advertisers aren’t getting anything out of it?

JBDragon (profile) says:

I think Re-Transmition Fee’s are a big scam that shouldn’t be allowed. These Broadcast channels are FREE with a Antenna. They make money from the Ad’s on their own channels. The Cable company’s are doing them a favor and getting their channel out to more people to watch those commercials and make more money per ad.

I had enough of it all and Cut the Cord after paying Comcast for a number of years for TV service. All I pay for now is Internet and Netflix. I get all my Broadcast TV with a Antenna and use a TIVO to record it all. Then I SKIP all their commercials and it doesn’t cost me a penny and 100% legal.

Once in a while I see the dumb banner scrolling complaining how there’s a blackout on DirectTV or Comcast for such and such channel and I just laugh. All this does is get more people to cut the cord and/or pirate. Keep it up and you’ll have no one left to pay.

Quite frankly I think Cable Company’s should just completely stop having Broadcast Channels on their service. Maybe have some type of service. They’ll install a Antenna for you, you just have to be signed up for 1 year or something to cover the cost. Have a Antenna input in the Cable Box that will record all the broadcast channels, along with the cable channels. Now no one is paying Re-Transmition fee’s!!! See how they like that. It would be 100% legal. Each house has their own antenna and DVR.

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