Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Consumer Preferences Steadily Shift to Streaming Video

During the second half of 2022, the percentage of U.S. households with a pay TV subscription (think: "cable") fell below half for the first time. When presented with the choice between accessing a specific show on a linear channel or a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service, consumers increasingly opt for the latter – and not just to avoid ads: younger Americans, in particular, "emphasize that SVOD is the place where they already watch shows most of the time." And speaking of SVOD, one analyst expects SVOD services to add 40 million new subscriptions in 2023 – an impressive feat given current economic conditions.

Indeed, each passing week seemingly provides additional evidence that consumers prefer their video streamed – and that, as a result, in 2023 no justification exists for regulations that single out traditional providers of video content. Far from gatekeepers, cable operators and other facilities-based Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) find themselves uniquely stymied by legacy rules predicated upon marketplace conditions that simply do not exist today.

In Comments and Replies filed in the 2022 Communications Marketplace Report proceeding, Free State Foundation scholars (1) documented the rapid consumer migration from traditional MVPDs to Internet-based alternatives, and (2) and argued persuasively that, consistent with its statutory responsibility to identify "laws, regulations, [and] regulatory practices [that]... pose a barrier ... to the competitive expansion of existing providers of communications services," the FCC should take swift steps to eliminate outdated and one-sided carriage- and equipment-related rules that constrain competition, arbitrarily pick winners and losers, and, ultimately and consequently, harm consumers.

However, as I pointed out in "On Video, the FCC's Competition Report Falls Short," a January 2023 Perspectives from FSF Scholars, the ensuing Report failed to articulate an appropriate deregulatory agenda in response to the markedly transformed video programming landscape that it described. (Keep in mind, too, that that Report focused on the years 2020 and 2021 – a lifetime ago given the pace at which video distribution is evolving.)

Going forward, Free State Foundation scholars will continue to highlight data points compelling Commission deregulatory measures that afford every participant in the vibrantly competitive video programming marketplace an equal opportunity to compete.