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Market Dynamics and Public Policy Issues in the Video Programming Industry

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In the past 15 years, the successful introduction of new technologies, coupled with changes in government rules, has created strong market forces for fundamental structural change in the video programming industry. About 80 percent of U.S. households subscribe to cable or satellite systems offering multiple channels of programming. These alternatives to broadcast television now attract more than half the total viewing audience, although broadcast television still attracts a majority of viewers during prime-time when popular broadcast network fare is aired. Similarly, movie producers today receive more than twice as much revenue from the rental and sale of video cassettes and DVDs as they do from movie theaters.

At the same time, there has been widespread vertical and horizontal integration in the video programming industry. The industry is increasingly dominated by a small number of firms that finance the development of new programming through a wide variety of arrangements with content providers (including joint ventures and direct ownership), own extensive libraries of existing programming, own a variety of distribution channels for bringing content to the public, and also own retail pipelines such as local broadcast stations and video store chains (and, currently proposed, a direct broadcast satellite system).

These fundamental changes in the market structure affect the public policy issues that Congress faces. Today, there are more pipelines into the home and more distribution networks than ever before, but a limited number of big media players control a large portion of both programming and distribution. This has engendered debate on how well the existing FCC ownership rules address the impact of consolidated ownership of programming and distribution on the public interest goals of diversity, competition, and localism, and whether new rules that re-regulate the industry could or should be formulated that would better serve those goals.