Fox and CBS ex parte filings hint that the FCC is going to make major compromises to ‘Unlock the Box’

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC
Image: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Separate ex parte filings by 21st Century Fox and CBS Corp. indicated that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is preparing to back away from his controversial “Unlock the Box” set-top regulation proposal, morphing the NPRM to look much more like the apps-based counter-proposal put forth by the pay-TV industry. 

“The commission representatives indicated that they were seriously considering a revised approach to this proceeding that would ensure that all of programmers’ valuable content would remain inside of, and under the control of, apps developed exclusively by multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) with whom programmers have a direct contractual relationship,” said Fox, in its ex parte (PDF) detailing August 15 and 17 meetings it had, alongside the Walt Disney Company, with Jessica Almond, a rep from Wheeler’s office.  

“The commission staff also stressed that third party platforms, when distributing these MVPD apps, would be required to honor and abide by all of the terms and conditions set forth in programmers’ licenses with MVPDs,” Fox added. 

Describing its own meeting with Almond on August 10, CBS said (PDF) the discussion centered around a “revised approach” that would “help ensure that our valuable content and services remain inside of, and under the control of, MVPDs with whom we have a direct contractual relationship for the distribution of our product. This approach would also mean that third-party devices and platforms would have to honor and abide by all the terms and conditions set forth in programmers’ agreements with MVPDs, as well as any other restrictions pertaining to our content that may not be covered by such agreements.”

An FCC rep told FierceCable’s that the agency has no comment. 

In February, FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to advance the “Unlock the Box” NPRM, which would require pay-TV operators to furnish third-party device makers like Google, Amazon and TiVo with three information streams programming information, programming permissions such as the ability to record and TV programming itself.

The plan has been rigorously contested by the pay-TV industry, which has garnered key constituencies ranging from Congress to the programming industry. 

However, perhaps the most important win has been the turning of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted to advance “Unlock the Box,” but who has backed away from the NPRM in recent months, stating publicly that it needs major alterations. 

For more:
- read this Bloomberg BNA story
- read this 21st Century Fox ex parte (PDF)
- read this CBS Corp. ex parte (PDF)

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