Hill Takes Shot at Smithsonian On Demand

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The House Administration Committee held an oversight hearing Thursday on the Smithsonian's VOD joint venture with CBS' Showtime and Smithsonian On Demand, making it clear it was concerned about the exclusivity Showtime got.

The committee is concerned about the contract's exclusivity clause, which limits access to Smithsonian material by professional filmmakers. The committee had asked for a copy of the contract, but had received only a redacted copy, with Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small citing a confidentiality agreement.

Small Thursday supplied an unredacted copy of the contract, but the committee said it would keep it confidential.

The committee made it clear that it was concerned with the exclusivity granted Showtime in exchange for which the Smithsonian got cash and a piece of the channel.

Committee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) cited the "potential risks involved with curtailing use of the Smithsonian collections by filmmakers, rival networks, journalists, and shcolars, as proposed by the Smithsonian on Demand venture."

Ehlers was also unhappy that Small had not vetted the deal with authorizing and appropriations committees before striking it.

"This committee must insist," he said, "that this institution put the needs of the public before its own needs to explore new sources of revenue when those income sources limit the public's access to the nation's attic."

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