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Free TV Not on its Deathbed… In Case You Were Worried

The FCC recently clarified its position on broadcast TV after a lot Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about whether broadcast spectrum would be reallocated for wireless broadband use. Here’s an excerpt from the Multichannel News article covering the FCC’s statement.

Phil Bellaria, the lead staff member developing the FCC’s spectrum-reclamation plan, told Multichannel News that broadcasters have been arguing against a worst-case scenario that is no longer on the table, if it was ever considered. That scenario — which would have meant broadcasters no longer having the bandwidth to broadcast in HD (or do mobile TV) — never got past the discussion stage, he said, after the FCC got the message about the value of high-definition programming.

While spectrum concerns are entirely valid, I can’t help but wonder if it was more than bandwidth fueling the fear that free TV might be on its way out. The success of free TV on the Internet has not only made people believe that all content should be free; it’s also had the odd effect of making a lot of people believe that what is already free today will soon be snatched away. Much of the argument seems to come from an assumption that since cable and telecom operators require subscriptions to access their content online, the same will soon happen with online purveyors of traditionally free broadcast TV content. (online purveyors, aka Hulu) But in reality, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If Hulu suddenly started charging for core content, wouldn’t most consumers just leave?

Television distribution models are in for a lot of change over the next several years, but that doesn’t mean that free TV is going away. It’s the appetizer to an entrée of premium content. We may get free TV in different ways in the future, but I have a hard time imagining that it’s in danger of disappearing any time soon. Maybe the latest statements from the FCC will help put others’ fears to rest.