Tuesday, December 05, 2006

From Cellphones to TV: This Convergence Thing Ain't No Joke

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a story about Comedy Central's plans to air on prime time TV a show first produced by start-up wireless carrier Amp'd Mobile Inc. Supposedly this is the first time a show originally produced for cellphone distribution will be aired on broadcast television. If you are a WSJ subscriber, you can read "Comedy Central Thinks Show Produced First for Phones Is Ready for Prime Time" here. Of course, it's common now for shows originally produced for broadcast TV to be "broadcast" soon thereafter on cell networks. The latest I read about is the hit "Ugly Betty". I understand on a cellphone Betty looks more like one of the "Desperate Housewives," another cellphone network TV favorite. But who even knew there were shows originally produced for cellphones?

As Richard Nixon was wont to say: "Let me be abundantly clear": Isn't it time to recognize that we live in an age of video abundance? Isn't it time to stop applying different regulatory regimes to different technological platforms based on the name we give the platform over which the video is delivered or the screen on which we watch the content? More abundantly clearly: Isn't it time to get rid of all the regulations applicable to video content and delivery that were developed in an age when consumers had much less choice?

Here's just one paragraph from the WSJ article: "The Comedy Central deal raises to a new level the nascent business of developing TV shows for cellphones, demonstrating that it has potential to become a breeding ground for TV content. It's the latest case of cross-pollination between technologies, with other examples being videogames morphing into movies, like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and Internet videos winding up on cable networks like Current."

The import of this "cross-pollination between technologies" is that the American people have available an ever-increasing amount of content from an ever-increasing number of diverse sources to view or access whenever and wherever they wish on whatever screen they prefer. (Did you hear the one with the punch line, "You can call me 'TV', you can call me 'cable', you can call me 'the Internet', you can call me 'IPTV, or you can call me 'cellphone-cellvideo-cellweb' or 'VOPL-video over powerline' or whatever....? Just don't call the FCC!")

The reality of what's happening in the marketplace today, largely due to rapid technological advances in digital broadband networks and applications, ought to convince policymakers and regulators that media ownership and other remaining video regulations devised in the analog era are woefully outdated. With competition among broadband platform providers for delivery of differentiated content and applications, policymakers ought to understand that so-called "network neutrality" mandates, intended to prohibit differentiation, are completely unnecessary and very counter-productive. Consumers will vote with their eyeballs, eardrums, and mouse clicks when they are dissatisfied.

If the policymakers and regulators don't understand this marketplace reality at a time when content, such as that produced by Comedy Central, jumps quickly from cellphone to TV to the web to cable to satellite and back, the joke will be on us, and the First Amendment too.