Just sit down and do as you’re told

Television used to be something you pretty much had to watch, well… on your television. In one place. All at the same time. But the VCR changed that, and more recently the arrival of devices like the Slingbox have changed it even further, by allowing you to stream recorded TV to anywhere you want over the Internet — and that has made the entire broadcast industry very nervous.

An example of just how nervous came at the Digital Media Summit in Los Angeles, when a representative of Major-League Baseball told Sling Media that it didn’t particularly like the fact that viewers were moving games around and watching them in different places. Why would baseball care? Because the league — like other sporting leagues — sells broadcast rights based on geographical location, which explains why some cities are “blacked out” during the playoffs.

Slingbox threatens that whole structure, which in turn is the financial foundation for much of sport broadcasting. So MLB wants users to pay more for the right to move their programs around. As Carlo points out, however, it’s not like the viewers of those games are doing something illegal — they have already paid their cable or phone company. Why should they have to pay more just because they want to watch it on their laptop in the airport?

In many ways, the TV industry is fighting the same battle as the music industry. Illegal downloading is just the tip of the iceberg — for companies like Apple and record labels like Warner Music, the bigger issue is whether paying customers have the right to move their media to another location, or whether what they paid for was some kind of geographically-restricted (or format-restricted) use. As Mark Evans notes, the real battle is over who controls the media once it is paid for, the consumer or the content industry.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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