Entertainment Industry

Category: National Association of Broadcasters

FCC's Genachowski pushes putting TV political ad costs online

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski
LAS VEGAS — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said broadcasters who resist the regulatory agency's efforts requiring television stations to put detailed information online about political advertising are "against technology, against transparency and against journalism."

Genachowski, speaking at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention here, was making the case for a proposal that the FCC will vote on later this month that would require stations to post online the rates they charge politicians for commercials.

Congress already requires TV stations to make such information available to the public, but the idea of moving it from the file cabinet to the Internet is proving to be a hard sell with broadcasters.

"Despite the proud history of broadcast journalism and the many innovative products broadcasters deploy today to harness digital technology to inform, explain as well as entertain, broadcasters and a few others have strongly resisted online disclosure," Genachowski said.

The FCC chairman also took issue with those who have questioned whether the agency has the authority to force broadcasters to disclose what a candidate paid for a specific ad.

"Congress explicitly requires broadcasters to 'maintain, and make available for public inspection, a complete record of a request to purchase broadcast time that is made by or on behalf of a legally qualified candidate,'" Genachowski told a packed room, adding that the FCC is "explicitly charged" with enforcing those rules.

Initially, only TV stations that are affiliates of or owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the top-50 markets will be required to put political spending data on the Web. The new rule, if passed, would go into effect by late summer or early fall at the latest, still in time for the 2012 general election.

Other stations in smaller markets around the country would have up to two years after the rule change goes into effect to post political advertising information online.

Many broadcasters are against disclosing specific commercial rates online for fear it will hurt them competitively. Even though such information is already available to the public, NAB President Gordon Smith said "it is a fundamentally different thing when you keep it in your station versus putting it online." Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon, added that if the FCC wants full transparency, then cable and online platforms should also be required to disclose commercial rates.

Alan Frank, the president of Post-Newsweek Stations, said broadcasters are trying to find a compromise by providing information on how much candidates and political action committees spend on TV stations without saying what specific shows were bought at what price.

"We think it will create more confusion than it will help," Frank said of providing the nitty-gritty of specific program rates. He questioned the significance of whether a spot was bought on the "six o' clock news" or on "Wheel of Fortune."

Broadcasters seem resigned to the increasing likelihood that they will lose this battle.

"Who can be against mom, apple pie and the American way of transparency?" cracked Smith.


Spanish-language stations dodge bullet on campaign spending rule

— Joe Flint


Top TV lobbyist warns telecom industry 'wants us out of the game'

Gordon Smith

LAS VEGAS -- National Assn. of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith warned broadcasters that the telecommunications industry "wants us out of the game."

In his opening remarks at the annual NAB convention here in Las Vegas, the broadcasting industry's top Capitol Hill lobbyist said broadcasters cannot "let down our guard" when it comes to the wireless and mobile industries.

Smith's remarks come after broadcasters scored what most consider to have been a major victory in its fight to hold on to their airwaves. While Congress cleared the way for the Federal Communications Commission to auction broadcast spectrum to wireless companies earlier this year, TV station owners are not going to be forced to sell their airwaves. Broadcasters can voluntarily sell spectrum, although few have indicated a desire to do so.

A former Republican senator from Oregon, Smith cited Silicon Valley's win over Hollywood in getting SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation killed as a sign that "we should never rest on our laurels."

"The idea behind SOPA and PIPA was simple and straightforward: Don't steal our creative content," Smith said. But Silicon Valley changed the debate in Washington and won the battle. "Shockingly, 'thou shalt not steal,' became 'do not censor the Internet,' " he said.

"The Googles and the Wikis," Smith said, used their medium to "create a powerful megaphone to change forever how battles are won, or lost, inside the beltway." 

Smith also took shots at cable and satellite operators who complain about paying broadcasters so-called retransmission consent fees in return for carrying their signals.

"Of the top 100 prime-time shows, 95 of them are on broadcast TV, not cable networks," Smith said, adding that the "cable and satellite lobby's notion of market failure is simply false."

The FCC is currently reviewing retransmission consent rules and many cable operators are trying to make it more difficult for broadcasters to pull their signals from pay-TV distributors if a new deal can't be reached right away. Earlier this month, Tribune, parent of the Los Angeles Times, took its channels including KTLA-TV in Los Angeles off of satellite broadcaster DirecTV for a few days until a new pact was signed.

Smith also said broadcasters need to be more aggressive in creating mobile platforms.

"Delivering live, local and national news, sports and our great shows, to viewers on the go -- this is where our business is going," Smith predicted.


FCC can auction spectrum, but will broadcasters sell

FCC Chairman and top broadcaster lobbyist clash over spectrum

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Gordon H. Smith, President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters. Credit: National Association of Broadcasters.

FCC can auction spectrum, but will broadcasters sell?

 CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves

When it comes to parting with their spectrum, many broadcasters have the same attitude Charlton Heston had when it came to his rifle: The government can pry it from their “cold dead hands.”

On Friday, Congress cleared the way for the Federal Communications Commission to auction off some of the airwaves that broadcasters use to transmit their programming to wireless companies.

The proceeds would go toward building a new national network for law enforcement and public safety workers and toward paying for an extension of payroll tax and unemployment benefits.

Now comes the hard part: actually getting the spectrum, which has been valued at $25 billion, back from broadcasters to sell.

Even though the potential cut for broadcasters from the sale is $1.75 billion, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of excitement about the idea.

“We have no intention of giving up spectrum,” said Alan Frank, president and chief executive of Post-Newsweek Stations, a broadcasting group that owns stations in several big cities, including Detroit, Houston and Miami.

David Smith, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which operates 74 stations around the country, said he “hasn't heard of any broadcaster who has said they have anything for sale.”

The big networks seem to share that view. Although none would comment publicly, executives at Fox and NBC indicated they had no desire to sell any of their airwaves. CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves has previously said his company wants to keep all its spectrum.

“It would hurt our business,” Moonves said when asked last year at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention if he would consider parting with some of CBS' airwaves.

Some broadcasters of independent and small-market stations could be game. Bert Ellis, president of Titan Broadcasting, which owns KDOC-TV Channel 56 in Los Angeles, told the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology last June that his company might be willing to sell some of its spectrum.

In Los Angeles, there are several small independent stations that cater to ethnic groups including Asians and Latinos. The National Assn. of Broadcasters worries that if they sell, local communities would suffer.

“The stations likely to sell — if any — are the ones that offer truly niche programming serving a melting pot of immigrant populations,” said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the broadcasters group. “The notion that an ABC or CBS affiliate would voluntarily choose to go out of business to help solve an alleged spectrum crunch is ludicrous.”

Not everyone paints such a grim picture. The Wireless Assn. and the Consumer Electronics Assn. said this week that “only a very small percentage of the nation’s broadcast stations need participate in the auction in order to address the nation’s broadband spectrum shortage.”

Philip Weiser, dean of the University of Colorado Law School and a former telecommunications advisor for the Obama administration, said he expects smaller broadcasters to try to have their cake and eat it too by sharing spectrum.

For example, one TV station could sell its spectrum and then partner with another station and share airwaves. Although that would not appeal to a big broadcaster, smaller mom-and-pop TV stations might be more willing to embrace such an option.

“It is a huge opportunity for them,” said Weiser, adding that such a practice would allow for a more efficient use of spectrum and would give broadcasters who choose to sell a “hefty profit.”


Verizon Wireless in $3.6 billion spectrum deal

FCC Chairman and NAB chief clash over spectrum

An offer TV stations can't refuse

-- Joe Flint

Image: CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves at the Producers Guild Awards. Credit: Associated Press

FCC Chairman Genachowski and top lobbyist for broadcasters clash over need for a spectrum auction

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and the top lobbyist for broadcasters disagreed over the need for a spectrum auction during back-to-back speeches at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, a gathering that brings together top television executives and Washington lawmakers and lobbyists.

At issue was the FCC's desire to reclaim some of the airwaves, or spectrum, broadcasters use for next-generation cellphones and tablet devices such as Apple's iPad. The FCC and some telecommunications companies have argued that there is a shortage of spectrum on the horizon and a solution is for broadcasters to voluntarily auction off some of their spectrum.

Citing the rapid growth in the use of phones and tablets to view content, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told NAB attendees that there is a "spectrum crunch."

"We need to free up more spectrum for mobile broadband," he said. If no action is taken, he added, then the United States will fall behind the rest of the world.

"Other countries -– our global competitors -– are focused on mobile opportunities in a way that simply hasn’t been true in the past.... They are on our tail," Genachowski said.

But minutes after Genachowski finished speaking, NAB President Gordon Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon, fired back, saying the issue is "more investment in towers and infrastructure and receiving standards that maximize the use of the huge swaths of spectrum that wireless carriers have already been allocated."

Smith dismissed the idea of a spectrum shortage, arguing that outside of heavily populated cities such as New York and Los Angeles, spectrum, or the lack of it, is not an issue.

"Why should people in Kentucky have their local stations' signal potentially downgraded so urbanites in Manhattan can have a faster download of the app telling them where the nearest spa is located?" Smith cracked.

While Genachowski has stressed that he wants broadcasters to volunteer to auction spectrum, Smith and the industry don't believe him. Noting that broadcasters returned spectrum two years ago as part of their conversion to digital television, he said, "We already gave at the office."

In an interview with Smith at the convention, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves indicated his company is not going to volunteer to return any spectrum.

"It would hurt our business," he said.

One of the concerns of broadcasters is that spectrum auctions could make the airwaves more crowded and lead to their signals being degraded. 

"This endangers our digital future, and violates President Obama's promise to prevent a world of digital haves and have-nots.

Genachowski, in his remarks, said any such disruptions would be minimal.

-- Joe Flint




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