Nervous Energy

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TV has gotten too big for the small screen. That thing in the corner of the living room can no longer hold it all, as the news of the latest broadband gambits from ABC and CBS makes clear.

In the days of linear-only channels, 24/7 was the buzzword for a full-court media press. The new one is “TV 360,” as NBC is dubbing its fresh philosophy. To be anywhere, you’ve got to be everywhere—on TV, on mobile devices, on the Web. Think symbiotic, not parasitic.

Disney, which has been on the cutting edge of Internet-delivered network fare with Desperate Housewives and Lost, is said to be already talking with telcos about setting up secure Internet delivery systems using their big pipes. CBS has gotten in touch with its Innertube in a big way, too, last week launching a site that could ultimately host full series.

While Washington takes its sweet time figuring out how to accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access, engineer the DTV transition, spur competition to cable and remake ownership rules, media pioneers have decided to fill in the blanks that the FCC and Congress keep avoiding. Normally, we’d applaud when legislators and the commissioners stay away, but there are urgent issues that should command their attention. Technology is moving fast, and Washington had better start leading—or get out of the way.

About six months ago, programmers were talking about protecting their content, insisting they needed it to be safe from Internet pirates before setting full sail into the digital waters. Now producers know they can’t wait until they have an ironclad guarantee before making their wares available in digital. Still, that is an issue on which Washington could and should make a difference.

In the meantime, big content providers are forging new ground and frightening stations whose programing pacts with networks are being ripped to sheds. Those stations provide lucrative content, too. Networks and affiliates need each other. Stations should be partners in network online efforts, and CBS and Fox, particularly, seem to be aiming that way.

There is a new energy about the TV business that we haven’t seen in years, although a good bit of it is nervous energy. It would be helpful if Washington smoothed the way, rather than smothered the process. But until then, let’s let the best ideas roll.

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