Jeff Zucker is an AT&T puppet

How do I say it more clearly? Honestly, folks, we need better leadership than this in the seats of media power, and until that happens, we’ll just continue to miss the point, over and over and over again.

At an anti-piracy summit in Washington Wednesday, NBC’s Jeff Zucker actually called for AT&T and other Internet-service providers to install filtering software to, and get this, “weed out pirated content and unclog networks.” This is one of the most dangerous and desperate things I’ve ever heard come out of the mouth of someone who, among other things, is charged with certain responsibilities vis-a-vis the First Amendment. And the REAL PROBLEM is that this line was likely penned by the Telcos, not Zucker or his writers. I mean, come on! “Unclog networks?” Where have we heard that before?

AT&T would LOVE to filter the Web.

Tying piracy to clogged networks is simply ludicrous. The statement serves the best interests of those who want a tiered Internet, and if that happens, we can kiss innovation goodbye.

What Zucker and the other copyright crybabies want is to go back to the good old days, where money is made from the scarcity of content. And in these arguments, everybody overlooks the assumptions that support the arguments in the first place.

Here’s assumption number one: if we can control access to our copyrighted content, people will have to come to us to get it and pay whatever price we think the market will bear. And the underlying assumption of that is that our content is so great that people will follow whatever path we set for them. And, of course, another assumption is that the only value of new technology is multiple ways for us to monetize our content. It is with utter glee that Hollywood views the opportunities before them.

But along the way, something went wrong with the plan — the cash cow formerly known as the audience refused to play the game. Their refusal, however, isn’t demonstrated in stealing property — as Zucker and his friends would have us believe. People have found that they can live without it, and they’ve discovered — in significant numbers — that it’s a lot more fun to make their own stuff than to watch another episode of unoriginal original programming and a thousand commercials.

A Hollywood Reporter article about Zucker’s speech cites an air of desperation from the NBC Universal CEO:

“The unfortunate truth is that today we are losing the battle,” he said as he urged members of the Chamber to join the entertainment industry in a national effort to combat the threat.

“Our unified voices will carry far more weight than the pleas of the individual industries,” he said.

To back up his call, Zucker cited a study by the industry-friendly Institute for Policy Innovation study released Wednesday that found the impact of intellectual property piracy among all the copyright industries is nearly $60 million a year, cost about 373,000 jobs and $2.6 billion in lost tax revenue.

Perhaps in the old days we would believe such numbers, but let’s play the assumption game here again. Firstly, the “Institute for Policy Innovation” is a den of lobbyists, and in this case, you can bet they weren’t paid by the people formerly known as the audience. Hence, these numbers are simply pulled from the sky — built out of full-price scenarios and using audience estimates from God knows where.

And this whole anti-piracy message gets the attention of Congress, because copyright is our number one export. We entertain the world, so Zucker is very likely to get support from Capitol Hill.

When I was in Amman last Christmas, I wrote about street vendors selling DVDs of current movies — videos shot from a camera on a tripod in a theater. They sold them for $1.50 per DVD, and I assume these are some of the criminals that are robbing Mr. Zucker and his friends. I don’t dispute that, but think about this for a minute: Who buys these DVDs? Is it the people who could afford to go to the theater and watch the films?

The argument that, absent the DVDs, these same people will go to the theater to watch the movies is fantasy, and therein lies the rub.

Technology is blowing the whole entertainment world apart, and rather than seek creative — and profitable — solutions, the people who run the giants of the copyright cartel keep trying to pull the whole thing back under their control. They are joined by the giant Telcos, who are their allies in the command-and-control battle in Congress. If the Telcos can create a tiered Web, where only those with deep pockets get the quality bandwidth, then Zucker will have his wish. Bring on those “unclogged” pipes that are filled only with pirated property. While I’m sure he doesn’t think so, Zucker is actually a puppet in the hands of AT&T.

If a tiered Web happens, it will stymie innovation, but it won’t stop the personal media revolution. And this is the real problem that the studios don’t want to consider, because, well, anybody can produce crap.

And here’s the real kicker. The studios won’t make a dollar more than they are today. Not one single dollar.

You can take that to the bank.


  1. […] Terry Heaton says that Zucker followed this up with by asking for telecoms to police and “weed out pirated content and unclog networks” (Heaton then rips that argument to shreds.) […]

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