What Opening the Set-Top Box Means for AAPI Representation

Last week, 18MillionRising.org submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission, urging the FCC to move forward with its proposal to unlock the cable set-top box. Providing consumers with access to alternative media sources to Big Cable stands to benefit AAPI consumers and content creators alike. Amidst a national conversation about the continued erasure of AAPIs in mainstream media, we share our letter to the FCC in support of a proposal that could help democratize and diversify our media.

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

As an organization dedicated to the political, economic, and cultural empowerment of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, we write to express our concerns regarding access to diverse and culturally relevant programming for cable TV and streaming video consumers. For too long, AAPI voices have been excluded from and misrepresented by popular media. While in recent years we have seen an increase in representation for AAPIs on cable TV, such gains pale in comparison to the diversity fostered by the democratization of content creation and consumption in our digital age.

For these reasons, we write in strong support of your February 18th Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Memorandum Opinion and Order, Expanding Consumers’ Video Navigation Choices. Like you, we are confident that expanding competition in the set-top box market by opening the platform to third-party developers will “lead to more and better programming accessed more easily, especially minority, independent, and international programming.”

AAPI content creators and consumers alike stand to benefit from the opening of the set-top box platform. Not only would the FCC proposal create increased opportunities for individuals to access culturally relevant content and provide a larger audience for independent programming, it would also end the monopoly that cable providers hold over set-top boxes, allowing members of our community to own, rather than perpetually rent, the devices that bring the cable industry nearly $20 billion a year.

We share the commitment to diverse programming voiced by civil rights organizations such as the Asian American Justice Center and OCA: Asian Pacific American Advocates in their March 21, 2016 letter to the FCC. However, we oppose their recommendation for the FCC to “hit the ‘pause’ button” on its set-top box proposal, and challenge their assertion that Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with Big Cable companies ultimately serve the interests of AAPI content creators and consumers.

Increasingly, AAPI consumers are relying on independent content from digital media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine, rather than cable or network TV, to access the diverse and representative content they crave. Across the board, new growth in video media consumption is driven by streaming video rather than television. Young Asian Americans (18-34) are uniquely reliant on new media – digital video made up 24% of their screen time in 2014 compared to 12% of the general population for that age range, an upward trend which by all indications will continue in the coming years. To rely solely on MOUs with Comcast and other cable providers to deliver diverse content to our communities is out of step with the times in which we live. Continuing the status quo of set-top boxes will only serve to restrict the ability of consumers to reach the content they crave.

We know firsthand the limited opportunities that cable TV provides for nuanced and diverse representation of AAPI communities and other communities of color. By unlocking the set-top box and integrating cable and streaming video programming, the FCC’s proposal would help individuals access culturally relevant content and provide a larger audience for independent content creators, all while reducing costs for consumers. For these reasons, we urge the FCC to further pursue its proposal.

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