The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 8, 2012

Our View: Television times are changing

The Free Press

— It's a battle of Titans playing out over the airwaves and pitting media giants.

In one corner is Dish Network, whose Hopper set-top box can record a full week of prime-time broadcasts automatically and allow people to play back shows without commercials.

In the other corner are major television networks CBS, Fox and NBC. They filed lawsuits accusing Dish of violating their copyrights and undermining free over-the-air TV by encouraging people to watch fewer ads.

The networks know they are unlikely to get relief from the courts. In 1984, the Supreme Court rejected Hollywood's attempt to kill the Sony Betamax video recorder. Ever since the networks have sought relief from Congress and the courts to block more advanced recording technology -- all to no avail.

In the meantime, the networks are threatening to block Dish customers from receiving their programming by not renewing contracts with Dish. This week Gannett Broadcasting, parent company of KARE 11, said Dish had to pay massive penalties or it would not renew its contract. It's a move several networks are making, meaning Dish customers may either have to pay higher rates for Dish if it agrees to pay the penalties or see more network channels removed from Dish.      

Having the media giants battle it out in the private market -- rather than seeking court or government intervention -- is the proper arena.

Changing technology has forced radical market changes for many industries, including newspapers.

The battle between networks and Dish may bring benefits to consumers. Pay-TV rates have risen dramatically -- 60 percent in the past nine years. And some content providers -- such as ESPN -- are reaping big bucks by charging premium prices to cable and satellite TV providers.

As the amount of free or low-cost programming through Netflix and online sources grows, pay-TV providers will have to become much more sensitive to costs they pass onto their customers      

Consumers are increasingly finding advertising-free TV attractive, whether they skip through commercials on their DVR recorder or have it done automatically by providers such as Dish.

Technological advances can't be stopped and shouldn't be limited by government. The makers of TV content and pay providers will have to find new business models as they fight it out in the Wild West of changes in technology and viewer habits.