In my latest video I discuss the concerning trend of broadcasters introducing encryption and Digital Rights Management (DRM) to ATSC 3 broadcasts in the United States. This move, while seemingly about preventing piracy and illegal re-transmission of signals, could significantly limit consumers’ ability to consume content in the way they want.
While consumers can watch ATSC 3 content live on next-gen certified televisions, they may face restrictions when trying to use apps like Plex or Channels for DVR recordings or outside-the-home viewing. There’s also the looming question of whether an Internet connection might be required to watch broadcast TV in the future.
I suspect that the motivation behind this move is largely to protect their re-transmission fee revenue broadcasters collected on a per-subscriber basis from cable companies and streaming services. Some estimates have it as high as $15 billion annually.
However, this shift towards DRM and encryption raises several questions and concerns. One of the most pressing is whether broadcasters could eventually charge consumers to watch what should be free television. While broadcasters are barred from doing so by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I wouldn’t be surprised to see some broadcasters lobbying the FCC to allow it.
Another concern is the future of free TV content. As networks transition into streaming services, there’s a risk that high-quality content may become exclusive to paid streaming, leaving only local news and less desirable content for free broadcast TV. We’re already seeing examples of NBC, through Peacock and CBS, through Paramount+ offering content exclusive to those streaming apps that are not available on broadcast.
Given these concerns, I believe it’s crucial for consumers to voice their objections to the introduction of DRM in ATSC 3 broadcasts. I recommend reaching out to your senators and representatives, particularly those who have shown interest in accelerating the rollout of the ATSC 3 standard, to bring this issue to their attention.
Since this video was uploaded I heard from a bunch of viewers who were recently impacted by this change. Here’s what Matthew Mello sent to me on Twitter this morning:
Here the Comcast owned affiliate encrypts their ATSC 3 over the air signal making it more difficult to tune for free. If you want to DVR content or watch on a phone you’ll have to subscribe to cable to get those features – with Comcast picking up subscription AND retransmission fees.
There’s a reason the FCC used to limit media ownership in a market!
As a consumer and a tech enthusiast, I’m keeping a close eye on these developments. If DRM gets activated where I live I’ll be sure to share my experiences and continue to advocate for consumer rights in the broadcasting industry. Until then, I encourage everyone to stay informed and take action to protect our access to free over-the-air TV.