Everything you know about getting your video on the air is about to change–for better or for worse, depending on who wins the lobbying war in Washington, D.C.
As you read this, Congress is preparing to vote on sweeping telecommunications laws. These laws will not only determine whether you can get your programming to the American public or not, they’ll also decide who can ride on the information superhighway, and who can’t.
Here at Videomaker we’re fighting to keep the air waves and the infobahn open to all of us. Legislation that expands our ability to express ourselves is fundamental to democracy–the proposed legislation is no exception.
As videomakers we recognize video as a vital means of self-expression; the question is, does Congress? In truth, legislators will vote upon this all-important legislation with little understanding of what individual videomakers in America today can do in the area of video production.
We need to let them know–and fast.
If we don’t, we will find ourselves and our programming off the air, permanently detoured from the information superhighway.
Open Access Delivery
Given all the hype surrounding the infobahn, you may not think that’s such a bad thing. But think again. Imagine the U.S. postal service in a world where only a very few people can read and write. There would be no need for such an “open access” service–because only that chosen few would need it. Why bother selling stamps or installing postal drop boxes in an illiterate world?
Our founding fathers knew better. They dreamed of a literate America, where everybody has messages to send and receive. So they provided open access to the delivery system, that is, the U.S. postal service. Without access to the post office, would this be a democracy?
The same principle applies to the telephone; anyone who can talk can use the phone system.
Video keeps on getting cheaper and easier to produce, and it’ll keep on getting cheaper and easier. Before long, people will find it easier to send video than to send print. We’ve experienced that futuristic phenomenon here at Videomaker already. We print and mail 65,000 copies of this magazine each month; but we make only one copy of The Videomaker TV Show each month, which is then broadcast via satellite to thousands of viewers.
But we’d much rather millions of viewers see our TV show. We’re not happy with our level of access. We’d like it to be available on every TV. Wouldn’t you like that for your productions?
This will be possible–if Congress votes for it.
Write a Letter
Congress will soon vote on your ability to send video to viewers. Let’s help make that vote an informed one. Let our politicians know how far video production has come and how far you can go with it, given the opportunity.
Congress needs to know that you want to distribute your work. So write a letter like the one below and send it to the Congressional leaders listed at the end of this column.
Dear Members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance,
As video producers, we’ve struggled for years to convince the various distributors in the TV and video industry to air our programming.
The broadcast networks, cable networks, independent TV stations and video cassette distributors represent bottlenecks that frustrate many of us. We must work with a variety of agents, distributors and/or syndicators to delivery our product to the market, the living rooms of America.
These gatekeepers of the air waves are selective and the competition is fierce. Few of us ever pass these gatekeepers to gain access to the TV audience.
Now, the coming 500-channel universe offers a chance for more Americans like us to pass through those gates. Although few of us have spent much time contemplating a different model, we understand there is a possibility that we may soon become “video content suppliers” in an environment with far fewer gatekeepers. The delivery of our product by telephone companies or 500-channel cable systems is an exciting prospect for us–especially if we can market our programming directly to the consumer.
The regulatory details of common carriage and video dialtone are mostly unfamiliar to us. What we do know is that if we can delivery our product as easily as we can mail a letter, send a package, receive a phone call or access an on-line service, then we would be ready, willing and able to produce video programs to meet the growing demand for diverse programming.
The more gatekeepers there are standing between us and our TV audience, the less diverse the programming we can develop. Why? Because the daunting prospect of pleasing the gatekeepers often indirectly influences the nature of the programming we develop. Why bother to create programming that will never make it to the air?
Some of us have completely given up on pleasing the gatekeepers; others believe the percentages and/or fees the gatekeepers charge to help us distribute our programming are excessive. After all, we are the creators of the product. Without us, there would be nothing to distribute.
But the gatekeepers have the contacts; they work the system, the Television Industrial Complex. So they pocket the lion’s share of profits–a situation many of us programmers deplore.
If, however, we could work with cable operators and/or telephone companies in the same way we work with the U.S. postal service, all this would change. Airing a show would be nothing more than hiring a delivery service to transport our programs to our viewers.
We could produce more diverse programming serving narrower niches–from hot air balloonists to the learning disabled. We could generate more revenue, allowing us to invest in new video production technology and employ more staff.
Video is everywhere in America today–and technology just gets better and better. Equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars yesterday, now costs only thousands. Video cameras and editing gear are within the reach of all Americans. Small video businesses are springing up all over the country. Now is the time to create regulation that allows everyone to participate in the TV system.
Everyone agrees this TV system could use some reformation. If Americans could gain access to the Information Superhighway as easily as we access the U.S. postal service or the telephone network, we could provide the sort of excellent programming that would transform TV.
To make this happen, we must include provisions that will protect competition in content markets in legislation such as HR 3636 and S. 1822.
The provisions should either:
1) require common carrier status for telephone company and cable television video services.
2) or mandate that telephone company video dialtone services offer at least 75 percent of the system’s capacity to nonaffiliated entities, on terms and conditions that do not discriminate in favor of the affiliated companies.
We urge Congress to take measures to open access to cable and video platform services, and to insure that carriers are required to provide open access by anyone who seeks the opportunity to offer information services.
Thank you for considering these suggestions.
Send Your Letters To:
Chairman Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Washington, DC 20510-6125
Chairman Subcommittee on Telcommunications and Finance
House of Representatives
H2-316 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6119
And don’t forget to write to your local state senator, too.
Matthew York is the Publisher/Editor of Videomaker magazine.