Sinclair exec: Content rights need to be relaxed for the digital age

Multiplatform viewing

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. -- Arduous content rights management protocols, which worked just fine in linear television, are slowing programmers as they stream more and more of their content, said Ben Miller, VP of digital products for broadcaster Sinclair. 

“Content rights, especially in news, are insane,” Miller said Tuesday, speaking at Streaming Media West conference. Miller added that his company’s legal team is in agreement -- the rules need to be relaxed if Sinclair is going to compete aggressively in digital media. 

The message: “You are missing out on the audience. You need to relax some of these obligations,” Miller added. 

The problem is acute for programmers like Sinclair that control very little of their own content. 

Speaking on the same panel alongside Miller, Jeff Tapper, senior VP of engineering for Viacom, noted that his company’s channels -- which range from adult-targeted networks like Comedy Central to kiddie outlets like Nickelodeon -- own much of their programming. 

“There’s very little content we use a full DRM on,” Tapper said.

In the wide-ranging conversation, Miller also said that the flora and fauna of streaming devices has become untenable, and it isn’t cost-effective to program for devices that serve only a small fraction of the market. 

“You have to pick the top 20-25 devices,” he said. “We can concentrate on giving a good experience to 98 percent of the audience and monitoring it and improving it. 

Tapper noted that for Viacom networks, devices and associated apps vary greatly from network to network. The older viewers of Comedy Central, for example, are working adults who can afford state-of-the-art IP devices, while the younger audience of Nick Jr. tends to watch on a lot of older hand-me-down devices. 

“You need to know where your audience is and be in the right place for that,” Tapper said.