TELEVISION LOCKDOWN IN PROGRESS

The FCC has proposed draft regulations on two issues:

(1) Beginning July 1, 2004, all new televisions with 36” screens or larger must include digital receivers; in 2007, all new televisions must include digital receivers.

(2) The digital receiver will be required to include copy protection technology, making it impossible to copy digital programs.

What does it mean? Well, the broadcasters, studios, and hardware manufacturers each have ways to extract more money from you, if they can make your existing television equipment obsolete. There will still be regular, non-digital transmissions for a long long time, but the exciting stuff will be delivered digitally to tempt you into buying new hardware and signing up for digital services.

I’ve seen a theory that the government is the moving force behind this because it wants to auction off the TV broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers – it expects to make $70 billion, income that’s already been built into the federal budget. It has to make it mandatory because nobody’s very interested – consumers aren’t buying the digital TVs, broadcasters and cable systems aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to pay for reconfiguring for digital broadcasts, and the public seems pretty happy with analog TVs.

The pressure from the studios has ensured that you might not be able to record any of the digital broadcasts – it’s not clear whether this will even allow you to tape a show to watch at a more convenient time, much less take a copy to watch at a friend’s house.

Oh, and anything you buy during the next few years is at risk of turning out to be incompatible with the copy protection technology.

So let’s recap.

— This is technology that won’t take off until there is some consumer demand for it.

— The demand won’t be there until broadcasters and the entertainment industry start delivering compelling digital content.

— The broadcasters and entertainment industry don’t want to incur the expense of delivering digital content until consumers have bought lots of digital TVs.

— The entertainment industry refuses to deliver digital content unless the digital equipment has enormously unappealing features.

— So the proposed solution is a requirement that consumers buy digital equipment, in the crippled form demanded by the movie industry, regardless of whether you want it.

Kinda sounds like the recording industry, doesn’t it? As a consumer, I’m not going near the stores for television hardware until the dust starts to settle.