The Evolution of Entertainment Consumption and Why It Matters

Yashina Burns
J.D. Candidate 2016, UCI Law

The internet has fundamentally changed the way that the world receives media in all of its forms. With the growth of the internet, the public has unprecedented access to digital information. Whereas media was once restricted to analog formats and airwaves, digital distribution of media is now ubiquitous.

These new and still evolving mediums of entertainment are an expected addition to the modern consumer’s lifestyle now. Movies, television, and music are more frequently found outside the traditional theaters, cable boxes, and iPods due to the ever-rising demand for instant access to entertainment at all times. Newly emerging businesses have begun to challenge what was once the norm in the world of entertainment, and the more traditional entertainment businesses are being forced to come to terms with the reality that they no longer retain the control over the distribution of their wares that they once did.

Now more than ever, the entertainment world is facing revolutionary legal battles as businesses scramble to adapt and thrive in a world where keeping content secure is nearly impossible, and bandwidth is—as reconfirmed during the FCC’s most recent vote—a commodity. Television networks are among the fiercest warriors in the fight to protect content, and so far, they’ve held their ground to some respect. On the one hand, businesses like Netflix and Hulu have been able to work around issues of content protection through legal partnerships with networks. Yet, these networks still struggle with the Aereos or DISH networks of the world. The decision in Aereo did not end the battle to protect network content; rather, it has only opened the door to an inevitable copyright question – when does something broadcasted constitute a public performance?

Even in the realm of music, digital distribution has upset old business models of contracts. ASCAP, BMI and some other major players in the music industry believe that the Consent Decrees need to be modified to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners. With the development of businesses like Spotify or Pandora, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is being forced to deal with questions like whether Consent Decrees need to be modified to permit rights holders to grant ASCAP and BMI rights in addition to “rights of public performance,” especially in consideration of promoting competition and efficiency.

Of course, the FCC’s decision to ensure the internet is a public utility very much affects both of these major issues. As much of the entertainment industry has shifted its competition to the Internet, unrestrained access to the Internet is becoming a commodity as Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon gain unparalleled market-shares and wield the power to distribute bandwidth. Conversely, representatives from businesses like Netflix, Hulu, and Facebook have been largely vocal in the pro-net neutrality debate. More stringent rules are coming into effect with the FCC’s most recent vote, making this the perfect moment to consider the implications of these net neutrality rules and understand both pro- and anti-net neutrality perspectives.

The Entertainment Law Society hopes to use our upcoming symposium as a forum for open, intellectual discussion on these issues. After a long day of studying or writing a brief, many of us find respite in shows, movies and music. The internet is reshaping how we access such entertainment, and the implications of Aereo on television, the regulation of consent decrees in the music industry (and beyond), and the accessibility of spaces in the internet all affect the entertainment we seek in our daily lives. They are not just debates between entertainment businesses and the government – they affect us because we are all consumers of entertainment.

These are crucial points in the evolution of the public’s relationship with entertainment, and this symposium would provide a forum for examining what these developments mean for the future of artists, the industry, and of course, the consumers.