TV Week Editorializes for Net Neutrality

Trade paper Television Week came out firmly in favor on Net Neutrality in its editorial today, breaking the odd silence of many in the TV industry over what could impact it dramatically.  The fear, and it is a legitimate one, is that the richest providers of Web content will gain the ability to push aside smaller players. By paying more to get a faster tier of service, bigger companies would be able to propagate their content more efficiently than the little guys...  Congress should act to keep those with more money from having a leg up on the Internet.  Well, maybe the TV industry judges that since it has the most money, net neutrality would not be in its interest?  Link: TV Week.

Moby, Michael Stipe Do the Net Neut Thang

On the steps of the Capitol, Moby, Michael Stipe, and other artists rallied for Saving the Internet.  Link: Net neutrality debate attracts performers.

Right Wing Joins NN Battle

The Christian Coalition' has joined the Net Neutrality fight.  Per Ted Hearn at Multichannel News, it's "another sign that the network-neutrality issue has escaped the lawyer-driven world of communications policy and found a home in the broader political dialogue.  Groups in support of network neutrality formed a coalition that includes left-wing advocacy groups, commercial Web sites with multibillion-dollar market capitalizations and, increasingly, advocacy groups on the political right." Sounds a lot like the anti-Media Concentration Coalition of 2003.  Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

Fighting for an Open Society

Jonathan Turley of George Washington U Law crafts a stinging indictment of the secret and illegal spying ops of the White House, and the Congress's role as an enabler in not opening the spy ops up to public scrutiny or demanding adherence to the law and Constitution.  Turley then turns to the free press as the last check and balance against the stealing away of our liberties and Constitutional system.  We don't usually wade into these waters, sticking to our media knitting, but Turley's final paragraph nicely captures why we care so much about media concentration, censorship, and Net Neutrality.

The Framers gave us a free press as the final safety net if all other checks and balances in the three branches of government should fail. With the failure of both parties in Congress to exercise oversight responsibilities, the importance of a free press has been vividly demonstrated. The public now has a choice. It can live in self-imposed ignorance, or it can fight for an open society.

An open society requires open access to media, so that media's role in our democracy as a check and balance on government is not compromised.  Many will recall in 2003 that Big Media gave the White House a free pass about WMD and other justifications for the Iraq war, for which some like the NY Times and Wash Post have subsequently apologized, and for which our society is now paying a heavy price.  As many observed at that time, the media was too concentrated to adequately act as a check and balance on government power.  And was it coincidence that at this very same time, these media congloms were also seeking favorable government "de-regulation" to permit more huge media mergers and concentrated ownership, constricting even more open access to the media?  Big Media congloms have little motivation to bite the government hand that feeds them or vigorously act as a check and balance on governmental overreaching. Now that its government-licensed TV stations are worth more than its newspaper, would the Washington Post work so doggedly to uncover Watergate today?  Perhaps.  But how hard would military contractor and TV station/network owner General Electric try on its NBC network(s)?  Or Disney owned ABC?  Or Murdoch controlled Fox? 

This week, AT&T and Verizon have been implicated as partners with the government in the huge secret illegal "data mining" of millions of Americans' phone records.  Coincidentally, these two Big Telcos are now beseeching the government for the unfettered power to restrict access to Internet web sites and discriminate against Internet content.   

Should the Internet be under the thumb of these new giant would-be media/Internet gatekeepers who so easily, apparently, violate the law when the government comes knocking?  If they are claiming a role as Internet/media gatekeepers, perhaps they need to study the meaning of "check and balance" and the role of the media in our Constitutional system?  As if we needed yet another reason that the Internet must remain open to all, without discrimination, these Big Telcos and the government just handed us the biggest one of all: protecting free speech in an open and democratic society.  Link: USATODAY.com.

Hey, Time Warner: Walk Away From Adelphia

John Higgins of Broadcasting & Cable urges Time Warner Cable to walk away from its deal to take over Adelphia -- that there's no benefit to increased national scale for cable companies.  We couldn't agree more.  Link: Hey, Time Warner: Walk Away From Adelphia - 5/15/2006 - Broadcasting & Cable.

Henry and Ted's Excellent Adventures in TV are Over

Court TV's Henry Schleiff is out now that the network is being fully absorbed into Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System Division. Schleiff said, "It's impossible to remain an independent out there," because of a lack of leverage with distributors and a lack of recognition by advertisers.  "We've taken it as far as we could," he said. "Being a part of a larger group is essential to taking the next step. Court TV has a bright future." Link: TV Week.  Alas...

And despite it being called Turner Broadcasting System, Ted Turner is now completely out of the media business, other than his ownership of 33 million shares of TWX stock (major stinker).  Instead, Turner will follow the advice he recently gave to the eager TV producer who asked him for advice on getting ahead in the media business, which was "Get into the restaurant business instead."  Ted will focus on his Ted's Montana Grill chain, opening one up in the Time Warner Center in NYC.  One of the last entrepreneurs gone.  If you want to know why the broadcasting business is hurting these days, look around and see if there are any other "Ted Turners" around.  Link here. 

Net Neutrality in another Nutshell

Like David Isenberg in the post below, Amazon's Paul Misener also lays out in plain English why Net Neutrality is in the public interest: Industry executives have talked plainly about prioritizing traffic on the Internet. They say they will not block or degrade service otherwise, but that is not possible if they are prioritizing some content...  The carriers say they would prioritize content based on economic reasons. But if they have that latitude for financial purposes, then they can also do it for political reasons.

A carrier could block access to a labor union site during a dispute. It could block access to a Web site after a special interest group makes a lot of noise about it. It could even block a political site to curry favor with the current administration. All that sounds far fetched, but the whole point is that there is nothing in place to stop carriers from doing it. So why dismantle the protection? Link: E-Commerce News: ECT News Exclusives: Amazon VP Paul Misener Makes the Case for Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality in a Nutshell

David Isenberg expertly distills the debate over Net Neutrality in these few words:  The Internet succeeded largely due to non-discriminatory access. That is what permitted third parties to create (and find markets for) e-mail, the Web, e-commerce, chat, online music, blogging, and virtual-world gaming. With it, there’d be more of the same tomorrow. An Internet that is made discriminatory to save the telcos is likely to remind us of Bruce Springsteen’s song, "57 Channels (and Nothing On)." The problem we should be solving is not how to change the Internet to save the telcos, but how to have a growing and innovative Internet without them. Link: isen.blog.

YouTube - The Death of The Internet?

Check it out, excellent video on Net Neutrality.  Link: YouTube - The Death of The Internet?.

On Net Neutrality, the "No More Media Consolidation" Coalition Returns

Remember back in 2003, that across-the-political-spectrum coalition responsible for the three million email avalanche to the FCC opposing even greater consolidation and concentration of media ownership? Remember that it came together and exploded into public view despite a near blackout on coverage in the MSM?  On the conservative side, the decency and gun-owner crowd, and on the progressive side -- well, nearly all progressives?  Looks like Net Neutrality put that coalition back together again, as the Gun Owners of America and the Parents TV Council have now forcefully weighed in on behalf of saving the Internet from control by Big Cable, Big Telco, and, more generally, Big Corporate America.  And now it too appears to be reaching Critical Mass, despite operating under the radar of most of the MSM. 

Here's what Craig Fields of the Gun Owners almost apologetically writes to his fellow conservatives: It is true that the largest member of the coalition looking to regain Network Neutrality is MoveOn.org and they are usually my political enemies. But Gun Owners and groups like Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council have done what many on the right don't seem to have: our homework... The real problem is that we are under a distorted market from the get-go. Government is setting the rules. The result has been a government-supported oligopoly. We are lucky that those controlling physical access to the Internet have been forced to give every purchaser of bandwidth equal access...  The phone company has to tough it if they don't like what is being done with that bandwidth (such as this column)...  What we think of as the free market nature of the Internet is only possible because the oligopoly has been forced to keep its hands off of what actually gets done with the infrastructure they control.

Conservatives!  Welcome back to the fight!  Link: What the Misguided Have Missed Regarding Network Neutrality.

Indie Radio -- What Once Was, and Could Be Again

A real shocker: an independent radio station owner who plays the music he likes, in the order he wants, without reference to play lists ordered by a consultant or conglomerate.  And it's a huge hit, with a growing cult following.  This is a terrific and insightful story in the LA Times that, with the FCC on the verge of unleashing another wave of media consolidation, is well worthy reading and heeding:  Tucker is the last of a breed. In the 1990s, Congress relaxed the federal rules that had limited the number of stations a company could own. A surge of Wall Street money and consolidation followed, pushing up the value of stations like Tucker's until almost every license was snapped up. And that made station executives more cautious about what they played.

"There is nothing that retards the innovative process like having to increase profits every 90 days," said Rick Cummings, a radio division president at one of the nation's largest broadcasting companies, Emmis Communications. Yet, alas, that stifling, boring corporate homogenized radio is precisely what's been brought to you by your politicians and regulators inside the Beltway. Link: Words of Wisdom: Let It Be - Los Angeles Times.

Behind Closed Doors

As Charlie Rich sang, "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors."  And that's apparently the way legislators crafting telecom "reform" like it -- it keeps that pesky public from meddling in their business.  Reported Marilyn Geewax of Cox Newspapers, House telecommunications subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said recently, the Senate just needs to pass "anything to get us into conference," where the real decisions will be made.

Noted Celia Wexler, vice president for advocacy for Common Cause, "It's not supposed to work like this. It's appalling that you can hear a member [of Congress] say that in public." Watchdog groups say that while most conference negotiations are closed to public view, lobbyists continue to influence the members and their staffers, sometimes even supplying language that ends up as the law of the land. In the case of telecom, the groups say, so many persuasive and well-financed lobbyists are involved that they may battle to a standstill, leaving Congress flush with campaign contributions but unable to agree on a final bill before adjournment.

And what does this telecom "reform" legislation contain?  Well, it'll wreck the Internet as we know it for one thing.  No wonder they want to do it in secret, without the public watching.  Might want to check out SavetheInternet.com, the grassroots' site dedicated to Saving the Internet.  Link to story: here.

Innertube -- CBS's Shot at the Heart of Cable

Fascinating development.  CBS, which after splitting from the rest of Viacom, now has no cable networks and no love for the cable biz.  So as part of its "Bypass Cable" strategy, it has created Internet-only channel "Innertube," an advertising-supported broadband channel designed to lure younger viewers and online ad dollars to the network.  Per Daily Variety, "Channel, launched Thursday, will be widely promoted on CBS and provide an outlet for shows developed for the Internet; library shows like "The Brady Bunch"; and, pending talks with local stations, primetime shows such as "CSI" and "The Amazing Race" (Daily Variety, May 4).

"With this broadband channel, we've essentially bypassed cable and created a general entertainment outlet," said CBS Corp. chief exec Leslie Moonves. The first shows on the channel were developed expressly for broadband, including "Greek to Chic," in which frat boys learn personal hygiene and dating tips; "BBQ Bill," a scripted sketch comedy series; and "Animate This," in which celebrities narrate events from their lives via animation.  The net announced seven other original Web skeins to debut during the summer, as well as companion programming for CBS shows, such as "Beyond Survivor." Existing online programs such as "House Calls: The 'Big Brother' Talk Show" will also get a window on Innertube. Eye is negotiating with its affiliates on a deal to stream network primetime shows at some point after they have aired in exchange for profit sharing and some kind of promotion of the channel on local stations.

In outlining programming strategy for the channel, Moonves said that shows could move between online and the network. "Let's say we had an idea that was a little bit out there," Moonves told Daily Variety. "We could do five minutes a week (on Innertube) ... and see if it catches on. It's a cheap R&D lab."  It's a cable network -- without the cable.  Curious to see whether cable and telco broadband providers, in a world without Net Neutrality, will discriminate against this CBS broadband network that is trying to blow up their gatekeeper/toll booth business model.  Link: Variety.com - Innertube launched.

Markey Blogs Net Neutrality

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) blogs on Huff Post about his new stand alone Net Neutrality Bill that he has introduced in the House.  Some choice bits:  Do we really have to wait till these corporate giants divide and conquer the open architecture of the Internet to make that against the law? These telephone company executives are telling us that they intend to discriminate in the prioritization of bits and to discriminate in the offering of "quality of service" functions - for a new fee, a new broadband bottleneck toll - to access high bandwidth customers. We cannot afford to wait until they actually start doing that before we step in to stop it.  Yesterday, I introduced the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 (HR 5273) as a standalone bill. The Network Neutrality Act of 2006 offers Members a clear choice. It is a choice between broadband barons and average-joe cyber-surfers, between the pre-chosen voices favored by those in the executive suite and the wonderfully chaotic nature of the net, where a chorus or a cacophony of voices can emerge on any and every issue. At its heart, this issue is about safeguarding the Internet as a low-barrier-to-entry platform for innovation.  Link: The Blog | Rep. Ed Markey: The Fight for Network Neutrality Continues | The Huffington Post.

Net Neutrality Now Concerns Main Street, Wall Street

Welcome the Net Neutrality fight, Bankers and Brokers!  Finally, mainstream media and commerce are joining this escalating fight over broadband oligopolists erecting tollbooths and choke points on the Internet -- their Internet -- that could add billions to the amount they spend on broadband service.  According to Reuters: For the financial services sector, which is expected to spend $117 billion on information technology this year, tiered pricing could add billions more in expenses to maintain online banking services and other Web offerings, according to a memo circulating among financial services lobbyists. Those costs could hit the bottom line or be passed on to customers. But it's a fight the financial sector almost missed. "Net neutrality is an issue that (financial services) firms ignore at their peril," Philip Corwin, a partner at Washington law firm Butera & Andrews, wrote in the memo. "If the industry does not engage quickly, it may find that the matter has been decided without its input and that the fallout will affect the industry's cost structure and customer relations for years to come," he added. Corwin argues that (legislation pending in both houses on Capitol Hill) would give Internet service providers a green light to impose big new fees on financial companies.

Many in the financial services sector seem to have awakened late to the issue and are now trying to catch up.

"I think it caught a lot of people off guard, honestly," said one bank lobbyist.

The House is expected to consider its bill next week and the Senate Commerce Committee plans to mark up its legislation next month, but large differences between the bills could prevent any legislation from passing this year.

The Corwin memo urged the financial industry to get the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee involved, which could slow the progress of legislation.

If these heavy hitters are just hearing about Net Neutrality, what does that say about the popular view that the Internet is rapidly displacing and replacing all other forms of media?  After all, Net Neutrality has been burning up the Net for weeks if not months.  Link: US finance sector puts Web pricing in crosshairs | Reuters.com.

Save the Internet -- Grassroots Movement Catches Fire

The SavetheInternet.com Coalition announced that in less than a week, its petition signatures to preserve Net Neutrality jumped from 250,000 to 500,000. The number of organizations participating in the coalition jumped from 50 to 400.  Creative Voices is proud to be a charter member of this impressive coalition.

The NYT, link here, took note of the Coalition and published a terrific editorial today:  One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like.

That would be a financial windfall for Internet service providers, but a disaster for users, who could find their Web browsing influenced by whichever sites paid their service provider the most money. 

What can you do to promote Net Neutrality?  Here are a few suggestions:

· Sign a Net Neutrality petition to Congress http://www.moveon.org/r?r=1692
· Call Congress: http://www.moveon.org/r?r=1670
·
Write a letter to Congress: http://action.freepress.net/campaign/savethenet
·
MySpace: Add "Save the Internet" as a friend: http://www.myspace.com/savetheinternet
·
Blog on this issue: http://www.savetheinternet.com/=blogger

For more information, visit
www.SavetheInternet.com 

Senate Births Giant Telecom Bill

Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) finally produced the Senate version of Telecom Reform and it is, in the words of John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, "a doozy."  Eggerton and B&C do yeoman's work by breaking down the huge bill section by section, link below.  The Senate approach is far more comprehensive than the House's, better in some ways and worse in others.  Of particular concern, as Commerce CoChair Daniel Inouye (D-HI) pointed out, the Net Neutrality provisions are no provisions at all -- simply mandating an annual report on the issue by the FCC.  Inouye is so concerned about the Bill that while he co-sponsored it, in the spirit of "bi-partisanship" in which he and good pal Stevens operate, he immediately distanced himself from it and said much work needs to be done.  We agree.  While local control of video franchises is superior to the House's national franchise scheme, the muni broadband provisions are far worse and more cumbersome.

But Stevens apparently is in no rush and envisions a "Long War" over Telecom.  With nearly every interest group having something to like and to loathe in this Majority Draft, Telecom Reform will now become this year's No Lobbyist Left Behind Act.   Eggerton notes, "The committee will do the telecom "two-step," first holding two public hearings on the bill before it marks it up (amends and otherwise changes it) after the Memorial Day recess. That lengthens the odds that a telecommunications bill can be passed this session, given the differences between the House and Senate versions and the dwindling days on the legislative calendar before the session ends."  Brooks Boliek writes in The Hollywood Reporter, "All the parliamentary folderol could end the bill's chances of approval."  [We had to get that in as "folderol" is one of our favorite words -- Thanks, Brooks!, you erudite devil]  With the House bill now bogged down in a jurisdictional dispute between the Commerce and Judiciary Committees, the betting is now that no Telecom Bill will become law this year.  Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

TV Producers, Writers & Directors Support Net Neutrality on Hill

Today, the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors, an invitation-only organization representing some of America's most successful, best respected, and most widely honored creators of television programming (several of whom also serve on CV's Board of Advisors), wrote to House and Senate members strongly encouraging them "to support protections of network neutrality in pending telecommunications legislation."  The Caucus letter went on to say:

The current legislation relies on an aging rule and a promise from the phone companies.  History teaches us a promise can sometimes be alright, but a contract is always better.  A strong net neutrality provision is needed to ensure that these companies keep their promise to never interfere in our free and open internet.  If they are sincere, that promise must be put into writing, as a contract with the American people.

Like the networks that monopolize the television industry, the telecom and cable giants seek to control both the content and its delivery to the public.  If this happens the internet may no longer be an open field of opportunity for innovators, writers, creators, and entrepreneurs.  Only that which is produced or owned by the corporations who control the internet will make it through to the consumers who, although paying more, may no longer have the freedom and choice they enjoy today.  Only by ensuring equal access to the communications marketplace can the marketplace of ideas truly thrive.

Without a guarantee of network neutrality, consumers could pay more for less, local creativity and innovation could be stifled, and the internet could face the fate of radio and television - a handful of companies producing, promoting, owning, and controlling virtually everything Americans watch and hear."

The Caucus Letter can be read in its entirety and downloaded here.

House Commerce Approves National Franchise Bill; Net Neutrality MIA

The full House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the National Video Franchising Bill, without Net Neutrality provisions.  Per Broadcasting & Cable, "The committee voted 34-22 not to adopt an amendment toughening "network neutrality" provisions in the bill, an issue that has gained major traction and could resurface on the House floor and will almost certainly do so in the Senate version.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who spearheaded the amendment, had argued that without the amendment, the bill would spell the "end of the Internet as we know it," allowing telephone companies to discriminate in Internet service and fundamentally change the character of the Internet. He and others warned during mark-up of the bill Wednesday that there would be backlash from constituents. Chairman Joe Barton strongly opposed the amendment, saying the bill already contained sufficient protections for Internet access--through FCC adjudicatory powers--and that anything more specific would be unnecessarily preemptive. Net neutrality backer Media Access Project was not surprised, but saw hopeful signs for adding net neutrality in the Senate version of the bill, buoyed by the recent lobbying blitz by 'neutrality' forces. "This outcome was expected," said MAP President Andrew Schwartzman, "but we are somewhat surprised - and encouraged - by the progress that net neutrality advocates have made in the last few weeks. "A broad-based industry and citizen coalition supporting net neutrality is rapidly gaining steam.  Prospects in the Senate are looking better and better."

Savetheinternet.com, one of the groups that had just coalesced around the issue, called the vote a sell-out and vowed to "continue rallying public support for Internet freedom as the legislation moves to the full House and Senate."

The Bill has a long way to go before it becomes law.  Amendments may be made on the House floor.  More likely, big changes will be made in the Senate, with its bill requiring reconciliation in a House-Senate conference.  As John Eggerton writes in his B&C story, "Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) has almost guaranteed a bill will make it to the President's desk this session, daring reporters to bet against it. But at least one cable lobbyist privately advised this reporter to take that bet. More commentary at SavetheInternet.com and MAP's Harold Feld's Wet Machine blog.

Link: House Commerce Approves National Franchise Bill - Broadcasting & Cable.

Save the Internet -- Make Money!

Jeff Pulver is initiating a viral video/ad contest to save the Internet. He writes, "I am fed up with the current wave of soundbites, platitudes, ads and marketing flooding the airwaves that profess to speak for the advancement of the Internet and communications. These ads are influencing Congress and governments around the World as they write the rules that will shape the future of the Internet and communications.  But, where is the voice and message of the Internet community -- the Internet innovators, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts -- in this world-changing discussion?"  His contest to encourage our voice and message is at: Jeff Pulver's Viral Marketing Contest to Save the Internet.  Everyone who has every said, "What I really want to do is direct" -- here's your big break! 

Save the Internet Coalition Launches

Creative Voices is a Charter Member of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition, made up of dozens of groups from across the political spectrum that have banded together to save the First Amendment of the Internet: network neutrality. No corporation or political party is funding our efforts.   Check it out:  http://www.savetheinternet.com

This is the first genuine, public interest grassroots effort to fight for network neutrality, in a debate that’s become increasing crowded by talking points from so-called “Astroturfs” (here, here and here) – front groups for industry. Join the fight, here. 

The corporate toll on the Internet

Farhad Manjoo in Slate pens an excellent non-wonky overview of the players and stakes in the unfortunately named "Net Neutrality" debate.  By the way, instead of this wonky NN moniker on this debate, could we come up with something more accurately descriptive, and that better alerts us to the stakes involved?  How about:  "Saving the Internet?"  Link: Salon.com Technology | The corporate toll on the Internet.

House Bill Reviewed by Common Cause

Common Cause has an excellent page containing text and analysis of the flawed bill recently passed by a House Subcommittee that nixes Net Neutrality.  Link: About the COPE Act - Common Cause.

Disney Will Offer Many TV Shows Free on the Web

Another giant leak in the dam that keeps broadcast TV from being "broadcast" over the Net.  Per Brooks Barnes in WSJ:  Walt Disney Co. plans to make much of its newest and most popular programming on ABC and other channels available free anytime on the Web, in a move that could speed the transformation of television viewing habits and help revive the struggling TV advertising business.  On April 30, ABC will unveil a revamped Web site that will include a "theater" where people with broadband connections can watch free episodes of "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and other hit shows on their computers. Episodes will be available the morning after they air and will be archived so people can eventually view a whole season... The initiative, to be announced today by Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, marks a watershed: the first time a TV company is offering major prime-time shows free online without restriction...  "All this area needs to explode is enough top-notch content," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president at Horizon Media, a New York consulting firm. Online streaming -- the technology of broadcasting video programming over the Web -- has been an area of great untapped potential for the TV industry. The possibilities were underscored by the success of CBS's online streaming of the NCAA basketball tournament in recent weeks. The "cable bypass," as CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves calls it, could have dire implications for cable and satellite purveyors because it has the potential to cut off the revenue they receive for delivering programming. Making shows available online also could undercut the on-demand services cable operators are rolling out.  Link: WSJ.com - Disney Will Offer Many TV Shows Free on the Web.

The implications of this development for broadcasters, cablers, talent, etc. are significant.  For this is Video on Demand, which cable keeps touting as its trump card -- and now who needs cable TV if you've got broadband?  Because if you've got broadband, you've already got cable TV -- it's called Internet.  Broadcast and cable networks are all becoming one -- content made up of individual pieces (shows) that the consumer can demand or avoid as he/she pleases.  And they are being delivered across broadcast, cable, telco, satellite, iTunes, and Internet distribution platforms that are now competing with each other for the consumer.  Price will go down as competition ratchets up.  Will cable continue to withstand consumer demand for an a la carte option in the face of this competitive pressure?  Doubtful.  As we've pointed out over and over, the Internet is the death of the middle man.  And as broadband has made possible the delivery of quality video streams, the media middle men distributors are in turmoil. 

Katrina Puts Hold on McDowell

Hurricane Katrina continues to wreak havoc.  Per Broadcasting & Cable:  Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), daughter of former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, says she will continue her hold on all executive nominations--that includes Bush nominee for FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell--until the White House "fulfills its promise."  A single Senator can block a vote on nominations, and Landrieu has pledged to do so--hers doesn't apply to judicial or military appointments, however--until the White House agrees to fund a comprehensive rebuilding of the New Orleans levees that failed to such disastrous result due to Hurricane Katrina.  Until McDowell or another nominee is confirmed as the fifth FCC Commissioner, the Commission will likely not take up its rewrite of media ownership limits/rules.  Given the pace of Administration action on Katrina rebuilding, that may be awhile.  Link: McDowell Still Doing the Limbo.

House Committee Neuters Net Neutrality

The House Telecom Subcommittee markup of revisions to the 1996 Telecom Act gave the telcos, and to a lesser extent, the cable cos., all they wanted.  Big national franchises with little consumer Net Neutrality protections.  Some reaction: "I think this walled garden approach that many network providers would like to create would fundamentally change the way the Internet works and undermine the power of the Net as a force of innovation and change," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) warned: '"There is a fundamental choice. It's the choice between the bottleneck designs of a...small handful of very large companies and the dreams and innovations of thousands of online companies and innovators."  A CNET News.com report published last week, however, showed that the Internet industry is being outspent in Washington by more than a 3-to-1 margin.  Coincidence?  We think not.  Link: Republicans defeat Net neutrality proposal | CNET News.com.

More On End of TV As We Know It

Jonathan Miller of AOL and reality TV Titan Mark Burnett told TV Execs they were going the way of the dodo.  Per Daily Variety, TV execs shifted nervously in their seats as Burnett, inventor of "The Apprentice," "Rock Star" and upcoming Internet-based format "Gold Rush," predicted the rapid decline of today's commercial broadcasting model, with companies sinking their ad budgets into AOL, MSN and Yahoo!, which he called "the networks of the future."  "I bet at the end of May, the season will be flat, and next year and the year after, it will go down a bit and then a bit more," Burnett said. "My kids don't know what a TV network is anymore. They watch one channel -- TiVo..  I'm not a TV producer anymore, I'm a content producer."  Said Miller in his Keynote:  "Video consumption is exploding online, and on-demand is going to be the dominant way to consume content."  Link: Variety.com - Just turn off the TV.

Competition, Not Consent

Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) has a provocative article in Multichannel News about how government regulation has preempted the free market, forcing consumers to take cable channels and packages they don't want.  Retransmission consent rules initially proved beneficial in increasing access to programs such as the news and weather. As the media market expanded, though, they became more hindrance than help. Broadcast monopolies, whose very existence relies on taxpayer-owned broadcast airwaves, backed cable and satellite providers into either paying overly steep prices for their local stations or taking extra programming produced by the parent company which either owned or affiliated the local channel. By the end of negotiations, dozens and dozens of extra channels were forced upon the cable and satellite companies. End result: consumers are left with a package full of channels they would never have requested.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the top six programming conglomerates, of which four are broadcasters, own or have interest in 153 cable channels, including nearly 75% of the top 50 channels, leading to a combined revenue of $149.6 billion. Federal regulation must no longer prohibit the free market by enabling large network broadcasters to force limited choice on consumers. Retransmission consent rules must be reformed such that broadcasters receive just compensation for their programming while allowing cable, satellite and soon-to-launch broadband video providers the flexibility needed to offer business models which best suit both their needs and their customers' demands.

Link: Competition, Not Consent - 4/3/2006.

Markey Skewers New House Telecom Draft

U.S. Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ranking Democrat, House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, sent out the attached press release regarding the new draft of telecom legislation released by Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX).  The reason we reprint it in its entirety is because we agree with absolutely every word.  And so should you!

 

"After several months of negotiations, I am disappointed that Energy and Commerce Commitee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) decided to walk away from agreements reached with Ranking Member John Dingell (D-MI) and myself on critical telecommunications policy issues in order to pursue their own separate legislation.

 

"The legislation they have proposed represents an extraordinary rejection of the competitive and universal service principles that have guided successful telecommunications policy for decades. The proposed bill permits a national franchise for cable service, yet has no service area requirement for providing such service. By failing to include a build-out provision to ensure service area parity between a Bell company entering a franchise area and the incumbent cable operator, it allows a national franchisee to use public rights-of-way in a community but serve only select neighborhoods within the community.

 

"Moreover, the bill compounds the consumer risk when the omission of a service area requirement is considered in the context of an incumbent cable operator qualifying for a national franchise. Under the proposal, an incumbent cable operator may similarly seek a national franchise after the phone company arrives in a franchise area, even if the phone company is serving just one household in the franchise area. The lack of a service area requirement at the national level then means that the incumbent cable operator no longer has to serve the entire franchise either. In other words, the operator is free to skimp on service upgrades or withdraw service from any part of their historic service area within the affected community. The incumbent may also raise rates in areas of the community the phone company is not serving in order to cross-subsidize its offering in the part of town the phone company has chosen to serve.  This represents a grave consumer protection flaw in the bill.

 

"The 'network neutrality' section of the bill represents a body blow to the Internet community. It removes FCC authority to establish any future rules needed to ensure that consumers and competitors can avail themselves of the Internet experience they enjoy today. U.S. global leadership in high technology  stems directly from policies that ensured that telecommunications networks are open to all lawful uses and users. The Internet was enhanced by such policies and its open network architecture has provided low barriers to entry for web-based content, applications, and services. These policies have driven innovation, economic growth, and job creation. The bill's stunning reversal of these policies jeopardizes the successful policy of open networks and imperils the continuation of the Internet as an economic engine for the country and an unprecedented vehicle for our First Amendment freedoms.

 

"This bill ought to embrace open networks, competition in all markets, and a broadband vision which benefits everyone in the country. Instead, it does the opposite.  In short, it favors the communications collosi at the expense of the public interest. For those fighting for a broadband vision for America which is inclusive, innovative, and openly competitive, this bill represents a giant step backwards."

Net Neutrality Kicked Out of House

Net Neutrality got left on the cutting room floor in the House Commerce Committee after ferocious lobbying by cable and telcos against it.  The latest draft bill, which will be marked up on Thursday, simply punts the issue back over to the FCC, which by its Policy Statement of last August, had essentially punted the issue over to Congress for legislation.  Some comments, via Cnet:  "eBay believes that Congress should stand up on behalf of Internet users and small businesses so that they can continue to have unfettered access to all content, applications and services that they wish to use now or in the future...  The Net neutrality provisions in the legislation released today...fall woefully short of that goal."

Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, took aim at Barton's proposal on Monday. "This legislation begins the construction of a multilayered, toll-strewn information superhighway that is out of sync with what has made the Internet work: access for all," said Wyden, who introduced his own bill earlier this month mandating Net neutrality. Digital rights watchdog Public Knowledge added that Barton's bill does not "contain strong enough penalties to discourage misbehavior."  Link: Net neutrality fans lose on Capitol Hill | CNET News.com.  See Creative Voices' Net Neutrality article, The Future Internet: Open or Closed?, here.   

Current Gets Carriage on Comcast -- Finally!

Per Daily Variety:  Current TV has landed distribution on Comcast systems, bringing its total reach to 28 million homes.  It's the first major distribution pact the network has landed since its launch. Current bowed last August in 19 million homes via carriage on DirecTV, Time Warner and a limited number of Comcast systems. Startup effort, headed up by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, will be available as part of Comcast's digital cable service on nearly all of its systems starting June 1. Deal adds some 8 million subs to Current's base.  Link: Variety.com - Comcast plugs into Current.

To get Comcast, which is notorious for not carrying new cable networks that it does not own, Current staged a rally outside Comcast HQ in Philly that drew 7,000 fans.  Compare that to how many would rally on behalf of G4, Comcast's owned gaming network that it freely gives carriage to -- would even seven people show up? Current's difficulties gaining carriage on Comcast illustrate the lack of a "level playing field" in cable, which we documented in our report to the FCC: Cable's Level Playing Field.  Not Level.  No Field. It's available here.  Because large cable companies like Comcast are also among the nation's leading broadband Internet service providers, the lack of the promised "level playing field" clearly illustrates why we can't rely on the promises of these same companies to provide a "level playing field" in terms of broadband access to Internet content, and why Net Neutrality must be written into law.  For Creative Voices' perspective on Net Neutrality, see our article, The Future Internet: Open or Closed, here. 

"Think the Internet will replace TV ? Think again!"

Mark Cuban approvingly quotes Wall Street analyst Craig Moffett that ”despite a great deal of arm waving from “visionaries,” our telecommunications infrastructure is woefully unprepared for widespread delivery of advanced services, especially video, over the Internet. Downloading a single half hour TV show on the web consumes more bandwidth than does receiving 200 emails a day for a full year. Downloading a single high definition movie consumes more bandwidth than does the downloading of 35,000 web pages; it’s the equivalent of downloading 2,300 songs over Apple’s iTunes web site. Today’s networks simply aren’t scaled for that. Cuban notes Moore's Law does not apply to bandwidth -- rather, bandwidth needs to be built and the US is woefully slow in building it out.  As more users and applications place demands on the Net, speeds will slow -- just like it does on the concrete superhighway.  Thus, the idea that TV and video will move to the Net is overblown -- the pipes don't have the capacity.  As usual, Cuban is thought-provoking.  Link: Think the Internet will replace TV ? Think again - Blog Maverick - www.blogmaverick.com _.

Wall St. Push Back Against Comcast Buy of E!

Comcast's rumored purchase of the 39%of E! Network that it doesn't already own has raised Wall Street concerns about mindless consolidation.  What a difference from a few years ago when such deals were cheered for their alleged "synergies."  But those synergies never came and instead came lackluster performance and creativity-sapping bureaucracy, causing Wall Street to champion instead de-consolidation, as in the splitting up of Viacom.  Per TV Week:  Some are grousing that the likely price tag of at least $1 billion will be one less check written to buy back stock or to invest in the core cable business. Others question the wisdom of a cable company being in the content business altogether.  "To me, the most important thing they can do with their capital is convert to all-digital [video platforms] or attack the competition," said Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Research. "I'd rather see Comcast devoted to converting its analog customers to digital faster than they are, before the competition gets going." Added Harold Vogel, CEO of Vogel Capital Management: "I think that all cable operators are nervous about not controlling their destiny with content, but cable operators are in the plumbing business. They have no particular expertise in content. There is a risk about content that they don't really need to take on in any massive way." Link: TV Week.

The Net Continues to Take On TV

Two stories today demonstrate the Web's potential to compete with TV in delivering video content.  One is NY Times critic Ginia Bellafante's funny snarky review of the "vintage" (read "failed") old Warner's shows now being streamed by AOL Television, here.  Bellafante's point is not to praise these shows, but to condemn them.  She doesn't dwell on the remarkable fact that AOL has essentially built a low cost Video on Demand network that, were it to be filled with better content and the technical glitches fixed, could soon seriously undermine the cable and broadcast industry business model. 

The other article is about The Young Turks, an Internet talk show.  Here, the promise of the Web as a haven for "niche-casting" is made clear, as is the potential to broaden the niche to true "broad-casting."  With the help of some investors, the Young Turks bought four professional digital cameras and rented a studio space along Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile. In mid-December, they began streaming their three-hour show every weekday on their website, http://www.theyoungturks.com, billing it as the first live Internet talk show.  In the process, they've helped pioneer the rapidly developing field of online programming — from webcasts to video podcasts and vlogs (the video version of a blog) — now delivering content that traditionally would have had to survive the television development season and pass the muster of network executives to find an audience. "Anybody can own a broadcast power now," says Jeff Jarvis, who writes about media and technology on his blog BuzzMachine. "We're going to have more and more choices. TV will no longer be one-size-fits-all." Link: Can't get on the network? Get on the Net - Los Angeles Times.

AT&T Chief Has Religioius Conversion

"AT&T will not block or degrade traffic, period," said AT&T Chief Edward Whitacre in a speech yesterday.

Which is a far cry from what Whitacre told Business Week last November:  "There's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?  The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"

Thanks, Ed, we appreciate your conversion experience, but if it's all the same to you, could we get it in writing?  As in a law or regulation?  Link: AT&T chief, FCC chair clarify on Net neutrality | CNET News.com.

Knife Fight

Big Cable Lobbist-in-Chief Kyle McSlarrow promised payback for the telco's vilification of cable (which in our view, is wholly appropriate) on the Hill, at the FCC, and in the press in order to secure competing national video franchises.  Referring to cable's forthcoming counter attacks ads:  “Ours, of course, will be truthful and accurate and, hopefully, really vicious,” McSlarrow said. “I can do this the easy way or the hard way. If they want do a knife fight, I can do a knife fight.”  This will definitely be worth the price of admission.  Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

New Sheriff in Town to Take on Cablers -- Verizon

Per John Dempsey in Daily Variety, Verizon is engineering deals with just about every cable net in the business for its still-developing video service, but there are two conspicuous holdouts so far.  Comcast, which owns E! Entertainment, Outdoor Life and the Golf Channel, and Cablevision's Rainbow Media, which owns AMC, WE and IFC, are reluctant to sign over their content to a potential rival. Crucially, Comcast also owns regional sports nets in key areas like Philadelphia and Washington that would have to be part of a Verizon package or face a thumbs-down by local sports fans. Similarly, Cablevision owns the MSG Network and Fox Sports New York, which Verizon would have to carry to get sports aficionados in the Greater Gotham area to cancel their cable or satellite subscriptions and opt for Verizon's service. But the wild card is that Comcast does not want the FCC "to have any reason to suspect them of anticompetitive behavior toward Verizon" because it  wants Commission approval for its takeover of Adelphia (along with Time Warner Cable)It'll be fascinating to see whether a company with the bulk and lobbying muscle of Verizon can take on and beat Big Cable.  Link: Variety.com - Cablers resist Verizon.

Will CBS Now Favor A La Carte Cable?

Per Broadcasting & Cable, "Ever since CBS split off from Viacom at the beginning of the year, CBS has been looking to monetize its TV stations in new carriage deals, rather than having the price for carriage be carrying a Viacom cable channel or two, as had been the case with previous deals."  Interesting development that flows from the "de-consolidation" of media.  With CBS now a stand alone broadcast network, without cable network children sucking off the "mother ship," (how's this for a mixed metaphor?), the only way for CBS to get compensated by cable companies for its broadcast signal is through cash payments.  Part of the reason for cable packages and bundling is that broadcast networks demand it, to ensure better exposure for their cable channels.  With CBS now out of the cable network business, it has no reason to fight a la carte cable programming, unlike Disney/ABC, Fox, and GE/NBC/USA.  Indeed, CBS might benefit from a la carte.  After all, a la carte consumers who subscribe to fewer networks will spend more time watching their chosen nets.  And as a broadcast net, CBS will always be one of those chosen nets.  Link: Verizon, CBS Sign Retrans Deal Broadcasting & Cable.

Martin to Tee Up Media Ownership at FCC

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin made clear today that when Robert McDowell is confirmed as the fifth FCC Commissioner, which is expected before the end of the month, he'll finally restart the long-delayed and highly controversial media ownership proceeding.  You'll recall that in 2003, Michael Powell's attempt to toss out or gut limits on media ownership generated nearly 3 million public comments to the FCC, nearly all negative.  Yet, Powell went ahead, only to be reversed by the US Court of Appeals in 2004 -- a decision that the Bush Justice Department declined to appeal to the US Supreme Court.  This will be a very big enchilada.  Martin tried to move the proceeding last July, when the Commission was split evenly 2-2 between Dems and Republicans.  But he pulled it off the agenda at the last moment when the Dems demanded more public hearings and unbiased research than he was willing to grant.  Said Martin today, "When we get a fifth commissioner, obviously he could end up being a tiebreaker vote and we would be able to move forward on it.  I do think we need to end up addressing it."  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

Congress to Punt Net Neutrality to FCC?

While GOP House members are saying encouraging things about their support for Net Neutrality principles, the latest draft of House Commerce's bill is still a mystery.  But it appears the bill may essentially punt the issue back over to the FCC for a rulemaking to determine how to define and whether to mandate Net Neutrality.  Per Multichannel News: Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) indicated Thursday that network-neutrality mandates would take effect depending on the outcome of a Federal Communications Commission inquiry on the openness of cable and other broadband networks.  At some point, he added, the FCC would need to study the market to determine whether broadband-access providers were harming competitors through discriminatory practices.  Asked if a market-friendly Republican Congress planned to "regulate the Internet," Pickering said, “We do not. Net neutrality was affirmed by [FCC] chairman [Michael] Powell, a Republican chairman, and pro-competitive requirements are actually are very much consistent with the free-market ideals of Ronald Reagan, who broke up AT&T.”  Link: Pickering Outlines FCC’s Net-Neutrality Role

Meanwhile, House Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-TX) got an earful about Net Neutrality from Bill Gates, and apparently came away impressed.  "He and I agreed on the [net-neutrality] principle," Barton said later.  "Like every other American, [Gates] wants to know what the details are in the bill. Again, when the time comes, he'll know."  Link here.   

Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch has seen the future, and it won't be friendly to media barons.  Murdoch built his empire on seeing the future, and exploiting it, taking on and usually destroying the conventional wisdom, long before other less nimble corporate suits ever knew what hit them.  We can't write it any better than the Guardian reported it here: 

Rupert Murdoch last night sounded the death knell for the era of the media baron, comparing today's internet pioneers with explorers such as Christopher Columbus and John Cabot and hailing the arrival of a "second great age of discovery".  "Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry - the editors, the chief executives and, let's face it, the proprietors," said Mr Murdoch. 

Far from mourning its passing, he evangelised about a digital future that would put that power in the hands of those already launching a blog every second, sharing photos and music online and downloading television programmes on demand. "A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it," he said. "It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to underestimate the huge changes this revolution will bring or the power of developing technologies to build and destroy - not just companies but whole countries." 

Link: Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch.  Full text of Murdoch speech, a must read, is here. 

Net Neutrality for Dummies

James Surowiecki does an admirable job in The New Yorker of making Net Neutrality, and the stakes, understandable to all, so if you're not sure about it, take a read.  He concludes that in a world where the cable and telco broadband providers are allowed to discriminate against content will look like this: "Decisions that once were made collectively by hundreds of millions of Internet users would now be shaped in large part by a handful of telecom executives. It used to be said that the Internet was all about “disintermediation.” With the end of network neutrality, the middlemen are striking back."

Link: The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town.

Internet TV

Saul Hansell has an excellent piece in the NYT on "slivercasting" over the Internet -- aggregating an audience for a specialized "channel" that could not draw a large enough audience for broadcast or cable.  But now, interestingly, the slivers are growing larger as the audience becomes comfortable with TV over the Internet, and the Internet zeroes in on these niche audiences.  Writes Hansell, "Nearly 15 years ago, when the advent of digital cable offered the possibility of 500 channels, many people were skeptical that there would be enough programs to fill them. But then came specialized broadcasters — including the Speed Channel (for auto racing fans), the Military Channel and Home and Garden Television — and now cable and satellite systems are largely full.  "It has become almost impossible for a channel to increase its distribution the old way," said Lauren Zalaznick, the president of Bravo and Trio, two cable channels owned by NBC Universal. "To get distribution it takes a lot of effort and negotiation. You have to give up a lot to get very little." Indeed, after DirecTV dropped Trio, a channel devoted to pop culture, among other things, Ms. Zalaznick decided to move it from pay-TV systems to the Internet. "To survive we had to find a new way," she said. The new way, she quickly realized, could also help Trio resolve its identity crisis. The cable channel mixed documentaries about pop culture, original music programming, reruns of obscure television shows and a fair bit of programming aimed at gay and lesbian viewers. Moving to the Internet allowed her to break Trio into three distinct sites; they will be introduced over the rest of this year. One, called TrioTV.com, will have the music and pop culture programming. Another, BrilliantButCancelled.com, will have the old TV shows. And the third, OutZone.com, will have gay and lesbian programming created in conjunction with PlanetOut, a media and entertainment company focused on that audience."

A fascinating article that never mentions Net Neutrality, but makes a powerful case for it.  Because this content might not survive if it has to pay tolls to the broadband provider or meander along in the slow but free lane.  Link: As Internet TV Aims at Niche Audiences, the Slivercast Is Born - New York Times.

What About Bob?

Today is FCC Commissioner-nominee Robert McDowell's confirmation hearing in the Senate.  Already, speculation is swirling over whether he'll recuse himself, either voluntarily or by rule, from voting in the proposed ATT/BellSouth deal looming at the Commission.  McDowell works at Comptel, a small phone company that competes with the big telcos that has already taken a strong stand against the merger.  Hence, the telecomerati is all chattering, "What About Bob?"  And could Comptel in essence decide his vote?  Fascinating.  Writes Paul Davidson in USA Today, "Complicating the issue is that it's unclear which side McDowell would help. He could side with fellow Republican, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who favored no conditions on the recent phone mergers. Or he could back the more antagonistic views of his former employer Comptel, and the Democrats.  Depending on what Comptel believes McDowell will decide, the group could determine whether he votes or not. It could oppose the deal, increasing the chances he will be recused. Or it could remain silent, making it likely McDowell will participate." Link: USATODAY.com.

Indiepix.net

From Daily Variety comes this announcement of Indiepix.net and its new system to allow downloads of indie films. System will allow customers to download encrypted movies from the company's Web site and reassemble them on the desktop as a DVD file that can be written to disc.  With downloaded movies previously confined to computer screens, Indiepix.net hopes its new software will encourage people to watch independent films through standard DVD players. "There are some wonderful voices that need to be heard, and that's what we aim to do," said Indiepix prexyprexy Bob Alexander. Check out Indiepix here.  Link: Variety.com - Site's drive: pix to disc.

"Legacy Junk" Reason ATT Merges, Opposes Net Neutrality

Kevin Maney has an excellent column in USA Today on the real reason behind ATT's takeover of BellSouth:  "The companies are burdened by too much legacy junk, and they have too little ability to compete with newcomers such as Vonage and Skype — which is why the Bells resort to asking the government for help, or to tactics such as trying to charge websites more for speedier access, effectively hampering voice-over-Internet services such as Skype.  The phone companies have repeatedly announced plans to modernize by building Internet protocol networks running high-speed fiber to homes to bring us high-speed Internet, TV and movies on demand. I've heard this going back to the early 1990s, when Ray Smith was CEO of Bell Atlantic and he showed me demos of the Stargazer TV system he was all set to deploy — but didn't. In 2006, a few communities have phone-company TV, but for the most part it's about as common as other things we were supposed to have by now — such as flying cars and domestic robots...  After Sunday's announcement, AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre said the combined companies would be in a better position to build new networks and compete with cable TV. But if history repeats, those projects will get just about as much priority as McDonald's gives to health food."

Link: USATODAY.com.

Condition ATT/BS Merger on Net Neutrality -- NY Times

The NY Times editorializes that regulators must imposed Net Neutrality as a condition on the ATT/BellSouth Merger.  "The health and future of the economy depend on the Internet's remaining a level playing field. So AT&T should be prevented from violating the principle of Internet neutrality, which holds that consumers should be given equal access to Web sites. Regulators must demand it from AT&T as a condition of this deal, and Congress should enact a law ensuring that it applies across the board.  This isn't just about fairness. It's about protecting part of the commercial underpinnings that allow businesses in this country to flourish.

We agree.  Not only for creative media artists, but for all Americans, Net Neutrality is a must.  And this merger poses a serious threat to it.  Link: The Call of the Wild Web - New York Times.

Michael Powell on AT&T Buy of BellSouth

He hasn't said he's against it, but it's interesting that Michael K. Powell, former Chairman of the FCC, who rarely had a problem while in office with issues of concentration and consolidation, raised concerns with the AT&T buy of BellSouth:  "It demonstrates that more than ever the two dominant communications competitive spaces will be represented by cable and phone companies, and it increases the weightiness of policy issues, because fewer companies can have an exponentially more dramatic impact on the whole country."  Powell said that while the merger would probably not be stopped, "The sharper focus is likely to be on conditions like Net neutrality."  WSJ here. 

"Telephone" Merger -- What We Fear

The term "telephone" company is now a relic.  These companies, particularly AT&T and Verizon, are rapidly becoming broadband internet providers that offer telephone and "cable" TV all over their same broadband pipe.  And that's precisely why creative types need to worry about this merger.  Because AT&T and Verizon have a closed "cable TV" vision for the Internet, with them positioned as the Internet gatekeepers and toll takers.  Their vision turns the free, independent, and open nature of today's Internet on its head.  Instead, their Internet would look much more like the old pre-Internet AOL -- a "walled garden" that featured only the content that they were in business with.  For any other content, a consumer would have to "go over the wall," and we all remember how lame that was before AOL decided it had to embrace the entire Internet instead of fight against it.  Ken Belson in the NYT captures some nice quotes and observations about the possible dangers of this merger:

"Tollbooths and gatekeepers are the exact opposite of what the Internet is all about," said Michael J. Copps, a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. "Down that route consumers can count on paying more and getting less — less content, fewer services and reduced innovation." The big network operators argue that they would never deliberately slow or block access to Web sites, because doing so would raise a furor in Washington. Besides, they say, angry consumers could switch Internet providers in protest.  That may be true in big cities like New York and Washington, where there is a variety of Internet service providers. But in many other cities, there are typically two and sometimes only one broadband provider — the cable or phone company. In many cases, "there's nowhere else to go," said Paul Misener, the vice president of global public policy at Amazon. "The market power that these folks have is real, and it is not going to change any time soon."

Regulators must review this mega-merger carefully and, if they approve it at all, attach stringent conditions that will preserve the open Internet we cherish.  Among those conditions:

  1. "Naked DSL and broadband" -- allow consumers just to buy broadband service from the merged company, not the bundle of services it will try to force consumers to eat (the cable TV model).  Naked DSL will allow consumers to get the phone, video, and broadband Internet from non-AT&T suppliers.
  2. Net Neutrality.  This merged company will be a huge broadband provider, able to dictate terms for the Internet.  Net Neutrality is required to ensure consumers can access the content they want when they want it, without discrimination by this company.
  3. ENCOURAGE, not outlaw wireless broadband Internet access, including by state and local governments.  Without this competition, there simply will be 2 companies providing broadband Internet access -- your friendly neighborhood telephone and cable companies -- and that isn't enough to keep the market open and fair.  And, FREE UP SPECTRUM -- the Feds need to provide more "airwave space" for this wireless Internet access.

Otherwise, creative media artists, like consumers, will face a closed and discriminatory Internet.  Creatives have seen how that's worked out for them in broadcast TV and now cable TV.  Been there, done that, it's not good.  An open Internet is the "level playing field" that we've always hoped for.  If we want it to survive, we'll have to fight for it.  Link: The High-Speed Money Line - New York Times.

Yahoo, Google, Ebay, Amazon Etc. on Net Neutrality

Yahoo, Google, Ebay, Amazon, IAC Interactive, and numerous other groups large and small joined in a letter to House Commerce Chair Joe Barton and Ranking Member John Dingell urging their support for Net Neutrality.  It's a brief but powerful letter, we support it wholeheartedly, and hope all others will as well,  The letter can be downloaded here. 

House, Senate Update on Net Neutrality

We're waiting to see what the House delivers in its third draft Telecom Act Bill -- or if it even delivers a draft.  With the legislative clock ticking, it may instead strip out Net Neutrality and a host of other provisions in order to give the telcos the nationwide video franchising that they claim they need to compete with cable. 

But over in the Senate, Ron Wyden (D-OR) put a terrific Net Neutrality bill into the mix.  Wyden declared, “There are powerful interests who own the pipes and access to the Net who are trying to break the Net.”  It is expected that Wyden’s bill will ban attempts to block or restrict consumer access to Web-based applications, services and content and bar preferential treatment of applications, services and content.  Link: Wyden to Offer Net-Neutrality Bill - Multichannel News.

Turner Tells It Like It Is

Ted Turner lamented a decrease in innovation and risk-taking at Time Warner Inc. Monday night in his first public comments since announcing he wouldn't seek re-election to the board of the media conglomerate that had bought his cable networks company.  "I thought my company was more innovative when it was smaller.  My experience with a big company was somewhat disappointing." Small companies must take risks to thrive, but large companies tend to "coast" and get "stuck with businesses that are no-brainers," he said. 

Ted, we love ya!  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

Two Media Milestones

Ted Turner resigns from the Time Warner board.  And iTunes sells its billionth download.  Ted was one of the entrepreneurial point men -- Murdoch and Diller were two others -- who took on and tried to bust the three networks' chokehold on television distribution.  He succeeded, to a certain extent, and then railed against Big Media again after the old concentration came back through vertical and horizontal integration, and the domination of his beloved cable by Big Cable and Big Broadcasters.

Meanwhile, iTunes and Steve Jobs may be today's Ted Turner, outflanking and outmaneuvering Big Media's chokehold over music and TV distribution.  A billion downloads in a few years?  Didn't the smart guys say iTunes would never work?  But of course, losing on Net Neutrality may threaten the iTunes end run around Big Media's chokehold on distribution to the consumer.  But that's another post...  Link: A Milestone for iTunes; a Windfall for a Downloader - New York Times.

My Network TV -- A Stinker is Born

Many, including us, saw the merger of UPN and the WB as an opportunity for the "orphaned" stations that would not get the new CW to put on local and independent programming, and thus compete against the same ol', same ol', from the same ol' TV networks.  Boy, was that ever wrong.  Spectacularly wrong!

"MY NEW NETWORK," will premiere next Fall on the 10 big market orphaned stations owned by Fox/News Corp./Murdoch, airing in primetime two new one-hour soap operas "Desire" and "Secrets," created by -- surprise -- Twentieth Television, Fox's syndication subsidiary.  "Other offerings will include reality shows featuring aspiring models, celebrities and single people searching for love "in a fantasy island setting," a crime show examining evidence from "the most compelling crimes committed today," and a quiz show, "America's Brainiest.""

And they're hoping to sell this astoundingly compelling "Must See TV" (insert mirthful Uh-huh chuckle track here) to the other orphaned stations.  Gosh, is it too late to undo the CW and bring UPN and The WB back again?

Link: News Corp. Creates New Network for Orphaned Affiliates - New York Times.

Promoting Wi-Fi Broadband Competition for Cable and Telcos

A pair of similar measures introduced Friday would give wireless device manufacturers the green light to develop products for unlicensed use on the broadband airwaves' "white spaces"--that is, empty, unused channels in the broadcast TV bands.  Companies interested in deploying Wi-Fi networks covet the bands of spectrum on which broadcast television currently resides because of its inherent scientific properties. Consumer advocates say using the spectrum would enable cheaper and easier set-up--and thus more widespread access for rural and low-income areas.  This is critical stuff for the future of the Internet.  The reason that cables and telcos are able to leverage their control over broadband access into eliminating Net Neutrality is simple: there is insufficient broadband competition.  Opening up this unlicensed spectrum to Wi-Fi broadband providers is one way to promote that much needed competition.  Link: Bills would boost unlicensed Wi-Fi | CNET News.com.

House Panel To Nix 'Network Neutrality' Safeguards

Bad news.  Per David Hatch in Technology Daily, "The House Energy and Commerce Committee expects to scrap plans for "network neutrality" safeguards in forthcoming telecommunications legislation...  Instead, the panel would move a streamlined video franchising bill sought by AT&T and Verizon Communications, which are deploying video services that will compete with cable companies. Under draft legislation recently floated by the panel, net neutrality would limit how much control high-speed Internet providers have over their networks. Internet companies such as eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo worry that, without such restrictions, telecom firms such as AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon might act as content gatekeepers...  One source privately warned that without neutrality restrictions, companies that control broadband pipes could do what they wanted. For months, network neutrality has been the centerpiece of a sweeping draft telecom bill pending before House Energy and Commerce. The issue has garnered national headlines, with many observers saying the Internet's future lies in how the term is defined in the bill." 

Many hoped to use the video franchising, which the Bells desperately want, as a trade for Net Neutrality.  But that strategy may now be dead, as the House committee jettisons bi-partisanship and narrowly delivers to the Bells relief from video franchising w/o addressing the need to keep the Internet that those Bells will deliver open and accessible to all.  Link: House Panel To Nix 'Network Neutrality' Safeguards.

Tollbooths on the Internet Highway - New York Times Op-Ed

Excellent NYT op-ed supporting Net Neutrality cuts through all the noisy static and gives clear and concise reasons, in easy to understand English, why what the cables and telcos are so desperately pushing is a really, really bad idea for everyone else.  "The solution, as far as the I.S.P.'s are concerned, could be what some critics are calling "access tiering," different levels of access for different sites, based on ability and willingness to pay. Giants like Walmart.com could get very fast connections, while little-guy sites might have to settle for the information superhighway equivalent of a one-lane, pothole-strewn road. Since many companies that own I.S.P.'s, like Time Warner, are also in the business of selling online content, they could give themselves an unfair advantage over their competition.

If access tiering takes hold, the Internet providers, rather than consumers, could become the driving force in how the Internet evolves. Those corporations' profit-driven choices, rather than users' choices, would determine which sites and methodologies succeed and fail. They also might be able to stifle promising innovations, like Internet telephony, that compete with their own business interests.

Most Americans have little or no choice of broadband I.S.P.'s, so they would have few options if those providers shifted away from neutrality. Congress should protect access to the Internet in its current form." Link: Tollbooths on the Internet Highway - New York Times.

Icahn Take Over TWX, But Now I Choose Not To

Carl Icahn threw in the towel on trying to take over and break up Time Warner.  It's an idea with great merit, but unfortunately he never seemed like he cared a fig about media or content or the company, but just wanted to make a buck busting up the company into little pieces.  Right idea, wrong man.  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

Media Life Magazine Interviews Us on A La Carte Cable

Thanks to Diego Vasquez of Media Life Magazine for interviewing us about our support for cable a la carte.  Link: Media Life Magazine.

Lessig's Senate Testimony on Net Neutrality

Lessig was far too wonky, in our view, particularly for the Senators (who on C-SPAN appeared extremely interested in the topic, but lost at sea about what it all meant).  Still, this is absolutely worth reading.  Link: Lessig_Testimony_2.pdf (application/pdf Object).

Creative Voices Praises FCC Study on A La Carte Cable

Today’s bundling system on cable and satellite gives Big Media -- the broadcast networks and Big Cable -- a chokehold over America’s television programming, restricting consumer choice largely to networks owned by broadcast network owners or large cable operators.  As the FCC recognized today in a newly released study, an a la carte option would enable consumers to access a wider diversity of programming from additional sources, full of diverse and competing voices and viewpoints – and at a lower cost.  It will also give consumers the ability to choose to not subscribe to networks on cable and satellite that offend them, eliminating any need for extending broadcast indecency regulations to cable.  This will be good not only for creative media artists, but for all Americans.  Read our press release here: Center for Creative Voices in Media: News.

Stevens Supports Net Neutrality

Ted Hearn writes in Multichannel News that powerful Senate Commerce Chair Ted Stevens supports placing Net Neutrality in the Telecom Bill rewrite.  “I do believe that net neutrality ought to be the basic principle of whatever legislation we pursue,” Stevens told reporters, saying that he hoped the committee would pass a bill in March.  The challenge, he added, was finding a consensus on defining net neutrality and codifying it in law. “I can’t put it in words. I’m going to have to take a look at it in terms of how you define real neutrality. It’s sort of like defining a vacuum, isn’t it? It's not easy to do,” Stevens said.

Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

Icahn: Blow Up Time Warner!

Carl Icahn hired investment bankers Lazard Freres to review the business operations of Time Warner.  Per the Hollywood Reporter, the Lazard "analytical paper argues that the combined TW has lacked a long-term vision; that its various units have hindered one anothers' growth more than they have created synergies; that it has sold such valuable assets as Warner Music Group and Comedy Central below their real value; and that it has failed to invest enough in key operations."  Gee, we've written all that on this blog; Icahn paid a hundred million to Lazard when he could have read it here for free!  Link: Dissidents propose TW breakup, new board.

Read the Lazard report and press release at Icahn's website, www.enhancetimewarner.com

Why Does Time Warner Exist? asks Michael Wolff

From Vanity Fair, a must read article on Time Warner that blasts hilariously the old-time "synergy" madness, and portrays Carl Icahn in the role of innocent boy who simply states the obvious: The Time Warner Emperor has no Clothes.

In the case of Time Warner, it's perfectly obvious what everyone is thinking. Obvious enough that Icahn doesn't need to have legions of M.B.A.'s telling him what's up. No investor, man on the street, politician with his finger in the wind, or employee would tell you differently: Time Warner, along with all the other centralized, vertically integrated, horizontally organized, multi-platform-function media companies, is just too big. The idea of agglomeration without limit turned out not to be such a good one. A no-brainer bad one.

Gotta Read This!  Link: VANITY FAIR : FEATURES : CONTENT.

Congloms Find No Synergies, and De-Conglom

In today's news:  CBS's decision last month to sell Paramount Parks is the latest example of how media-entertainment conglomerates are recognizing the limits of what synergy can deliver.  Time Warner sells off its book unit.  Disney sells off its radio network and announces it won't invest in more local TV stations. 

The Adelphia Deadlock

Excellent report on the FCC's review of the Comcast and Time Warner takeover of bankrupt Adelphia, spotlighting the concerns of the Competition & Diversity Coalition on the Adelphia Transaction (CADCAT).  Creative Voices is a member of CADCAT, a coalition of public interest and industry groups seeking pro-competitive and pro-diversity conditions on the takeover.  Link: The Adelphia Deadlock - Multichannel News.

Time Online Equals Time Watching TV

We've reached an important moment, where the trend lines for the Internet and TV businesses cross: According to JupiterResearch, "Online users spend as much time surfing the web as they do watching TV, and they spend far more time at it than they spend with other media. The internet, the study reveals, is becoming the most important medium for a large segment of the American public.  Since the rise of the internet, moreover, many Americans say they are spending less time reading magazines, newspapers and listening to the radio. “The impact of online is bigger than we realized,” says Barry Parr, a San Francisco-based media analyst at JupiterResearch. “The internet is tremendously influential. It has the kind of influence that we would have attributed to TV in the past.”  Link: Media Life Magazine.

Internet Becomes TV; TV Becomes Internet

Two demonstrations today of how rapidly the TV broadcast business is now embracing the Internet and moving programming to it.  Writes Variety, "NBC is jumping into the world of Net-based reality programming, pacting with Tommy Mottola and the producers of "The Biggest Loser" for an "American Idol"-like music competition.  Project, dubbed "StarTomorrow," reps the first time one of the major TV broadcast nets has launched an original entertainment series exclusively on the Internet. Rival Netcos are aggressively pursuing the genre as well, however: "Survivor" exec producer Mark Burnett is working on Web-based projects for Yahoo! and AOL."

Meanwhile, per THR, "CBS will make episodes from the next edition of its "Survivor" franchise available for download on CBS.com, marking the first time a network has offered its programming for purchase from its own Web site, the network said Wednesday. For $1.99 per episode, visitors to CBS.com can download full episodes of "Survivor: Panama -- Exile" starting at midnight following each episode's premiere on the broadcast network."

All of this raises the question of whither the broadcast part of the TV biz?  And why, as some like Jim Snider are asking here in his excellent paper, are we as a nation giving away free to broadcasters incredibly valuable swaths of spectrum owned by the public, so that they can broadcast digitally -- when that's a technology that is now being leapfroggeded by TV over Internet?  And if that broadcast technology is being leapfrogged, what are these digital broadcasters going to do with that valuable public spectrum that they've been given for free?

Link: Variety.com - Peacock has Webbed feat.  Link:  Hollywood Reporter. 

War Between Nets and Local Affiliates

The networks' local affiliates are tired of having the networks use the Web to directly reach consumers and are demanding a piece of the action.  Per the WSJ, "In a high-profile example, one of the most powerful CBS affiliates says it is in early discussions with the network to provide hit CBS shows via the station's Web site. The affiliate, Capitol Broadcasting Co.'s WRAL in Raleigh, N.C., wants to stream hit CBS shows live on the WRAL Web site and then offer them on demand afterward. Both versions would include commercials, with the live stream offered free, and on-demand downloads sold for a small fee. WRAL is one of the biggest stations in the nation that air CBS programming but isn't owned and operated by CBS itself. In CBS's case, there are 191 such affiliates, covering about 60% of the country. The twist that WRAL hopes will make its plan palatable to CBS is its use of technology developed by Decisionmark Corp. that allows stations to limit the geographic boundaries of their Web sites; only those living within reach of a station's old-fashioned signal would be able to view or download shows through their Web sites.

So, consumers will have to keep the local affiliate middleman in the loop, instead of downloading directly from CBS.com.  Would that be a pain or what?  Can you name the local affiliates in your local area?  Their websites?  Link: WSJ.com - As TV Networks Use Web, Affiliates Seek Piece of the Action.

Verizon Pushes For Market Solution To 'Net Neutrality'

Drew Clark reports that Verizon has broken with the other major cable and telco providers to support the principles of Net Neutrality -- as long as they are voluntary, unaccompanied by laws or regs, and have no teeth.  "We are trying to work with other players [in the technology and communications industries] to see how we can create the right climate to put market pressure on everyone to abide by the Internet principles," Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke told a press briefing.  But he said Verizon would continue to resist efforts to codify these Internet neutrality principles through legislation. Link: Verizon Pushes For Market Solution To 'Net Neutrality'.

Net Neutrality -- Write a Letter!

Free Press is organizing its 220,000 activists in a letter writing campaign to pressure the CEOs of the most rapacious telephone and cable companies to keep their hands off our Internet. They're also sending letters to Congress to to ensure that they put enforceable network neutrality principles into our telecommunications laws and regulations. 

More at www.freepress.net/deadend.

Icahn, Biondi Singing our Song at Time Warner

Carl Icahn has hired Frank Biondi, former topper of HBO and Viacom, to run Time Warner, if he gets control, that is.  And we've got to say, we sure like the thinking of Icahn and Biondi on how to get TWX moving again. Biondi said that he wants to make Time Warner (TWX) "a far more nimble, market- driven organization" by reducing corporate overhead, which he estimates at $500 million. He also plans to let Time Warner's (TWX) individual units, such as its cable networks and America Online (TWX), to pursue their own "creative and strategic interests."  "To achieve its true potential, Time Warner's (TWX) culture must change to enable each of its separate business units to develop their own strategies and capitalize on their leading roles in the rapidly evolving media sector," added Biondi. "They must not be constrained by a counterproductive bureaucracy." 

Amen to that.  Another nail in Synergy's Coffin.  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

We Discuss Adelphia, Cable and Net Neutrality

Marc Strassman interviews CV's Jonathan Rintels on the Adelphia take over, Media Concentration, and Net Neutrality in this wide-ranging downloadable interview/podcast. Link: jonathanrintels1.0.wma (audio/x-ms-wma Object).

Municipal Broadband -- Resistance is Futile

A VisionGain research report concludes, "Generally speaking, we believe resistance towards Muni networks is futile," says lead author Pam Duffey. "Finer points of the debate aside, it is fast becoming a city or state government duty to provide at least the means for widespread broadband service to the citizenry. By 2010/2011, we believe the majority of cities and townships in the US will have a municipal wireless network in place and the focus then will be in uniting them into a seamless, if not centralised, national network.  For a large number of reasons, municipalities are considering the concept of a Municipal Broadband Network as the "fifth utility." These communities are choosing between deploying fibre and a wireless broadband network using Wi-Fi hotspots, mesh networks or pre-WiMAX technology. There will be a significant build-out, blending technologies and building on existing service, both wired and unwired.

Unless the cables and telcos put a stop to it in Congress and state legislatures.  Link: 'Resisting Municipal Broadband is Futile, as Deployments Set to Double in 2006,' Says visiongain Report.

Web's Fate May Hinge on ISPs' Neutrality

Michael Hiltzik has an excellent column in the LA Times on Net Neutrality:  Absent network neutrality, network operators could dictate to customers which Internet services they could access, and at what quality. Customers of Apple's iTunes music store, say, might find their downloads slowed down, or blocked completely, if Apple refuses to pay a transaction fee to their ISP. Users of the Vonage Internet phone service might lose their dial tones if their Internet provider wants to sell its own brand of phone service. The Internet might become more profitable for network providers, and less useful for everybody else... "When you introduce discrimination of any kind, it's anti-innovative," says David Isenberg, a networking pioneer who is currently a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. If service providers are charged for preferential transmission, new services that can't afford the fee might be kept out of the marketplace."

Link: Web's Fate May Hinge on ISPs' Neutrality - Los Angeles Times.

Adelphia a La Carte?

Drew Clark writes about an interesting squiggle in the Adelphia take over battle:  DISH satellite TV has asked the FCC to impose a very limited a la carte condition on "Comcast and Time Warner to sell distributors their video content on a per-channel basis. If Time Warner and Comcast are required to unbundle such programming from existing contractual arrangements, the proposal calls for distributors to be required to offer the programs as a la carte programming to consumers.  EchoStar Chief Executive Officer Charlie Ergen made the proposal in separate, private meetings late last week wiith FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps.

If Martin decides to push the industry toward full-fledged a la carte, industry lobbyists said he could gain the support of Adelstein and Copps, the two Democrats on the commission. Because Comcast and Time Warner are the industry's two largest players, putting such a condition on their planned acquisition of Adelphia could push the industry as a whole toward a la carte."

Link: Per-Channel TV Pricing Proposed For Adelphia Purchase.

Ted Koppel Lays Blame for Lousy News on Media Deregulation

Koppel writes in an op-ed in the NY Times:  Once, 30 or 40 years ago, the target audience for network news was made up of everyone with a television, and the most common criticism lodged against us was that we were tempted to operate on a lowest-common-denominator basis. This, however, was in the days before deregulation, when the Federal Communications Commission was still perceived to have teeth, and its mandate that broadcasters operate in “the public interest, convenience and necessity” was enough to give each licensee pause. Network owners nurtured their news divisions, encouraged them to tackle serious issues, cultivated them as shields to be brandished before Congressional committees whenever questions were raised about the quality of entertainment programs and the vast sums earned by those programs. News divisions occasionally came under political pressures but rarely commercial ones. The expectation was that they would search out issues of importance, sift out the trivial and then tell the public what it needed to know.

Now, every division of every network is expected to make a profit..  Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

Ted, have you been reading our stuff?  Link: And Now, a Word for Our Demographic.

Disney-Pixar, UPN-WB

In Tinseltown, we were in meetings today with reps of all the major studios and networks (which in this consolidated day and age is not a big meeting).  Lo and behold, when we check email on the Palm, we discover all these company rascals are doing deals, consolidating Disney with Pixar and the CBS-owned UPN network with the WB net, jointly owned by Time Warner and Tribune.  What do the deals mean?

In Disney's case, the purchase of Pixar was an admission of defeat, as well as a bold attempt to embrace the future.  We have friends at Disney Animation, so please don't take offense -- but even they were saying that the place seemed like a creative dry hole and a bureaucratic hell hole.  It was the curse of the conglomerate that we've often written about -- so often it's death on creative spark.  The track records of Disney and Pixar tell the tale.  Both start their movies with the same blank paper that must be turned into a story that eventually becomes an animated film.  Yet those stories in Pixar's case generated big bucks, awards, sequels, critical praise.  Disney's stories generated far less successful movies on both a financial and critical level.  Bob Iger of Disney recognized this, and also recognized that to keep distributing Pixar movies, Disney would have to fork over a far higher proportion of the income generated.  Therefore, Iger did what Michael Eisner could not bring himself to do; that if Disney couldn't beat Pixar at the box office, on the awards dias, or at the negotiating table, it might as well join Pixar by purchasing it.

So what does this merger mean to creative voices and consumers?  On the whole, even though Pixar's independent voice and vision is no longer independent, we think it's a good thing.  We don't think that Disney's famously bureaucratic culture will put the creative kibbosh on Steve Jobs and especially John Lasseter, the top Pixar animator and former Disney animator, who will now take over Disney Animation and surgically implant and graft Pixarians into it.  And putting Steve Jobs and Apple and iTunes and iPod and Pixar together with Disney will initiate a wave of creative rethinking of everything.  At least, let's hope so.  Disney, like so many of the media conglomerates, needed to Think Different.  Now, the man who turned that phrase into a corporate slogan, Steve Jobs, will bring that to Disney.  Will he allow Disney to remain, as disgruntled and frustrated employees coined it, Mouse-witz and Duck-au?  We don't think so.  In our view, we think time will show that Disney didn't buy Pixar, but that Steve Jobs bought Disney.  Think Different!

AS FOR UPN-WB, this is a mixed and muddy picture, but again, we're hopeful.  First of all, Les Moonves, head of CBS and UPN, went out of his way to say that he would welcome content and shows to the newly combined net from independent producers.  And Time Warner, the co-owners of the WB, must have felt comfortable that their hugely prolific TV production arm would not be disadvantaged.  After all, that was the reason both Paramount and Warners started the UPN and WB nets -- to ensure a protected home for the product coming out of their TV production divisions after the FCC changed its rules to allow the networks to make their own programming.  These companies knew that they couldn't compete on a level playing field against the networks producing programming to then be distributed by those same nets.  So, they created their own nets.  Now, one of those will be gone -- the WB.  But the combination may ensure that the newly combined net -- The CW -- will offer more competition to the other four established nets, whereas UPN and especially the WB were not a good bet to both survive separately.  In addition, there will be a number of local broadcast stations that will now have no network affiliation, as there were in the old days.  Those stations will be looking for new content to fill up their schedules.  Now, there's no doubt some will just show old network reruns.  But our hope is that some of them Go Native and actually show some locally produced content, or that they become a way for non-network voices to once again reach a mass audience over the airwaves, as they were before Fox, UPN, and WB signed them up as affiliates. 

We also think this combination is evidence of the sea change in the TV industry brought about by the Net, the iPod, and other new means of distribution.  Outside of the largest markets and the strongest stations, the local station business will not be a good business for the networks.  Their distribution of original content will bypass the weak and the small stations, instead reaching consumers via cable, Net, DVD, and iPod.  Warners no longer needed a weak and unprofitable network to protect its profitable TV content production business.  If it has to, it can do that by starting a new basic cable net on Time Warner Cable or a new channel on AOL.

The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet

Excellent piece by Christopher Stern in the Washington Post Sunday on Net Neutrality.  Stern writes: "the nation's largest telephone companies have a new business plan, and if it comes to pass you may one day discover that Yahoo suddenly responds much faster to your inquiries, overriding your affinity for Google. Or that Amazon's Web site seems sluggish compared with eBay's. The changes may sound subtle, but make no mistake: The telecommunications companies' proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information -- and your personal experience -- on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another."

Link: The Coming Tug of War Over the Internet.

Will Internet TV Stay Local?

We've written that the proliferation of new TV distribution methods -- Internet, iPod, etc. -- spells the eventual end of local broadcasting affiliates.  Not so fast.  Not surprisingly, the affiliates are looking for ways to extend their local TV franchises to the Internet, and per today's NYT, they may have found one:  Decisionmark will use a zip code or even a computer's IP address to determine which affiliate that computer can download or stream network TV from, thus preserving the affiliates' exclusive territorial franchise.  Interesting.  NYT writes:

The big question is whether television industry constituents - networks, affiliates, programmers, writers, even advertisers - are better served by preserving the industry's current pecking order or by pursuing a more fundamental revamping of its business model to satisfy the "anytime, anywhere" demands of digital consumers. Expect this debate to come to a head if downloads of hit shows take off and local affiliates start losing viewers and advertisers as a result.

Link: This Time, the Revolution Will Be Televised - New York Times.

Indecency Debate: Is It Over Yet?

The push by the Parents TV Council, the American Family Assoc., and their brethren for greater indecency fines, a la carte cable, and/or extending indecency legislation to cable and satellite may have hit the wall in the Senate yesterday.  Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), Chairman of the Commerce Committee, seems satisfied to let cable and satellite's "Family Tiers" have a test run in the marketplace.  And he appears placated by Jack Valenti's promise of a broadcaster and cable-led $250-$300 million 18-month campaign to educate consumers about the V chip, channel blockers, ratings systems, and other means they already have to cope with content they find offensive.  Stevens has never been a rabid hawk on indecency and avoided grandstanding on the issue, unlike many of his colleagues.  Rather, he seemed genuinely interested in pressing the industry to police itself, albeit while brandishing a big threatening stick of more gov't regulation.  Yesterday, he appeared to declare if not outright victory, then a long-standing truce. 

According to Ted Hearn at Multichannel News:  Stevens said a la carte legislation was still a possibility, but it was not something he would support while cable and DBS are clearly trying to accommodate lawmakers and family groups troubled by raunchy programming.  "It's still out there, and it will have to be discussed sometime. But I do believe these voluntary efforts may result in the kind of choice and kind of controls parents have requested and family groups have demanded," Stevens said.

So the push for a la carte cable now moves to the FCC, where Chairman Kevin Martin is a big fan of the concept.  A month ago, Martin told Senator Stevens that a revised FCC study concluded a la carte would not cost consumers more, as Michael Powell's FCC had noisily proclaimed.  But that revised study still has not been released.  And Martin's regulatory authority to impose a la carte may be shaky.  With Chairman Stevens, who oversees the FCC in the Senate, now satisfied that cable's efforts to address indecency are sufficient for now, it's doubtful Martin will conclude otherwise and act. 

Our conclusion:  unless there is another Janet Jackson-type incident at this year's Super Bowl, or something equally outrageous, while the rhetoric will continue, Congress will not pass new indecency legislation this year and the FCC will not take up a la carte cable.

Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

More on the End of Synergy

Per Daily Variety:  CBS and DIC Entertainment are partnering on a Saturday morning kids block, "CBS's Secret Saturday Morning Slumber Party," for the fall. The deal exemplifies the split between just-separated Viacom and CBS.  The CBS hookup with DIC means the current kids programming block on the Eye, "Nick Jr. on CBS," will go away come fall -- an interesting development in its own right, since up until three weeks ago Nick and the Eye were siblings within the single Viacom fold.  Now they're units of two separately quoted congloms, and the same family values are no longer shared. 

Gee, wasn't the synergy of putting Viacom's Nick programming onto CBS a big piece of the sales pitch for combining those two companies in the first place?  Well, as Tom Freston, head of Viacom, wishes he had never said, "Synergy is bullshit."  Link: Variety.com - Synergy not kid-friendly at Eye web.

NBC's Value to GE -- Image Control?

Fascinating article about whether GE ought to sell NBC contains this tell-it-like-it-is quote from Barry Ritholtz, chief investment officer with Ritholtz Capital Partners, a hedge fund that focuses on media and technology stocks.  Ritholtz claims that "The value of NBC hasn't been its bottom line impact or the amount of cash it throws off. It is having a mouthpiece that protects GE. It enables the company to maintain and control its own public relations."

In a breath, Ritholtz sprinkles truth dust on the oft-stated claim that NBC's corporate parentage -- as well as the parentage of all the big media companies, including Murdoch's News Corp. and Fox -- plays no role in the way that network covers the news, the White House, the war in Iraq, and other issues in which GE has a corporate interest.  Which is why media consolidation and concentration are so dangerous to our nation's democracy and culture. 

Link: Media Biz: Does GE still need NBC? - Jan. 19, 2006.

Coalition Fights Comcast, Time Warner Take Over of Adelphia

Creative Voices has joined the Competition and Diversity Coalition on the Adelphia Transaction (CADCAT), which calls on the FCC and FTC to protect consumers if Comcast and Time Warner are permitted to take over Adelphia. Without significant conditions in that take over, Comcast and Time Warner Cable will solidify their gatekeeper power over television, preventing not just their own subscribers but all Americans from accessing independent and diverse voices and viewpoints. It will make a mockery of Congress’s goal of a ‘level playing field’ in cable that will not unfairly impede the flow of video programming to consumers.

“This proposed merger will create monopoly level consolidation. And monopoly is fundamentally wrong for American consumers. When competitors are denied access to critical content it means viewers either lose access to programming or are forced to pay higher prices. Both outcomes should be unacceptable,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Media Access Project.

Read the Coalition's press release here. 

And don't forget to read Creative Voices' 65 page report, Cable’s “Level Playing Field” – Not Level. No Field. Recounting the real-life experiences and observations of top players in the cable business, including some of the pioneers who created the cable industry such as Leo Hindery, John Malone, Ted Turner, and Barry Diller, this report documents that the “level playing field" required by law and regulation does not exist today in America’s cable industry. Instead, today's giant cable operators seek to control the content they distribute, whether they deliver it via cable television or broadband Internet.  Our report is here. 

TV's Evolution Brings New Profit Squabbles

Meg James in the LA Times has an excellent report on the struggle among networks, producers, writers, etc., to come up with a business model that evolves along with the rapid evolution of TV distribution.  How do writers and producers get paid, and how much, when Disney, CBS, Fox, and NBC sell their shows in the iTunes store just after their airing?  And will that take into account the diminution of value of the repeats later, when writers and producers today make a significant portion of their compensation?  More broadly, will the evolving TV distribution model cost talent a significant portion of their incomes and revenue streams? 

Link: TV's Evolution Brings New Profit Squabbles - Los Angeles Times.

Net Neutrality Promoted in NYT

Randall Stross writes a terrific column in the NYT on net neutrality that puts the big kibbosh on the Bells' and cables' claims that discrimination is good. 

The digital lifestyle I see portrayed so alluringly in ads is not possible when the Internet plumbing in our homes is as pitiful as it is. The broadband carriers that we have today provide service that attains negative perfection: low speeds at high prices.

It gets worse. Now these same carriers - led by Verizon Communications and BellSouth - want to create entirely new categories of fees that risk destroying the anyone-can-publish culture of the Internet. And they are lobbying for legislative protection of their meddling with the Internet content that runs through their pipes. These are not good ideas.

...the superabundance of content in the Internet's ecosystem is best explained by its organizing principle of "network neutrality." The phrase refers to the way the Internet welcomes everyone who wishes to post content. Consumers, in turn, enjoy limitless choices. Rather than having network operators select content providers on our behalf - the philosophy of the local cable company - the Internet allows all of us to act as our own network programmers, serving a demographic of just one person.

Today, the network carrier has a minor, entirely neutral role in this system - providing the pipe for the bits that move the last miles to the home. It has no say about where those bits happened to have originated. Any proposed change in its role should be examined carefully, especially if the change entails expanding the carrier's power to pick and choose where bits come from - a power that has the potential to abrogate network neutrality.

Left unmentioned in Verizon's pitch is the concentration of power that it enjoys in its service area, which would allow it to ignore the equal-access principle whenever it wishes. We are asked to take on faith that it and the other telephone companies with similar plans will handle ordinary network traffic with the same care they would show if they had not begun parallel businesses for the carriage trade. How likely is that?

Link: Hey, Baby Bells: Information Still Wants to Be Free - New York Times.

Financial Times Editorializes for Net Neutrality

Demonstrating that Net Neutrality -- and the huge stakes -- are gaining traction in the financial and mainstream world, the Financial Times editorializes:

There are a couple of obvious flaws in the phone companies' case. One is that they are already being paid by customers to provide the network connection: home users typically pay between $25 and $40 a month for a DSL or cable high-speed internet connection in the US. There is nothing to stop the companies charging more to customers who use the most bandwidth.  The second flaw is the idea that network capacity is hugely limited. The speed of internet connections, not only in the US but in other countries, has been rising and advances in technology will ensure that this continues. The suggestion that internet telephony companies such as Vonage are hogging broadband capacity unfairly owes more to phone companies' efforts to raise their profits than reality.

Phone companies have already been stopped by the Federal Communications Commission from crudely blocking services that do not suit them. After fining phone companies that tried to block Vonage, the FCC adopted a set of broadband deployment principles in August that protect consumers' rights to run internet applications and services of their choice. The phone companies are now taking a second run, in a subtler manner, by proposing to provide a fast-lane for those who pay. This could add up to the same thing. Instead of providing a connection that can be used by all - not only large companies such as Google but small start-ups and individuals - the phone companies would be ranking different services.

That approach would be unfortunate even if there were free competition among broadband providers. At least consumers could then select a provider that offered open access. But, in practice, most people at best have a choice between a DSL and a cable internet connection. The FCC, and other communications regulators, should ensure that utilities do not distort internet services for their own ends.

Link: FT.com / Comment & analysis / Editorial comment - Internet, interrupted.

The Closing of the Internet?

John Markoff has an excellent article about the coming of Internet TV, and the battle over whether the future Net will be open or closed.  He correctly analogizes this battle to the fight over whether in the Net's dial-up days, AOL and others could maintain their closed "walled garden."  Of today's attempt by broadband providers and other to close the Net and only allow access to their walled video gardens, Markoff writes: "But fending off the Internet's openness will be a struggle, one that the online companies themselves lost years ago.  At the onset of the dot-com era, large online service companies like AOL, Compuserve and MSN tried to lock customers into electronic walled gardens of digital information. But it quickly became apparent that no single company could compete with the vast variety of information and entertainment sources provided on the Web.

"The same phenomenon may well overtake traditional TV providers. Potentially, IPTV could replace the 100- or 500-channel world of the cable and satellite companies with millions of hybrid combinations that increasingly blend video, text from the Web, and even video-game-style interactivity... There are powerful companies that are now anxious to reach homes without being subjected to special content arrangements with D.S.L., cable and satellite providers. They are companies like Apple, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others, with all of them beginning to make available an ever-widening array of video content that looks more like a world of five million channels rather than 50 or even 500.

On Thursday, Intel introduced its new ViiV computer design that is intended to bring the abilities of the personal computer to the living room. ViiV is a set of computer hardware and software technologies that will go inside computers and set-top boxes. Several hundred consumer electronics and computer companies announced plans to build ViiV-based systems, and Mr. Otellini said that more than 100 companies, including AOL, ESPN, MTV, NBC and Turner Broadcasting, would offer digital content for ViiV-based systems... Microsoft is also cooperating with two of the largest telephone service providers...

Still, critics charge that the telephone companies are intentionally crippling the Internet capabilities of their services to appear much like traditional closed cable offerings. "They're trying to construct their own separate world to keep their walled garden," said Robert Frankston, a personal computer industry pioneer and former Microsoft researcher.

The growing tension has begun to show in the objections of existing D.S.L. and cable providers that are threatening to create surcharges for Internet content providers as well as the prospect of the deployment of a two-tiered Internet in which favored customers would in effect have special high-performance lanes reserved for their use.

"They believe that if you control the user interface you make more money than if you are a dumb pipe," said Rob Glaser, chief executive of RealNetworks, the Internet music and video service provider."

No Walled Gardens!  Link: Coming Soon to TV Land: The Internet, Actually - New York Times.

"Let There Be Wi-Fi"

Excellent article by Robert McChesney and John Podesta that in many ways is the bookend to our call for Net Neutrality, see below.  Link: "Let There Be Wi-Fi" by Robert McChesney and John Podesta.

Donahue on the Perils of Media Concentration

Excellent interview with Phil Donahue at AlterNet.  He discusses the difficulties of being against the Iraq War on his MSNBC show and brings up one big reason we battle media consolidation and concentration:

Remember, I was working for General Electric [the parent company of NBC and MSNBC]. You know, one of General Electric's biggest customers is the Pentagon. Do I know for a fact that that's germane [to my show being canceled]? No, I can't prove this. But I can prove that a memo was certainly leaked to the media in which management said I was presenting a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war … at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

Is it possible to be anti-war in this country and have your own show?

Yes -- if you're a comedian...  Access is everything in Washington, and if you're the executive producer at one of the big news shows and you piss off Karl Rove, you're not going to get Condi or Rummy or any of those guests who would legitimize your show as a serious, important program. Suddenly you're going to be shut out, wallowing alone, with a boss saying, "What's wrong with you? How come those people got Colin Powell and we didn't? " There's an unwritten, subliminal need to curry favor here. 

Excellent.  Link: AlterNet: MediaCulture: A Dialogue with Donahue.

Internet at Risk

The WSJ had an excellent article this morning on the plans of the telcos to discriminate among content on the Internet based on who pays them the most money.  As many of us predicted after the Brand X decision awarded broadband providers this right and power to discriminate, the Internet will become a very different place -- far more closed, proprietary, and consumer un-friendly -- than it is today unless we act.  Given that so much of our media will eventually be delivered via the broadband Internet, Net Neutrality is a critical and immediate issue.  Many are already familiar with this issue, but if you’d like to read more, we wrote an article in fairly non-wonky prose for the Hollywood guilds, “The Future of the Internet: Open or Closed?”  It is available here. 

Writes the WSJ: "We need a watchful eye to ensure that network providers do not become Internet gatekeepers, with the ability to dictate who can use the Internet and for what purposes," said Commissioner Michael Copps of the Federal Communications Commission. He helped press to get the FCC enforcement power over issues of "net neutrality" as a condition of recent mergers in the telecom industry. "Net neutrality" is the idea that owners of phone and cable networks can't dictate how a consumer uses the Internet or discriminate against any Internet content, regardless of the source.

Link: WSJ.com - Phone Companies Set Off A Battle Over Internet Fees.

CES -- The Year of Convergence -- Finally?

Talking about the CES confab in Las Vegas, News Corp. Prez Peter Chernin asserted that the “big untold story of this show is that finally, we’re really seeing the coming together of the content business, the technology business and the [consumer-electronics] business.” 
Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

Actually, Peter, it seems as if that story is being told ad nauseum.  Because, it appears, after years of ballyhoo about convergence, it finally is happening.  Content owners like the networks, are finally becoming comfortable with using the Net to distribute directly to consumers on a Pay Per View/Download basis not just the dregs of their libraries, but the jewels -- the current primetime lineup.  And in a truly stunning development, Fox is going to sell to its DirecTV satellite system subscribers its current primetime shows BEFORE they air on local broadcast TV stations.  If the other networks follow suit, then the local affiliate broadcast business model may be in its death throes.  And I wouldn't be putting the Nest Egg into cable either. 

Producers favor indie films for award noms

Funny thing happened in Hollywood this week: independent films got nearly all the award nominations from the Writers and Producers Guilds.  Coincidence?  We think not.  The conglom studios simply are not structured to incubate and produce the kind of quality, thought-provoking, finely crafted fare that garners awards for excellence in writing and producing -- unless, of course, it's honchoed by a megastar like Steven Spielberg.  Instead, the studios are looking for blockbusters -- high-concept tentpole pix that are easy to market to the mass audience.  Films that have a point of view or challenge the audience -- those must be produced by independents who have a passion for the material. 

Why do we point this out?  Because in broadcast TV, there are no more independents.  Only the studios produce programming for primetime.  It didn't used to be this way; until a decade ago, FCC regs required the networks to air programming from independents.  But then, so-called "deregulation" swept those rules out.  Citing the now discredited mantra of "synergy," the networks vertically integrated and took over production of nearly all their primetime shows.  Today, nearly every significant independent primetime producer is either out of business or working for a network or its wholly-owned studio.  The most recent casualty is also one of the best known -- Carsey Werner, which produced such shows as Cosby, Roseanne, Third Rock, That '70's Show, etc., etc., etc., closed its doors in late 2005.  The one exception is in so-called "reality" programming -- a messy business with little value in repeats that the networks and studios are happy to leave to independents.

There's some excellent programming on primetime TV, no question.  But there's also a definite sameness and staleness; how long until we get Law and Order: Bailiff! or CSI -- Hoboken?  The Guilds' film nominations demonstrate once again that producers and writers often create their best work when they have the freedom to work independently, outside the studio system.  That freedom doesn't exist today in broadcast TV. 

The creative artists suffer, but it's the public that really is the poorer for it.  Because the public gets so much of its information about issues, values, culture, and history from not the news, but entertainment TV (think Cosby and Archie Bunker), there is a significant public interest issue here in restoring independent voices to the public airwaves.  Which is why in the upcoming media ownership proceeding, we'll be asking the FCC to restore that freedom. 

Link: Producers favor indie films for award noms.

Triple Play Over Power Lines?

That's what Current Communications says it will offer in TX later this year.  The company that has successfully deployed broadband over powerline will use that broadband connection to also provide Phone, via VOIP, and video, a la the new telco offerings.  With Google, John Malone, and other heavyweights as investors, and the ability to use the Google brand, let's watch this closely.  Oh, and by the way, Current says that with regard to its TV offerings, “The market demand model would suggest that there would be bundled offerings as well as a la carte offerings available.”  Gee, why doesn't that market demand model work for the Big Cable companies and broadcasters?  Hmmm...

Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

Synergy in its "Death Throes" -- Sumner Redstone

Gee, ol' Sumner must be reading our blog.  Once one of the leading evangelists of "synergy" -- the idea that if companies vertically integrated to control both creation and distribution of content, both the company and the consumer would benefit -- Sumner has apparently seen it just ain't so.  Neither the consumer nor the company benefits -- to the contrary, they get hosed.  Witness not just Viacom, but other poster children for "dopey" synergy -- Disney and AOL.  And it has hit ol' Sumner right in the pocketbook as the majority stockholder of his vertically integrated conglomerate, Viacom, which has so substantially underperformed the market in the past few years.

So, today, as Sumner splits the Viacom he put together into two companies, New Viacom and CBS, CNBC asked him, "Is synergy dead?" 

Replied Sumner, "It's not dead, but it's in its death throes."  Sumner, we hate to say it, but we told ya so.

Watching the Web on TV

Excellent overview of TV and Net convergence, long dreamed of and disparaged, but which is now coming faster than most think.  The problem is what will it look like?  Here's why we think it must be delivered over broadband that is Net Neutral -- otherwise it becomes just another cable TV system, with more channels:

Some service providers plan to follow the lead of cable and satellite operators, cutting deals with content owners to offer only a selection of Web-based programs rather than opening up the TV to the Internet.  "What you are going to see in the near future is just another walled garden," predicts Saul Berman, a global partner in International Business Machines Corp.'s media-and-entertainment consulting business. "It's not true Internet TV."

Not if we can help it!  Link: WSJ.com - Watching the Web on TV.

More on the "End of TV as We Know It"

In a trial run, CBS will stream for free prior episodes of some of its current hit series on Yahoo TV.  "We're always looking for ways to provide current and potential new viewers every possible opportunity to sample our series," said Nancy Tellem, president, CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. "We want to be where the viewers are, and this exclusive partnership with Yahoo! gives us the chance to target an expanded online audience … at a time of the year when many potential viewers are home on vacation and surfing the Internet."  The episodes are from several weeks back, which CBS says is because they were among the strongest. But that should also appeal to affiliates concerned about repurposing too close to the original airdate.  No response from cable companies, who may be threatened just as much as affiliates in this further demonstration of CBS's "end run around cable" strategy.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Net Is a Boon for Indies

The Net is death on middlemen and distributors, as it easily enables consumers and creators to meet directly and transact business.  It's no different in media.  The giant conglomerates are marketers and distributors -- middlemen.  And first in music, and now more and more in film and TV, the Net lets consumers pick and choose the content they want, instead of the content that the congloms want to sell them.  The NYT today has an excellent article on this phenom in music, where indie labels and bands use the Net to bypass the congloms.  This is why Net Neutrality is so critical -- because putting the Net in the hands of the congloms themselves would decimate this freedom.

Exploiting online message boards, music blogs and social networks, independent music companies are making big advances at the expense of the four global music conglomerates, whose established business model of blockbuster hits promoted through radio airplay now looks increasingly outdated.  In a world of broadband connections, 60-gigabyte MP3 players and custom playlists, consumers have perhaps more power than ever to indulge their curiosities beyond the music that is presented through the industry's established outlets, primarily radio stations and MTV.
"Fans are dictating," said John Janick, co-founder of Fueled by Ramen, the independent label in Tampa, Fla., whose roster includes underground acts like Panic! At the Disco and Cute Is What We Aim For. "It's not as easy to shove something down people's throats anymore and make them buy it. It's not even that they are smarter; they just have everything at their fingertips. They can go find something that's cool and different. They go tell people about it and it just starts spreading."

Link: The Net Is a Boon for Indie Labels - New York Times.

Broadband in Every Pot!

The LA Times editorializes that in the transition to Digital TV, now scheduled for early 2009, DC policymakers should not resell all the old analog spectrum they get back (if they ever do get it back) from broadcasters.  Instead, they should reserve a sliver of spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband access, bringing affordable broadband to many more Americans.  This is even more critical now, with the Brand X decision enabling today's incumbent broadband providers -- cable and telcos -- to discriminate among content and direct consumers to websites that "pay for play." 

Washington should leave some of the reclaimed frequencies open to the public without need for lease or license. With the right technologies and rules to guard against interference, these airwaves could not only enable community-based high-speed Internet services, but provide a laboratory for wireless innovation.  By opening a few slivers of the spectrum to unlicensed wireless data services in 1986, the FCC made possible an explosion in Wi-Fi, or wireless fidelity, communication gear and services that continues to this day. The reclaimed analog TV frequencies hold even more promise. Rather than mining every bit for auction revenue, lawmakers should reserve some of the airwaves for whatever services and applications that innovative technologists and community groups can squeeze into them.

Net neutrality and ubiquitous wireless broadband.  That's the ticket!

Link: The digital frontier - Los Angeles Times.

Comcast's Family Tier

If you're a family that likes sports or news, you're pretty much out of luck at both Comcast and Time Warner Cable (see below) if you also want the "Family Friendly" package.  Interestingly, Comcast will offer 3 Nick channels in its FF package, while Time Warner Cable left Nick out entirely.  And, having finally and inevitably caved in to pressure from both Congress and FCC Chair Kevin Martin to offer more choice to parents, Steve Burke, Chief Operating Officer of Comcast, said of his company's surrender, "Offering a Family Tier to our customers is one more step in Comcast's efforts to provide a broad array of family-friendly programming."  Strange how just a few days ago, Big Cable was saying to the FCC and Congress that offering a FF tier would melt the polar ice caps and generally end life on earth as we know it.  Comcast's press release is here.

Family Friendly Tier Doomed to Dud-dom

As we predicted, see below, cable's family-friendly tier will be a dud -- because it was specifically designed by the cable companies to be a dud.  Here's Joe Flint's take in the WSJ: 

But it isn't necessarily in cable operators' best interest to make their family-friendly packages desirable. The lower price tag than for a standard cable package means less revenue, even if some subscribers pay to upgrade to digital service to get the family tier. An executive at a rival cable operator estimated that it would cost cable companies $10 a month for every subscriber who signs up for family-friendly service. But cable companies, wary of consumer and government pressure, are reluctant to charge more for such a limited service.  "It doesn't make sense for any distributor to put something out there that will immediately attract 30% of their customers," says Rob Stengel, a cable industry consultant.

Link: WSJ.com - The Small Screen.

Time Warner Names Jeff Bewkes President and COO

Jeff Bewkes is now heir apparent to the top job at Time Warner, which after its disastrous merger with AOL became the poster child for mindless, creativity destroying agglomeration.  Interesting to recall what Bewkes said a few years ago regarding consolidation and "synergy," which we quoted to the FCC in the 2003 Media Ownership Proceeding in asking that a percentage of TV production be reserved for independent and diverse producers not affiliated with a network:

Jeff Bewkes, AOL Time Warner Entertainment & Networks Group chairman and former head of HBO, says vertical integration in television has been harmful.  "Horizontal integration can be useful if you don't let it 'factory-ize' creative production. … But where people got fouled up was in vertical integration.  Saying you need to buy something to provide content for your network is bullshit -- you can get product from anywhere."

Alas, Michael Powell didn't see the wisdom in Mr. Bewkes' reasoning -- or ours!  But with the Media Ownership proceeding set to resume in early 2006, we look forward to quoting Mr. Bewkes approvingly again!

Link: Time Warner Names Jeff Bewkes President and Chief Operation Officer - New York Times.

Silicon Valley vs. Hollywood

Excellent article in The San Jose Mercury News by Scott Kirsner about the "war" between Silicon Valley and Hollywood over the creation and delivery of media.

The mantra of the south, for the past 100 years, has been, ``You'll take it when we give it to you, and you'll like it.'' Movies are released in a succession of ``windows'' devised by the studios and their business partners to extract maximum revenue, from the theatrical run to DVD to broadcast television.  The north's rallying cry, at least since the arrival of the Web in the 1990s, has been ``What you want, how you want it, when you want it.'' Northern California companies are busy creating innovative new ways to deliver entertainment, on consumers' terms. Sometimes, this innovation can seem to Hollywood like a dangerous free-for-all, as when the peer-to-peer file-sharing services Napster and Grokster rose to popularity. But in shaping the future of entertainment, Hollywood may be dependent on Silicon Valley -- and vice versa. So why can't the north and south just learn to get along, producing and delivering content in harmony, in a way that appeals to consumers?

As the technologies used to deliver entertainment continue to rapidly mutate -- as the Net is connected to the TV in the living room, and as a fleet of satellites begins delivering digital content to the neighborhood multiplex -- we may be in the early days of a fourth California gold rush. This one will require strong bonds between north and south, taking advantage of the north's technical ingenuity and the south's unbridled creativity.

Rather than circling each other like the Jets and Sharks at a rumble, Silicon Valley and Hollywood ought to consider themselves allies in reinventing the entertainment industry, introducing new, legal ways for people to enjoy content at home, on the go or in the theater.

Link: MercuryNews.com Silicon Valley, Hollywood have chance to reinvent entertainment industry.

Taking Issue With Alterman

Eric Alterman printed our response to his column criticizing a la carte cable as harming indie and diverse channels such as Current.  We replied that it would be the best thing in the world for channels like Current, as it can't get carriage on cable now and probably would in an a la carte world. 

Link: Slacker Friday - Altercation - MSNBC.com.  Eric's column is here.

Why Aren't We Seeing This?

WSJ's article on Current TV raves about the channel and its content, but barely touches on why the vast majority of Americans can't receive it on their TV's:  "While Current has had some luck getting distribution with Time Warner Inc. and satellite-TV company DirecTV Group Inc., it hasn't yet won over Comcast Corp., the biggest cable operator. To put pressure on Comcast, Current held a rally outside Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia. Mr. Hyatt, Current's chief executive, says the channel's problem is that it lacks the leverage of a larger media company to urge cable companies to carry the new channels." For more on why an up and coming channel with content that critics rave about -- a channel that drew 7,000 fans to Comcast HQ in Philly to demand that Comcast carry it -- isn't seen by so many Americans, see our report, Cable's "Level Playing Field" -- Not Level.  No Field. here.

Link: WSJ.com - Made-by-Viewers TV.

Steve Case -- Oops, My Bad!

Steve Case, one of the chief architects and evangelists of the Time Warner - AOL merger, now says it was all a mistake.  Per Case (and Icahn), it's time to break off AOL from TWX, and then go further, breaking up TW into three divisions: TW Cable, TW Film & TV, and Time Inc. magazines. 

Gosh, who could have forseen that corporate bureaucracy and infighting could and would stifle creativity, innovation, imagination, and nimbleness -- the qualities that are the hallmarks of Yahoo, Google, and the other Internet companies that have left AOL in their wake on the Net?  Well, casting all modesty to the side, Creative Voices was just one of many that predicted it would all play out pretty much as it has.  Writes the now older and wiser Case:

When the merger was announced, analysts believed that Time Warner's music, movies and magazines along with its cable systems would speed up AOL's transition from phone dial-up to broadband, and that AOL's Internet mentality would accelerate growth at Time Warner. Neither has occurred.  While most criticism of the merger has focused on how it has failed to yield the expected benefits for Time Warner, it is worth noting that the combination has not helped AOL much either... Instead of propelling AOL to new heights, the association with Time Warner has weighed AOL down, while its competitors, such as Google and Yahoo, have made important strides forward.

Steve, we warned ya...  Sigh...  Link: It's Time to Take It Apart.

DreamWorks, R.I.P.

One of the last major indies bites the dust in Hollywood.  Even though it was only 11 years old, DreamWorks was legendary for its creators -- Katzenberg, Geffen, and Spielberg (the "SKG" of its name) -- and for taking chances on riskier films that no established studio would ever make, such as American Beauty. 

As Claudia Eller and Sallie Hofmeister wrote in the LA Times, the buyout of DreamWorks by Viacom's Paramount "would mark the end of a dream hatched 11 years ago, when three of Hollywood's most high-profile figures — director Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and veteran studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg — set out to build a multifaceted entertainment empire. The sale to Paramount would leave the industry with just one major independent studio: Lions Gate Entertainment."

In terms of TV, DW's production studio seemed to aspire to something above and beyond what emerged from the network studios.  Its Into the West miniseries for cable was a resounding success.  Its Father of the Pride was an earthshattering dud.  But that's what happens when you take risks.  For the issue of concentration in TV that we care so much about, this transaction eliminates DW as an independent producing voice.  Without a distribution pipe that it controlled, such as the other production companies have in their own networks, DW was like any other independent TV production company -- utterly at the mercy of those distributors which it is also in competition with.  Hardly a recipe for business success, which explains why DW never committed significant resources to TV production.  That's why we believe regulators ought to create a carve-out on broadcast TV for independent producers -- a set minimum of shows on prime time from independent producers.  We believe the public would benefit from more original and diverse voices on TV and the studios/networks themselves would benefit from the competition and fresh ideas. 

Ultimately, however, it is in theatrical live action films, such as American Beauty, and in computer generated animation, where DW's Shrek gave the world a non-Disneyfied cartoon hero with edge and breathed fresh life into the form, that the loss of the independent voice of DreamWorks will be felt by not just fans of films, but all.

Link: Paramount Reportedly Set to Buy DreamWorks - Los Angeles Times.

"Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections and Destroy Democracy"

That's the title of a new book by our fellow activists Robert McChesney and John Nichols, touted today in an article by AP Media Writer Frazier Moore:

"Media is the way it is because of decisions made by Congress and the FCC that are not particularly healthy for a democracy," declares Nichols, who is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine. "Our media has become more concentrated and more national in its ownership, and less connected at the local level to the people."

Adds McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois, "You have to understand what created this system: a series of government policies and subsidies enacted behind closed doors without public involvement." Much of it falls under the rubric of "media deregulation." But more often than not, McChesney argues, so-called deregulation advances the interests of the dominant corporate players, further ensuring their dominance while imposing upon them few if any civic obligations (even for government-licensed broadcasters using public airwaves).

But as dire as the situation may be, it is not hopeless. A "take back the media" movement is gathering steam."  Link: Excite News.

Unbundling Television

Bambi Francisco's article on unbundling television captures the trend that's coming like a freight train to TV -- that the same consumer urge to take only the content he/she wants, such as via iPod, is part of the attraction of the Net and will be a big challenge -- and perhaps opportunity -- for content owners and cable distributors.  Link: Net Sense: No bundles on the Web, please - Internet Services - Internet - Opinion.

Cable's A La Carte Competition

Two stories today illustrate cable's folly at fighting a la carte distribution.  First, Google Video is getting serious:  "The next step - in the near-term - is to have a service where users can pay to download content," said Jennifer Feiken, who runs Google Video. "Content owners [can] set the price for their content. That will bring on a whole category of content owners who want to be paid for their content." She says that Google will test different price points.   Link: Fast Company Now.

Second, the ultimate video a la carte system, the Apple video iPod, will now get NBC content, including those great old episodes of Dragnet starring Jack Webb -- that'll put the iPod factory on triple shifts!  Link: Smartmoney.com: Apple/NBC Deal Seen Boosting Video IPod Sales.

Cable companies consider family tier

Suddenly, the impossible seems very possible -- Big Cable, which claimed adding more tiers and choices for consumers, such as a "family-friendly" tier, would end life as we know it on Planet Earth, suddenly finds them palatable as a way to avoid the even greater "danger" of giving consumers what they really want -- an a la carte option.  Reports say both Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner (TWX) are considering offering cable-TV customers a special "family tier" including Disney, Discovery and other family-friendly offerings.  Other big broadcasters, such as Fox, which would have its FX cable channel probably excluded from this family friendly tier, are apoplectic.  Not only are they pissed some of their channels will be excluded, but all the cable network owners see any yielding on tiers as a way-station on the road to the Armageddon of an a la carte option. 

Link: USATODAY.com - Cable companies consider family tier.

Harold Feld's Tales of the Sausage Factory: Did I really see that?

A wonderful blog post on FCC Chair Kevin Martin's stunning repudiation of last year's FCC Cable study and his endorsement of cable a la carte as pro-consumer and an excellent way to deal with the problem of "indecency" on cable.  Link: Harold Feld's Tales of the Sausage Factory: Did I really see that?.

FCC Serious About A La Carte

According to Ted Hearn at Multichannel News, FCC Chair "Kevin Martin not only thinks that cable systems should sell programming by the channel in a menu of a la carte choices -- he’s also looking for legal grounds that could force the issue.  Federal Communications Commission staff are now looking into whether existing law provides any opening that could compel cable systems to adopt some form of a la carte pricing, according to an aide to chairman Martin. Martin's staff -- in a preliminary way, the aide stressed -- is focused on a provision of the 1984 Cable Act that gives the agency discretion to “promulgate any additional rules that may be necessary to promote diversity of information sources.

They are singing our song and need look no further than our report, "Cable's Level Playing Field.  Not Level.  No Field." available here.  Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

More End of Media Synergy

Carl Icahn's hostile takeover bid for Time Warner is the latest in Wall Street's reevaluation of the benefits of media "synergy" that justified so much of the past decade's harmful consolidation.  As more and more on and off The Street are realizing "The synergy emperor has no clothes," press reports say the proposed break-up at Time Warner would lead to four companies - Time Warner Cable, the AOL Internet business, the Time Inc. (TWX) publishing business, and the content business consisting of the Warner Brothers studios and cable channels such as HBO and CNN, according to the report.  Interesting that they would even break off cable distribution from cable channels and content -- where a pro-synergy argument could be made, even though it's not in the public interest to have content and distribution under one roof.  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

LA Times Urges Hollywood to Support A La Carte

LA Times editorializes today in favor of a la carte cable in what appears to be a growing bandwagon and uprising against Big Cable and Big Broadcasting.  "Further, big cable operators and media companies argue that selling channels a la carte would yield higher fees for viewers and a crippling loss of revenue for networks devoted to niche markets. This argument is self-serving. The cable universe overflows with channels owned by cable operators and the six largest media conglomerates, whose long-term pacts lock up access to viewers for years.  The nation's two largest phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, are modifying their wires to compete with cable. Their technology is well-suited to delivering a la carte channels or programs on demand. But they are running into stiff resistance from the major media conglomerates.

Such reluctance to experiment with a new business model is a blunder, particularly when many lawmakers are itching to do something about indecency on pay TV and consumers are finding plenty of new ways to be entertained. Before the FCC or Congress goes down a risky regulatory path, somebody should test the market for a la carte service." Link: Channeling demand - Los Angeles Times.

Cable Breaks on A La Carte Pricing

Well, we predicted in our last post that Big Cable and the Media Conglomerates would ultimately have to relent on their unrelenting opposition to more consumer choice in cable, including a la carte pricing and more individualized tiers and bundles.  But we didn't think they would relent in five hours! 

Yet Cablevision, one of the nation's largest cable operators, just announced it would support a la carte cable, and that "our experience indicates a la carte will result in a more affordable service for all with more programming options."  Which utterly neuters Big Cable's argument that a la carte would raise prices, reduce diversity, end Western Civilization as we know it, and melt the polar ice caps.  So make that THREE 800 pound gorillas who have come out in favor of a la carte cable in the past 72 hours -- the FCC, AT&T (nee SBC) and now Cablevision.  The cozy relationship between Big Cable and Broadcasters to force consumers to buy channels they don't want, while at the same time eliminating competition from independent channels, appears to be crumbling.  Link: Excite Money & Investing.

Big Cable Will Lose on A La Carte

USA Today reports that, "AT&T is throwing its weight behind Uncle Sam's push to give consumers a choice of cable channels, telling the Federal Communications Commission that it wants to offer a la carte programming to its video customers.  But to sell its TV services a la carte, AT&T would need the cooperation of programmers — who have so far refused. Its decision to embrace a la carte follows the FCC's suggestion that the cable industry stop forcing people to buy bundles that include TV channels they don't want."

For years, smaller cable operators and Dish TV, a satellite operator, have decried today's power of broadcasters to force them to include in bundles, packages, and tiers many channels that consumers simply don't want.  But now, within 72 hours, TWO 800 pound gorillas have weighed in on breaking up this system and giving consumers the option of subscribing to cable channels "a la carte" -- the FCC and AT&T (formerly SBC).  While neither has the power to compel the networks to allow them to "unbundle" and sell channels a la carte, they definitely have the juice on the Hill to force the issue.  As a new entrant into the cable biz, AT&T's stance is particularly interesting -- they see a big competitive advantage to them over Big Cable in offering a la carte channels.  Why?  Because that's what consumers want.  Consider the runaway success of iPods and iTunes.  iTunes is nothing more than an a la carte music system that breaks up the old and highly profitable record company distribution model of forcing consumers to buy expensive albums to get the 3 good songs they want.  Now, they can just buy the 3 good songs at iTunes -- and for a lot less.  That's what's coming to cable television.  It won't be tomorrow and it won't be easy, but it's inevitable.  Competition and technology are wondrous things.

Link: USATODAY.com.  Commentary by Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union and Mark Cooper of Consumer Federation of America is here.

FCC May Endorse Cable a la Carte, In a Policy Shift

We're enroute to the Senate Indecency Hearings with little time to blog.  But in a stunning and welcome policy shift, the WSJ reports, "Federal regulators are on the verge of suggesting that cable companies could best serve consumers by letting them subscribe to individual channels instead of offering only prepackaged bundles.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is expected to announce today at a Senate forum on indecency that the FCC will soon reissue its review of cable industry "a la carte" pricing with a wholly different conclusion. While the original report concluded that consumers would pay more for individual channels, the new one concludes they could pay less.

"This report will conclude that a la carte could be in the best interest of consumers," said an FCC official familiar with the revised report's contents. The report also finds that "themed tiers" of channels could be "economically feasible," the official said."

Link: WSJ.com - FCC May Endorse Cable à la Carte, In a Policy Shift.

Keep cable from abusing its power

Part II of Jeff Gelles' Consumer Watch column highlighting CV's report, "Cable's Level Playing Field.  Not Level.  No Field."  Thanks for the Shout Out, Jeff! 

The effects of cable's dominance are made clear in a recent report by Jonathan Rintels of the Center for Creative Voices in Media.  As Rintels documents, Comcast and its counterparts act as gatekeepers who choose whether a new channel gets carried on cable's primary "tier," the one that includes such mainstays as ESPN, CNN and MTV. Increasingly, Comcast says yes only to channels in which it has a financial stake. That's probably why the America Channel and Current don't make the cut. Meanwhile, cable companies aggressively seek to control "must-have" local content - the strategy that gives Comcast a lock on Philadelphia sports fans. Comcast SportsNet carries most Phillies, Sixers and Flyers games. Relying on a loophole in federal law, Comcast refuses to sell the channel to its satellite competitors.

What to do? Rintels' top priority is a rule called "network neutrality" that would bar any Internet provider from blocking or slowing down data streams from any source to give a competitive advantage to content in which it has a financial stake. Neutrality is crucial to keep the Internet as free and open as we trust it is today. It's also crucial if the cable-television business model - selling consumers a large bundle of content, most of it unwanted, at a high price - is ever to give way to an Internet model of unlimited choices for consumers. Cable companies like Comcast don't like this concept, for obvious reasons: If you can buy an individual TV show or movie from, say, "movies.com" and watch it on your TV same as you would a movie or TV show on traditional cable, the whole cable-TV business model is at risk.In Rintels' wish list, and mine, Congress and the FCC could simply require broadband providers to rent an open pipeline. Short of that, though, he has ideas about how smaller changes can nudge the marketplace in the right direction: 

Net-neutrality rules that guarantee us access to content and applications - not just movies, but inexpensive phone service and other new Internet technologies - while barring broadband providers from discriminating in favor of affiliated sites.

Rules that protect and encourage new broadband alternatives, including municipal wireless ventures such as Philadelphia's and technologies such as transmitting broadband Internet via electrical lines.

A genuine "level playing field" for traditional cable TV, so that companies such as Comcast can't use control over delivery systems to favor channels they own.

An end to the loophole that allows Comcast to keep SportsNet to itself, and program-access rules that require system operators to sell content they own to competitors.

Greater choice in how consumers may subscribe to cable, with more packages, tiers, and an a-la-carte option.

Rintels supports the push by phone companies to streamline the process of getting permission to build their systems. His main worry: that some in Congress are trying to water down rules that protect consumers in their effort to speed competition. As the last nine years have proved, you can't wave a wand and create vibrant markets out of whole cloth. Competition is the best answer. But the devil is always in the details.

Link: Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/28/2005 | Consumer Watch | Keep cable from abusing its power.

MPAA Needs Net Neutrality?

Writes Ben Fritz in a fascinating Daily Variety piece:  "Is Hollywood finally ready to embrace file-sharing? Signaling an openness to creating a legitimate business via peer-to-peer technology, MPAA topper Dan Glickman announced Tuesday the first stage of a potentially significant partnership with BitTorrent, the world's most popular program for illegally downloading movies and music online.  In what BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen labeled "a sign of good faith that is a big step," company has agreed to remove all links to pirated content from its search engine, including an expedited process for MPAA member studios. That sets up BitTorrent as a potential partner with Hollywood instead of the thorn that it has been. "In the long term, we want to work with the motion picture industry to make as many films available online as possible," Cohen explained."

But how to download those films over broadband when access to broadband is controlled by cable and telcos that are ALSO competing to sell movies to their customers?  Will the MPAA now come out in favor of Net Neutrality so that the cable and telcos can't block access to their legal BitTorrent downloads? 

Link: Variety.com - MPAA buddies up to Bit player.

Trio is Toast

GE/NBC/Universal has pulled the plug on the Trio cable network -- a fave of critics and others turned off by much of TV.  Plans are to move it to the Net, as a broadband network.  According to Daily Variety, "Bravo/Trio topper Lauren Zalaznick said the transition online makes sense for the net's aud: "Trio has always been for people who are obsessed with the arts and pop culture. The Web is a perfect place to expand that 'programming philosophy' to an unlimited audience."  Gee, isn't that what we used to say about cable?

"As for the soon-to-be-vacant digital space occupied by Trio, insiders say it's likely that NBC U's recently unveiled Sleuth, a cable channel dedicated to the crime genre, will fill it." 
Gee, just what cable needs -- less diverse programming, more reruns of KnightRider and The A Team!  Link: Variety.com - Troubled Trio dialing up Internet.

TiVo Trumps Disney

Suddenly, as TV Week writes, the revolutionary Disney/Apple deal to put current TV episodes onto iPod for a $1.99 download fee, announced just a few weeks ago, is looking tres "Old School."  New School is what TiVo announced today -- allowing TiVo owners to download onto their iPods whatever they record on their Tivo.  "This is a good deal for the consumer, whereas the [Disney-Apple pact] was a deal to find new revenue streams for the broadcasters," said Raj Amin, president of Amin Media, a strategic consultancy focused on new media. "It will be competitive to the recent deals by major broadcasters to offer downloads for a fee. Good for TiVo users and mobile device users, not so good for the broadcasters."  "The technology sometimes trumps the business model," said Ian Olgeirson, an analyst with Kagan Research..."  Link: TV Week.

Changing rules of monopoly

Creative Voices got a nice shout out from The Philly Inquirer's Jeff Gelles today:

Are the Baby Bells the answer? I put that question last week to Jonathan Rintels, who heads the Center for Creative Voices in Media and is one of the cable industry's most thoughtful critics.  Rintels was the author last month of a report titled "Cable's 'Level Playing Field' - Not Level, No Field." It's too rich in detail to summarize (you can read it at www.creativevoices.us), but it skewers the cable industry's hypocrisy on several key issues, especially its claim that so-called "tiered pricing" is crucial to allowing creative ventures to flourish. That's been the cable industry's argument against "a la carte" pricing, and other proposals for sparing you from paying more each year for a growing number of channels you may not want. But cable is hardly letting hundreds of new channels bloom. As Rintels documents, Comcast routinely refuses to carry new channels it doesn't have a financial stake in. To Rintels, the Bells' push is welcome - as long as lawmakers set rules that prevent all providers from turning the Internet into a "walled garden," akin to what cable TV is today. His top priority: "net neutrality," to stop any provider from blocking some Web sites or favoring others. Next week, I'll tell you more about Rintels' ideas. But the good news is that he doesn't see this fight as a remake of Alien vs. Predator - with the tagline, "Whoever wins, we lose."

Thanks, Jeff.  Can't wait to read next week's column!  Link: Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/21/2005 | Consumer Watch | Changing rules of monopoly.

Liberals Don't Do TV

So said GE/NBC/Universal Topper Bob Wright recently, per B&C, when Tucker Carlson made a suggestion: Why not start a channel that overtly caters to liberals? “There’s tons of liberals out there,” Carlson said.

Going after a lefty audience would be futile, Wright said. “For some strange, probably genetic, reasons”—we’re pretty sure that was a joke—”they don’t listen to a lot of radio and they don’t watch a lot of television.”

Anyone alive pre-Rupert Murdoch will recall that others said the same about Conservatives and Murdoch made billions proving THAT conventional wisdom wrong.  But will -- can?? -- anyone step up to take on the far more concentrated conglomerates now to prove Wright wrong about Liberals?  Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Net TV Finally Comes of Age

AOL is starting broadband networks, using content from its synergistic sibling, Warners TV.  Writes the NY Times, "Warner, with 800 television programs in its library, ... wants to use the Internet to reach viewers rather than depend on the whims of cable networks and local TV stations, said Eric Frankel, the president of Warner Brothers' domestic cable distribution division.

"We looked at the rise of broadband on Internet and said, 'Let's try to be the first to create a network that opens a new window of distribution for us rather than having to go hat in hand to a USA or a Nick at Night or a TBS,' " Mr. Frankel said."  An interesting comment about the power of cable and broadcast gatekeepers, even negotiating with a powerhouse like Warners.

Link: Internet Service to Put Classic TV on Home Computer - New York Times.

All the King's Media

From William Greider's must read article on AlterNet:  "In this country you can say aloud or publish just about anything you like. But will anyone hear you? The audible range of diverse and rebellious voices has been visibly shrunk in the last generation. The corporate concentration of media ownership has put a deadening blanket over the usual cacophony of democracy, with dissenting voices screened for acceptability by young and often witless TV producers. Corporate owners have a strong stake in what gets said on their stations. Why piss off the President when you will need his good regard for so many things? Viewers have a zillion things to watch, but if you jump around the dial, with luck you will always be watching a General Electric channel.

How did it happen that the multiplication of outlets made possible by technology led to a concentration of views and opinions -- ones usually anchored by the conventional wisdom of center-right sensibilities? Where did the "freedom" go? Where are the people's ideas and observations? Al Gore, who found his voice after he lost the presidency, recently expressed his sense of alarm: "I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse." The bread-and-circuses format that monopolizes the public's airwaves is driven by a condescending commercial calculation that Americans are too stupid to want anything more. But that assumption becomes fragile as other voices find other venues for expression. This is an industry crisis that will be very healthy for the society, a political opening to rearrange access and licensing for democratic purposes."

We wish we'd written it.  Read it!  Link: AlterNet: MediaCulture: All the King's Media.

Deborah Tate Nominated as FCC Commish

We know little about her other than that she has an interesting resume and has written that she wanted "the states and the FCC to reevaluate our overall regulatory program so that consumer welfare is the centerpiece of regulation rather than restraining the market power of increasingly hypothetical monopolists."  We applaud putting consumer welfare first, and not regulating "increasingly hypothetical monopolists."  But we do wonder how she defines both "consumer welfare" and "hypothetical monopolists," and why she sets these up as opposing choices when they are one and the same.  Link: Deborah Taylor Tate | Benton Foundation.

At the same time, the White House nominated incumbent FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps to another term.  Congratulations, Commissioner!

Video Franchising And 'Net Neutrality' Big Concerns in House

Drew Clark has an excellent review of yesterday's debate over the new majority draft of telecom legislation in the House, where Net Neutrality and Video Franchising were key flashpoints.  Public interest protections in these areas were substantially watered down from an earlier draft after telco and cable companies claimed they would end western civilization as we know it.  According to House Commerce Chair Joe Barton, no new legislation will emerge until next year.  Link: Video Franchising And 'Net Neutrality' Are In Spotlight.

Bells Toll on Net Neutrality Legislation

David Hatch reports that the telcos big-footed the earlier draft of telecom legislation in the House Commerce Committee favorable to Net Neutrality over broadband.  "A new draft of House legislation that would overhaul the nation’s telecommunications laws is far more favorable to former Bell operating companies than an earlier version -- but bipartisan support might be hard to come by because key Democrats were prevented from working on the bill, sources said Thursday night. 

The draft, being circulated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee staff, waters down earlier language on network neutrality to allow providers of broadband-based television services -- such as a former Bell, SBC Communications -- to control the Internet content available to customers over such platforms, one source said." Link: Latest House Telecom Draft Bill More Favorable To Bells.

Find the bill at:
http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/news/11032005_Broadband.pdf

Read our coalition's letter to the House Commerce Committee calling on it to enforce Network Neutraility and protect Public Access channels here. 

Prime Time Gets Redefined

Terrific column by Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post business columnist, on the sudden, tumultuous changes underway in showbiz, full of "pearls" (Ha Ha) like this:  "The real strategy of the entertainment industry has been to force customers to pay inflated prices to watch the movies and television most profitable for the industry to produce, at times that allowed the industry to rake in the most money, and distributed through channels designed to keep out upstart competition...  But technology now threatens to put the consumer back in charge.Link: Prime Time Gets Redefined.

Content must catch up with new-media world

Diane Mermigas has an excellent column in The Hollywood Reporter on what the revolutionary and evolutionary changes in digital content distribution mean to creatives:  "What's required is a call for a genuine creative awakening not only in Hollywood and New York but everywhere in between where artists, writers, producers, animators and performers reside. The demand will be strong -- even as attention spans are shorter -- to fill these new devices and pipelines with differentiated content that big media so far has defined only by what it knows best. This innovation will require assigned funds and resources, artistic freedom and a corporate mandate to think outside the box.

The other call must be for a far-reaching, all-inclusive anti-piracy effort on the part of those who make their fortune from content -- whether they produce, distribute or service it. Such a forceful, unified effort can be justified by the single notion that every company with a stake in the digital broadband market ultimately lives or dies by the protection of copyrighted content and service patents.

Even the retreads and repackaged existing product is in danger of not only being commoditized but by having its value undercut by its proliferation through legal as well as illegal channels." Link: Content must catch up with new-media world

Paxson's Death -- and Digital Rebirth

NBC is taking control of Paxson -- sort of.  As Broadcasting & Cable notes, "unless FCC rules change dramatically in the next 18 months, NBC still won’t be able to fully own Paxson and its stations. It has the option of transfering that right to a third party within those 18 months if the FCC rules don't change.

The power of Paxson lies in its digital broadcast capacity. To most people, Paxson is largely an infomercial station. But Burgess (Brandon Burgess, executive VP of business development, has resigned from NBC Universal to take over as CEO of Paxson) sees a distribution path into 90 million analog homes through must-carry and retransmission agreements with cable and DBS operators. When digital television is universal, that single channel in 90 million homes could become four to six channels.

Paxson has obviouly had problems programming even one channel, but Burgess suggests that outside programmers might ultimately partner with Paxson or lease capcity. "I think people have figured out that launching digital networks is harder than expected," Burgess says.

As NBC has figured out, owning Paxson's large number of UHF stations, combined with Must Carry, combined with Digital technology enabling them to now broadcast up to six digital channels in place of the present one analog channel, is an incredibly cheap way to launch what will basically be new cable networks and force cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner to carry them.  If we had a few bucks, we'd put in a bid!

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of TelevisionSubscription May be Required.

Earthquake in TV Biz

The broadcast nets' sudden about-face on sending their best primetime shows to cable/satellite Video On Demand (VOD) within minutes of their airing portends huge changes in the TV Biz and its revenue model.  While the effects on advertisers and station affiliates have been discussed -- they're screwed, basically -- few are discussing the effects on the creative artists making the content that the networks are immediately selling.  While the numbers of people watching the primetime first run of these series that are then immediately available on VOD may fall, it will be only slight.  However, the effect on the after-markets, or "back end," may be dramatic.  If someone has paid to download an episode of CSI, will that person then be a customer for the DVD of CSI when it's released down the line?  Will that person view a hacked up, commercial-infested version of that CSI episode when it shows up as a repeat on A&E or TNT or other cable network?  What will the structure be for royalties (aka residuals) on those shows for the talent that makes them -- the writers, actors, directors, etc.?  And what will be the impact on the residuals for those back-end showings of the film that generate residuals now, but that will suddenly be of less value because of availability of the same product immediately on VOD? 

WSJ had a good overview of some of the issues:  "Moreover, on-demand viewing raises an array of thorny issues for the networks and makers of shows. Advertisers and TV-station affiliates are concerned that it will cannibalize viewers. TV studios, which produce the shows, worry that on-demand viewings will hurt their ability to make money from DVDs or rerun sales -- the dominant ways to make money on a TV series today. "Whenever you're moving forward the wheel always squeaks a little," said David Zaslav, president of NBC Universal cable. Yesterday's on-demand deals are crafted to minimize the damage to Hollywood's existing business. For instance, the CBS shows will only be available to Comcast digital cable customers in markets served by one of CBS's 17 owned-and-operated television stations."

Link: WSJ.com - CBS, NBC Deals Accelerate Shift In TV Landscape.

Round Up the Usual Suspects

The Hallmark Channel has been put up for sale, citing the difficulty of being an independent channel in a vertically integrated media.  According to Multichannel News, "the potential suitors for Hallmark reportedly include Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., News Corp., Comcast Corp. and Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz.  Only Anschutz does not own either the nation's largest cable system or a broadcast and cable network empire.  Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

For more on the problem of cable concentration, see our 65 page report, Cable’s “Level Playing Field” – Not Level.  No Field. here. 

FCC to Go Democratic?

Doug Halonen writes in Television Week that with Republican FCC Commissioner Abernathy's term about to expire, the FCC may soon have a Democratic majority in a Republican administration.  And with other issues apparently distracting the White House (major understatement), there may be no time left in this Congress to get new Republican nominees for Commissioner up to the Senate for confirmation. And while the White House might go the "recess appointment" route to add Commissioners, those recess appointments must still be nominated prior to Congress adjourning.  Stay tuned!  Link: TV Week.

Advertisers on Media Concentration

Concentration makes for sucky TV and radio -- so why don't advertisers squawk more?  One does -- Jon Mandel, Chairman of MediaCom, of one of the largest ad agencies in the world.

Writes Television Week, "In the past few years, especially, Mandel has become an increasingly outspoken advocate for certain basic bedrock issues in media. He is, as is his wont, far more outspoken than most buying-side executives, either because he has paid his dues and does not fear retribution from higher-ups, potential clients or media company adversaries, or because he is simply beyond all that.

For example, in July last year, before a congressional committee on media ownership and radio consolidation, the subject was basically Clear Channel, a huge factor in the radio business and the focus of increasing concern about its size.

"Some of our agency counterparts have told us to just keep quiet because the media companies could hurt our business if we aggravate them," Mandel told the lawmakers. "And because our clients pay us on a commission basis, we make more money if advertising costs skyrocket. However, I am concerned about the future of not just the advertising industry but the broadcast industry as well."

Deregulating radio, Mandel concluded, "is analogous to letting a private citizen maintain the only public free road into the market and looking the other way when he puts a private toll up. The costs to the economy created by this closed market while winking that it is free is of paramount importance to advertisers and the people of the United States who have to pay the costs."

According to a MediaCom study in nine markets across the country, radio ad costs jumped 184 percent in Atlanta as a result of deregulation, leading Mandel to tell Inc. magazine in 2003, "It's an absolute shakedown." He added recently, "There is a reason why monopolies are illegal."

Consolidation, Mandel laments, has had a huge effect on the industry, most of it bad. He sees a lack of diversity, with conglomerates pursuing programming not because it is quality or will get the best ratings, but because it will synergize best across various elements of the company."

Mandel also commented on Sleuth, the new NBC cable channel about to launch.  He's about as impressed as we are, see below. "Part of the problem, he says, is the constant desire of conglomerates to maximize their profits by increasingly fragmenting their offerings to gain shelf space with the consumer, even when there is not necessarily a need for the new service. The most recent example of this, Mandel says, is NBC Universal's announcement that it will introduce a new crime and mystery channel called Sleuth, when the world hardly needs another A&E or Court TV-type crime programming outlet."

Link: TV WeekSubscription May be Required.

MURDOCH: It's Australian for Monopoly, Mate!

Excellent interview in WSJ with Rupert Murdoch, who we often admit is one of the smartest guys in the media biz -- which is why he is also one of the most dangerous, given the strategic media assets he controls, and the ones he covets such as the WSJ itself.   Link: OpinionJournal - Featured ArticleSubscription May be Required.

Buy a MURDOCH:  It's Australian for Monopoly, Mate! shirt at our CafePress store here. 

SBC: Net Neutrality is "Nuts"

SBC's CEO Edward Whitacre clarifies quite nicely, Thank You, his company's position on Net Neutrality in Business Week Online: 

"How do you think they're going to get to customers?  Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"

Whitacre's comments sparked a fierce push back by Net Neutrality advocates.  See SBC Head Ignites Access Debate here.

Cable Concentration Costly Not Only to Comcast, But ALL Americans

Same aria as below -- concentration goes up, stocks go down.  Comcast's expensive foray into buying content for its cable distribution systems, increasing concentration in TV, is blamed by the company for its disappointing earnings that caused the stock to tank today, link here.  Comcast's strategy of "You Can Watch Anything You Want on Comcast, as Long as It's Owned by Comcast" appears to be laying a giant egg with both viewers and Wall Street.  Not so great for democracy, and culture, or independent, original, and creative media makers either.

And, in the same vein of harmful concentration, GE/NBC/Universal announces a new cable channel, "Sleuth."  This channel, which this Big Media 800 pound gorilla can force onto cable systems by virtue of owning NBC, answers the prayers of all Americans who have been clamoring for reruns of "Miami Vice," "The A-Team" and "Knight Rider."

Meanwhile,  Current TV, a truly independent and interesting channel with an original voice unavailable elsewhere on your friendly local cable system, cannot get carriage on many cable systems despite the fact that 7,000 people attended a rally outside Comcast Czar Brian Roberts' office the other day.  Would even seven people rally for the right to watch Sleuth?  Yet, it's Sleuth getting the carriage, not Current.  For more on this, see our recent report Cable's "Level Playing Field" --  Not Level.  No Field, here.

And Viacom/CBS is buying up College Sports Television Networks.

Synergy Follies Redux?

Big Media, particularly Rupert Murdoch (who is smarter than any of the other moguls, hands down) is now swallowing up as much of the online space as it can digest.  But it appears that this time, investors won't be fooled again by Big Media promises of "synergy" that really amount to little more than equity- and creativity-destroying empire building.  Writes the NY Times, "So why are investors ambivalent about big media's forays online?  In part, the legacy of overpriced deals - many driven by an earlier rush into digital media - has saddled companies with billions of dollars of debt. Richard Bilotti, a media analyst at Morgan Stanley, said that investors worry that companies could again be wasting their money on ill-advised acquisitions. "Many of the deals of the last 10 years," he said, "were made with two principal assumptions: advertising growth would remain reasonably far ahead of nominal gross domestic product, and that size could be used to extract cost advantages. Those didn't particularly prove right."

"Last week at an advertising industry conference, Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the giant advertising group, accused Mr. Murdoch of "willy-nilly" buying of Internet companies and said that most of the companies were being run by 50- to 60-year-old executives who have trouble "getting it.""

Link: Big Media a Tough Sell to Jittery Investors - New York Times.

Telco Mergers Approved w/ Net Neutral Conditions

The FCC approved unanimously yesterday the big telco mergers of SBC--ATT and Verizon-MCI.  Couple of interesting squiggles:  Kudos to Commissioners Copps and Adelstein for insisting on 2 important anti-concentration conditions:  1.  Net Neutrality, for at least 2 years; and 2.  "Naked" DSL.  The former we've discussed frequently and is critical for keeping the Internet open and non-proprietary.  The latter is also crucial, allowing a consumer to simply buy the broadband connection to the Net from these 2 new goliaths, without subscribing to local phone service.  The consumer can then use the Internet to access phone, video, and other applications of his/her choice.  These are key policy prescriptions going forward in maintaining an open Internet. 

Another interesting squiggle:  how little news coverage there is about these big mergers that may have a substantial impact on not just phone service, but video and the Internet.  Going forward, these mergers will have far more impact on the public and the shape of our nation's media than whether Dell missed its numbers, or Apple hit a million video downloads from its iTunes store, yet those stories got huge coverage and these mergers barely a mention.

Link: Multichannel News: The Cable Industry Book-of-Record.

CABLE'S "LEVEL PLAYING FIELD" -- NOT LEVEL. NO FIELD.

Today, the Center for Creative Voices in Media filed with the FCC in its cable ownership and Adelphia proceedings our 65 page report, Cable’s “Level Playing Field” – Not Level. No Field. Recounting the real-life experiences and observations of top players in the cable business, including some of the pioneers who created the cable industry such as Leo Hindery, John Malone, Ted Turner, and Barry Diller, this report documents that the “level playing field" required by law and regulation does not exist today in America’s cable industry. Instead, today's giant cable operators seek to control the content they distribute, whether they deliver it via cable television or broadband Internet.

Link: Cable's "Level Playing Field" -- Not Level.  No Field.

Thousands Rally Outside Comcast HQ, Demanding It Carry Current TV

When was the last time you heard of seven thousand cable network fans rallying outside a cable company demanding that it carry that network so they could actually view it?  That's what happened in Philly yesterday, where fans of Al Gore and Joel Hyatt's new Current TV network attended a "Take Back TV" rally at Comcast HQ.  Can you imagine even seven people attending a rally on behalf of a Comcast-owned network like G4, which of course it carries and promotes like mad?  Isn't something wrong with this picture? 

Link: Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/21/2005 | Network's fans rally outside Comcast.

Net Neutrality -- The Cable, Telco Pushback Begins

The WSJ has an excellent article about cable and telcos "fearing" their customers overloading their bandwidth with VoIP, video file downloads, etc.  But they don't appear to be too concerned when consumers use their bandwidth for services sold by the cables and telcos themselves, like their own VoIP and video services.  Gee, wonder why that is?  Could it be they are laying the foundation for a ferocious fight against Net Neutrality -- the idea that consumers should have the freedom to use broadband to access services in a neutral manner, from many different providers and websites, a freedom denied to them by the recent Brand X decision?

"Critics say the big operators are using their concerns about heavy network traffic to fight competition from smaller rivals that are using the phone and cable companies' networks, like Internet calling companies Skype Technologies SA or Vonage Holdings Corp. Others say that telecom companies may use their control over the networks to charge users more money if they want higher quality.

"They claim it's a network-management issue when it's really a revenue-maximization issue," says Mark Cooper, research director for the Consumer Federation of America.

The battle features big companies with multibillion-dollar telephone, cable and cellular networks into homes and tiny competitors who don't own any network but whose low-cost or free services compete with those of the big operators. Consumers could get caught in the squeeze.

The crackdown is controversial: Consumers have come to expect unfettered use of the Internet. Any effort by phone or cable companies to curtail use so far has sparked an outcry."

Yet another reason why Net Neutrality needs to be a key pillar of the Media Reform Movement.  Otherwise, the broadband Internet that so many hope will be the end of media gate keepers, toll collectors, walled gardens -- choose your metaphor -- will instead just add another layer of gate keeper -- your friendly neighborhood cable and telephone company.

Link: WSJ.com - Phone, Cable Firms Rein In Consumers' Internet Use. Subscription May be Required.

DISH Sends Comcast to Sin Bin

Comcast may have overplayed its hand with DISH satellite network.  Following up on our post below, Comcast tried to force DISH to move the Comcast-owned OLN network, which is now carrying NHL hockey, onto a more widely distributed tier or bundle using the strong-arm tactic of blacking out the NHL games on OLN for DISH subscribers until DISH caved in to its demands.  Instead of caving in, DISH tossed OLN off its system entirely.  OR, is this all OK with Comcast, which will now try to poach DISH subscribers with its exclusive on OLN hockey?  Stay tuned.

Link: Dish slashes Comcast's NHL channel.

The Cable-Telco Broadband Monopoly

Writes Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times, "Of all the monopolies, oligopolies and other arrangements that subvert progress merely to benefit the few, perhaps the most pernicious is the conspiracy by telephone and cable companies to exercise control over high-speed Internet access.  DSL and cable modem connections provided by these companies account for roughly 98% of all high-speed, or broadband, service in the country. But their success at discouraging competition has left them gorging on a pitifully small pie: In recent years, the U.S. has fallen from third place to 16th globally in the penetration rate of broadband service. (Chauvinists can take pride that we're still ahead of Portugal.)"

A must read piece that only gets better from there!  Link: Fed-Up Cities Seek to Provide Net Access - Los Angeles Times.

Create Level Playing Field in Cable

In a Senate hearing yesterday on the takeover of bankrupt Adelphia by Comcast and Time Warner, according to Broadcasting & Cable, "ranking committee Democrat Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.) weighed in with concerns about the size and power of Comcast and Time Warner, alrady saying further concentration could make it more difficult for independent programmers to get carriage. He said he was "deeply concerned" that only channels from big cable nets or broadcast nets can get carriage.

He called for program access conditions on the merger similar to those agreed to by News Corp. in its purchase of DirecTV. He also suggested several updates to the 1996 Act--including closing program access "loopholes," and giving independent channels "a fair shot at carriage."

Witness Mark Cooper of  Consumer Federation of America agreed, arguing that the clustering of the divvied-up systems would lead to greater market power for Comcast and Time Warner, including control over programming, which he said thye already exerted to favor their affiliated networks."  We agree.  And if you'd like more reasons, see the next post.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of TelevisionSubscription May be Required.

Comcast Puts Hockey Fans in Penalty Box

Comcast definitely deserves a five minute major in the Sin Bin for slashing hockey from its Comcast-owned OLN network for subscribers on a non-Comcast system such as Dish TV or Cablevision.  To bully those providers into moving OLN onto a less pricey tier, Comcast is blacking out the hockey games on OLN until these other distributors cave in to its demands.  Both Dish and Cablevision claim Comcast is breaching its contract to them to provide OLN to their subscribers -- not some bastardized "OLN sans hockey."  Yet one more example of the mischief that comes when Comcast and other Big Cable operators own both cable channels and cable distribution.

Link: Now You Almost See Hockey. Now You Don't. - New York Times.

Diller: Whether it's Old Media or New, Talent Will Rule

Barry Diller enjoys taking on the conventional wisdom.  And the new conventional wisdom is that the Internet will destroy Old Media and launch an Infinite Channel Universe where every person with broadband can essentially become his own Internet TV Channel.  Diller dismissed that notion at a big tech conference recently. 

While there may be a million channels, who will watch them? Said Diller, "There aren't that many people in that many closets who are really talented and can't find their way out.  Making a television program or a movie or a song — there are going to be relatively few who do that because there's simply not enough talent. Maybe that's an utter birdbrained statement, but there you are — it's mine."

According to USA Today's Kevin Maney, "at that, Diller grinned broadly, and the techie crowd murmured that Diller was stuck in the past and utterly clueless. But look what's happened: Over the past week, two of the most admired companies in technology have basically proved Diller right.

"First came Apple Computer, run by Steve Jobs, who gets on more magazine covers than Paris Hilton. When Jobs unveiled Apple's video iPod, the most significant thing wasn't that a handheld device could play video on a tiny screen. That's been done by Nokia, Archos and others — arguably better.

"Jobs' real revolution is his deal with Disney to sell downloadable versions of top TV shows such as Desperate Housewives.

"Jobs didn't launch the video iPod as a way to watch video blogs about life as a Porta-John delivery guy or music videos made in someone's garage. He launched it as a way to carry around big mass-market hits — the kind that, with few exceptions, are made by major studios with A-list talent.

"Then came another endorsement of Diller's worldview, this time by Google. Late last week, word got out that Google, perhaps with Comcast, is trying to buy a chunk of AOL. This has since escalated into Yahoo, Microsoft, Google and Comcast each apparently bidding for all or part of AOL.

"There could be lots of reasons AOL — until recently considered as frumpy as a Buick LeSabre — is suddenly a hot mama. AOL pulls in 112 million visitors a month. It operates the world's biggest instant-messaging community.

"But significantly, AOL relaunched in June as a video-heavy portal that draws on parent Time Warner's ability to produce high-level content.

"Yahoo, Google, Microsoft — none own that kind of content, nor can they produce it. They don't have the entertainment talent Diller was talking about, and they don't have the culture or chops to attract such talent.

"The new AOL shines an Oscar night-size spotlight on its competitors' strategic hole. To be an Internet-based mass medium in the second half of this decade, you're going to need access to mass-market hits.

"It's very trendy to dismiss big media as slow-moving and stupid regarding the Internet," says Suranga Chandratillake, co-founder of video search start-up Blinkx. "But this demonstrates that old media has a very strong hand.

"The reality is people want to watch Desperate Housewives. While Google and Yahoo and MSN have huge piles of chips in this game, the question is whether traditional media companies have a better hand."

"Saying so in Silicon Valley borders on political incorrigibility. Yet somehow you don't risk such resentment in talking about realms outside of entertainment and news — say, basketball. No doubt, thousands of gifted basketball players are playing in gyms and minor leagues and Italian pro leagues right now. But we don't share a mass desire to watch them. Most of us want to watch the truly elite — the tiny percentage who can put together the whole package and play at the NBA level. That kind of talent is rare, which is why we pay them gazillions of dollars a year.

"It's the same with entertainment. Apple, Google and the rest are acknowledging that few can perform at the level of a Spielberg or Pixar or Bochco. Diller was right about that."

Kevin Maney's entire excellent article is here.

Promote Broadband, Groups Tell Senators

More than 20 public interest, civil rights and media reform groups, including Creative Voices, jointly urged members of the Senate Commerce Committee to promote wireless broadband deployment in any digital television (DTV) transition legislation. The groups asked the Senators to free up more unlicensed spectrum that can then be used to cheaply deploy wireless broadband across America, providing needed competition to high-priced and monopolistic cable and telco broadband.

Read the letter and more here: Center for Creative Voices in Media: News.

Time to Promote, Not Kill, Muni Broadband

Former FCC Chair Reed Hundt points to the communications catastrophes post-Katrina and Rita to make the point that the US needs to promote municipal wireless broadband systems, not outlaw them.  At the same time, not incidentally -- and this is one of the reasons the telcos and cables are fighting it tooth and nail -- these networks could provide free or cheap broadband access to all citizens. ``New'' telecommunications options, such as wireless broadband, were among the fastest to reconnect first responders and citizens in the affected regions. These new competitors are using the latest technologies, such as voice over Internet protocol phones, mesh networking, and WiFi and WiMax technologies that operate on unlicensed spectrum. In fact, WiFi mesh technology has demonstrated yet again that it is one of the most robust communications systems -- one that will stay up the longest when a catastrophic event occurs and can be back up first to aid in the rescue effort.

"In New Orleans, for example, wireless ISP Verge Wireless has connected refugees in shelters throughout the city, in conjunction with MCI using WiMax and WiFi mesh networking gear operating in unlicensed spectrum. In addition to Web access, this network also supports voice-over-WiFi phones and will soon support video surveillance of the city, enabling first responders to handle more crucial tasks. In fact, a Vonage phone connected to the Internet in a hotel in New Orleans was the first and only way for the mayor and his response team to communicate with the world for two days.

"Repeatedly in Congress and in legislatures, we have heard that municipalities have no business being in the telecommunications business.  As is the case in life, having a broad range of approaches and options is usually the best way forward. This means enacting laws that encourage municipalities and new entrants to quickly build competing broadband infrastructure, such as the Community Broadband Act, proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. Officials ought to reallocate a spectrum, probably in the 700 megahertz band, for a national wireless network reserved for first responders. The local WiFi networks can be used by anyone with a laptop. The Federal Communications Commission should reallocate the spectrum. Congress should appropriate the money."

Link: MercuryNews.com | 10/16/2005 | Limits on wireless leave U.S. at risk.

Why Comcast Hates Net Neutrality

Fascinating article in WSJ describes Comcast's efforts to transform itself to compete against video delivered via open broadband Net. "Internet-based technologies loom as an enormous threat to cable. Phone giants SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. for example, are planning to use them to offer consumers a cornucopia of movies and TV shows that can be watched at any time...  To protect its turf, cable giant Comcast Corp. has 400 software engineers building what amounts to a TV version of the Internet, stocked with movies, archived television programs and other interactive features, including a search function. Now, to push into the online-video business, among other reasons, the company is in talks with Google Inc. about teaming up to buy a stake in the Web operations of Time Warner Inc.'s America Online."

But Net Neutrality calls all that into question, if consumers can bypass this big Comcast circus of Video on Demand and just go straight to the video they want, when they want.  "Advocates of new TV-distribution technologies question how long programmers will stay loyal to the cable giants. Offering programs and movies on the Web, which is open to all, will be "too compelling from a content owner's perspective," compared with being enclosed within Comcast's proprietary system, argues Jeremy Allaire, founder of Brightcove Inc., a company that helps businesses put TV programs online."

Link: WSJ.com - To Ward Off New Competitors, Comcast Builds a Mini Internet.

FCC Chair Pushes Cable A La Carte

Communications companies should give customers the power to avoid content they consider indecent, FCC Chair Kevin Martin said Monday in Charlotte, NC.  New technology and flexible packaging, such as allowing people to choose the channels they receive, could help the industry relieve customer frustration"We need to figure out improvements that allow for customers to have more control," he said.  Link here.

Gore Gores TV, Says Democracy "at Grave Risk"

Al Gore didn't hold back in his speech at the We Media conference in NYC.  Said the former VP and current CEO of Current TV, "it is television delivered over cable and satellite that will continue for the remainder of this decade and probably the next to be the dominant medium of communication in America's democracy. And so long as that is the case, I truly believe that America's democracy is at grave risk."

This is an amazing speech.  Full text at: BREITBART.COM - Just The News.

Adelstein Gets Earful in Iowa

At a town meeting in Iowa attended by over 500, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein "learned last night that people in the heartland see many good reasons to oppose further media concentration...  We heard a lot of solid evidence that the area's media may be failing to address key issues of local concern.  People decried the lack of serious coverage of the problems faced in their communities.  They pleaded with us not to let it get any worse.  The verdict was unanimous — from elected leaders, teachers, workers, minorities, nurses, parents and grandparents — people are dissatisfied their with local media outlets...  The message I will take back to Washington is that we had better address the very real issues raised by concerned citizens of Iowa before we consider further media consolidation."  Thanks, Commissioner!

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Finally -- Peace Breaks Out at Writers Guild?

The warring East and West branches of the WGA may be finally burying the hatchet to focus on far more important issues that confront them both, such as the extreme consolidation of the industry that their members all work in.  Along with the news that the AFL showbiz unions may work together more closely (see next post), this may be a watershed day for media artists concerned about the iimpact of Big Media on not only them, but on the American public.

"We are so pleased to announce to you that the East and West have finally agreed to take our longstanding dispute out of the courts temporarily, in favor of negotiating a settlement, member to member and face to face," (the newly-elected Presidents of both WGA branches wrote jointly to their members). "Too much money has been spent on lawyers. It's time to invest our funds in organizing and working together."

Link: Variety.com - WGA branches look for peace plan. Subscription May be Required.

Finally -- Showbiz Unions Consolidate to Take on Consolidation

Several AFL-CIO showbiz unions agreed to work together in the face of industry consolidation.  Says Variety, "Goal is for those unions to work together to devise joint organizing and collective-bargaining strategies in conjunction with their longstanding collaboration on legislation and public policy. They are Actors' Equity Assn., the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, Communications Workers of America, Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Natl. Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Screen Actors GuildScreen Actors Guild, the Newspaper Guild and Writers Guild of America East.

"Those professionals who work in the arts, entertainment, media and telecommunications industries need a strong, united effort to address their issues in the face of ownership consolidation and unprecedented changes -- and today, they're one big step closer to winning more power," said AFL-CIO president John Sweeney." 

FINALLY... 
Link: Variety.com - AFL-CIO forms showbiz panel.  Subscription May Be Required.

Tools for Indie Media to Get Online

Fascinating article about Brightcove, which helps producers distribute their video over the Net and may be a key tool in getting around the choke points blocking distribution via broadcast and cable.  Brightcove is used very successfully by our friend Dan Myrick, producer of The Strand, a "webisodic" dramatic series available only over the Net.  Check it out here.

Link: Online Pioneer Sets Out to Shake Up TV - New York Times.

Earthlink to Slay Broadband Duopoly Dragon in Philly?

Meanwhile, in Philly, it's Earthlink that may slay that city's broadband duopoly dragon.  Reports Washington Internet Daily: "The Wireless Philadelphia panel selected EarthLink to provide service for the city's Wi-Fi network, city officials said, a major step in developing what remains a disputed municipal service. Watched by large cities around the U.S., the service will involve vouchers for low-income residents. Atlanta-based EarthLink will not only pay for the network and its maintenance but will also contribute to a profit-sharing plan aimed at closing the digital divide in the city, Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff told Washington Internet Daily.

The standard charge for Wi-Fi service should be about $20 a month, according to the memorandum of understanding between the city and the provider, with low-income residents paying about 1/2 that. Neff said the projected costs of EarthLink's plan are about $10 million for the rollout and $49 million total, including maintenance and upgrades over 7 years."

Google and Wi Fi -- Slaying the Broadband Duopoly Dragon in San Fran

Mike Langberg gets it right in the San Jose Mercury News:  "I see Google as a knight in shining armor, decapitating the two-headed monster of SBC and Comcast that has controlled high-speed Internet access for Bay Area consumers.  The monster is so big that it may keep snarling for a while, but it will never regain all its power. Google didn't start the process of change that's already undermining the broadband duopoly, but the Mountain View-based Internet search company is so hot right now that any idea it advocates gets instant global attention.  Look back about a year and you'd see the duopoly in full flower. The dominant phone and cable company in each part of the United States offered broadband in a narrow and expensive range of $30 to $50 a month. But the duopoly couldn't hide the huge profits from selling broadband at those prices, so competitors started looking at how to get into the game. One of the most promising alternatives is municipal WiFi wireless networks, or muni wireless for short. WiFi, for the uninitiated, is simply the computer networking equivalent of cordless phones." 

And it won't just be only San Francisco -- the economics are so powerful for setting up Wi Fi networks just about anywhere that within 5 years every community will have one, or the more powerful next generation Wi Max.  That is; if we're vigilant in keeping the duopoly from shutting down this technology in both DC and state capitals.

Link: MercuryNews.com | 10/04/2005 | No tears for the monster Google is about to behead.

Clear Channel Isn't Big Enough, Argues Clear Channel

Writes Brooks Boliek in The Hollywood Reporter: "Clear Channel Communications president and CEO Mark Mays is urging Congress to allow broadcasters to own 50% more stations in the nation's major markets than current ownership limits allow.

Mays, speaking Monday to the conservative think tank the Progress and Freedom Foundation, said lawmakers should increase the local ownership limits to 12 stations from eight in markets with 75 or more stations. In markets with 60 or more stations, Mays wants the station limit to increase to 10 from eight.

Mays claims that satellite radio and Internet services escape regulations on content and capacity that give them an unfair advantage that only can be overcome by allowing broadcasters to get bigger. Larger station groups can spread costs wider and experiment to a much greater degree, he argued."

Gee, is there any difference between broadcasters using for free the public's airwaves, and the satellite radio system which purchased from the public for a lot of money the right to use the spectrum and is charging subscription fees?  And why we might be entitled to be greatly concerned about the former and far less about the latter?  We think so.

Link: Clear Channel's Mays: Ease ownership cap by 50%.

Wireless Broadband a "Civil Right?"

San Fran Mayor Gavin Newsom says wireless broadband Net access "is a civil rights issue as much as anything else."  That's why he wants to blanket The City with Wi-Fi, taking a big bold step to bridging the "Digital Divide" for his citizens and breaking the cable, telco chokehold over broadband access.  Writes Reuters, Newsom told a news conference that "he was bracing for a battle with telephone and cable interests, along with state and U.S. regulators, whom he said were looking to derail a campaign by cities to offer free or low-cost municipal Wi-Fi services."  Now, why would all those nice folks be so opposed to letting San Francisco do this if that's what its citizens want?  Hmmm, maybe because it destroys telephone and cable's business model? 

Link: Internet News Article | Reuters.com.

"What Price Media Consolidation?" - Speakers

More material from "What Price Media Consolidation?" held September 28, 2005 at Drexel U. in Philly.

Welcoming Remarks (Excerpted) by Jonathan Rintels
Executive Director, Center for Creative Voices in Media

"What Price Media Consolidation?"  What's the deal with that title anyway?  Are we trying to come up with a number?  Maybe some of us who feel injured or wronged can then seek damages or reparations?

No. 

What price do we put on the song that's never sung?  On the news that no one hears?  What price do we put on the documentary that doesn't exist about the weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist?  Or if that documentary does exist, like our friend Robert Greenwald's "Uncovered: The War on Iraq," it can't get past the gatekeepers and chokepoints in the concentrated mainstream media, and it can't get on public television, so we must resort to showing it at House Parties and passing it around from hand to sympathetic hand, like the samizdat clandestinely circulated by the opposition in the old Soviet Union.  And so its facts and arguments and truth must take added years to trickle out, as they now are trickling out.  When we calculate what price media consolidation, do we include the extra limbs and lives lost? 

What price do we place on never seeing a quality television show that has the power to change the way a nation thinks -- like a "Roots" or "An Early Frost" about AIDS or an "All in the Family" -- but can't get made today because the conventional wisdom of the conglomerates is that all television is for eighteen year olds and they don't do history or "issues?"  I don't know what price to put on that.  I do know we are all the poorer.

What price does our country pay when people are so turned off by mindless slogans, horserace journalism, and televised shouting matches passing for news that they don't vote, don't care, and seemingly drop out of our democracy?  What price do we pay when research shows more people get their news from Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, and David Letterman than from the news itself?

How do we put a dollar sign on the hard reporting we don't see because the conglomerates fear it will only get them into hot water with the government they are constantly beseeching for more - more spectrum, more monopoly franchises, more stations, more licenses, more mergers, more barriers to entry, more protection against real competition, more, more, more. 

When dead bloated bodies float face down in the flooded streets of a great American city, and only then does the television news finally gin up the courage to declare, "Washington, we have a problem," after which they then engage in an orgy of self-congratulation for "speaking truth to power," what price are we paying?

"Concentration of power in any medium - particularly one which is, for all intents and purposes, the gatekeeper to three out of every five U.S. television homes - is to be feared and must be curbed."  By their eloquence, you can probably guess those words aren't mine; they're Jack Valenti's, spoken in 1990, before his bosses bought up all those television networks, concentrating power even more. 

But today, of course, it's "No worries, Mate," as a certain Aussie media mogul might say, because we have the "500 Channel Universe."  That concentrated corporate power is no longer the gatekeeper to sixty percent of television homes.  Thanks to their gobbling up of once independent cable networks and their freezing out of new independent networks, that concentrated corporate power is now the gatekeeper to seventy five percent of television homes.  As Senator Byron Dorgan said, America's media today is made up of "many voices, few ventriloquists."

But, "No Worries, Mate."  We have the Public Broadcasting System.  But many critics believe PBS has been neutered by those who demand that its programs be "fair and balanced" - Fox News-style - and has replaced investigation, opinion, depth, and controversy with antiques.  Some now say PBS is itself in danger of becoming an antique.  What price do we pay for that?

And since we are here in Philadelphia, let's take special note of Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator and one of our media's most voracious and ferocious ventriloquists.  In addition to using its monopoly money to build the grandest skyscraper in the city for its headquarters, it is also leveraging its gatekeeper power in cable to buy up the media content it distributes through its cable, as its failed hostile bid for Disney and its successful bid for MGM demonstrates.  Comcast's goal: you can watch anything you want on Comcast, as long as it's owned by Comcast.

Still, "No worries, Mate!"  When - if - we all get broadband, the Internet will change all that.  The Net is an Infinite Channel Universe.  But today, according to the FCC's recent broadband report, 94 percent of Americans with broadband receive it from either a telephone or cable company.  Who's the nation's largest broadband provider?  Comcast, the same Comcast that wants to control all the content it delivers over its pipes.  The recent Supreme Court decision in the Brand X case, an underwhelming name for an overwhelmingly important case, gives Comcast and now the telcos that power.  They can now substitute their own websites - or the websites that pay them tolls and tribute -- for the one you mistakenly thought you wanted to visit. 

Will the Internet really change everything?  Or will it ultimately also be "consolidated" by the few conglomerates, bringing us an even greater concentration of gatekeepers, toll collectors, and choke points?  What price will we pay for a closed proprietary Internet controlled by a few giant broadband providers when Americans today are forced to rely on the Net's openness to receive unfiltered information from independent sources? 

"No Worries, Mate?" 

Mate, I am very worried!

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time now to ask, "What Price Media Consolidation?"  And whatever that price is, how can we -- as creative artists, as consumers, as Americans - how can we stop paying it? 

Thank you.

"What Price Media Consolidation?" - Press Coverage

Many thanks to the approx. 300 guests at "What Price Media Consolidation?", as well as all the speakers, funders, and others who made it possible.  We'll be posting event information here periodically, including this press coverage from Daily Variety:


Bigger Isn't Better Symposium Speakers Warn of Large Media Cos.

September 29, 2005

PHILADELPHIA --- Big media companies getting even bigger pose a threat to freedom and democracy, and Americans have an interest and obligation in opposing the trend, a symposium concluded on Wednesday.

Several leading critics of easing media ownership rules --- as the Federal Communications Commission proposed unsuccessfully two years ago --- cautioned against letting media congloms acquire more properties and outlets.

Quoting a Jack Valenti statement from more than 10 years ago, Jonathan Rintels, exec director of the Center for Creative Voices in Media, said to a crowded auditorium at Drexel U., "Concentration of power in any medium is to be feared and must be curbed."

Other speakers at the symposium on media consolidation included FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who warned that "homogenized programming" occurs when too many media outlets are in too few hands. The result is fewer voices raising fewer questions --- unhealthy for a free society. "Consolidation rewards imitation, not innovation," Adelstein added. "Formulas that worked in the past are what you keep getting."

Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy at the watchdog group Consumers Union, said, "The mass market is not serving creativity, diversity, freedom or democracy."

Creative artists could suffer the most, said Andrew Schwartzman, prexy of the Media Access Project. "Artists should consider opposing consolidation as part of their work."

Screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard ("Ali," "Remember the Titans") agreed. "Major Hollywood studios are all parts of congloms. If one part of the business --- say, some radio stations --- are fined for indecency violations, the others in the conglom, including the studios, run scared," Howard said. "What happens is provocative ideas for movies end up going nowhere," he added.

The overall result, all speakers agreed, was an insidious form of censorship. "Consolidation inhibits freedom of expression," Howard said.

No members of large media companies were invited to speak at the symposium.

A federal court stayed the FCC's 2003 attempt to loosen ownership rules and instructed the agency to better explain and justify what it was trying to do. The commission is likely to take up the rules again in the near future, and big media companies are hoping the FCC will succeed the second time.
Adelstein and fellow Democratic commissioner Michael Copps voted against easing the rules, but the FCC's Republican majority prevailed until the federal court issued the stay. Copps was supposed to attend the symposium but had to cancel due to a family emergency.

Spielberg Won't Give Up Independence

Forfeiting his chance to become GE Employee of the Month, Steven Spielberg killed merger talks between his DreamWorks and GE/Universal.  "People close to the talks were reported as saying that price was an issue in the breakdown but the newspaper said other factors could be at play -- including Spielberg's unwillingness to surrender any of the independence he has at DreamWorks."

Link: Reuters Business Channel | Reuters.com.

Turning Net Neutrality into Law

Big fight looming in Congress over turning the FCC's Net Neutrality principles into law.  They're in the recently released House draft of a new telecom act.  But industry is lining up to kill them.  "The reality is that what's going to emerge for consideration is going to look nothing like the draft because I can't believe [House lawmakers] would spend a lot of time looking at the draft as it is now," said David McClure, chairman and CEO of the U.S. Internet Industry Association. "There are too many problems. It's just unworkable."
In reviewing the House draft, Progress & Freedom Foundation senior fellow Randolph May indicated that lawmakers made unsupported predictions about consumer technology preferences in linking "streamlined franchising treatment" to "certain types of not-yet-offered integrated Internet functionalities."

NO WONDER we liked this House draft -- because alll these faux free-marketers hate it!  Props to Republicans Joe Barton and Fred Upton, as well as Democrats John Dingell and Ed Markey, and others for putting it on the table. 

For more on this bill, see: http://www.benton.org/index.php?q=node/65

FCC Publishes Net Neutrality Principles

Props to the FCC for its Net Neutrality principles, adopted last month but just published.  They are:

1. the Commission adopts the following principles:

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network. 

· To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet, consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers. 

Let's Get Connected

Terrific website spotlighting new, affordable broadband solutions that will enable media artists and their audience to circumvent the cable and telco broadband chokepoint.  Here's where we're going -- if the cables, telcos, regulators, and politicians let us.   Link: hearusnow.org: Connected.

More on Verizon's Day That Changed TV

More on Verizon entering TV.  Drew Clark, ace reporter on telecom issues, notes "a careful reading of the press release put out by Disney and Verizon shows how Verizon is agreeing to do copyright tracking that it refused to countenance on behalf of the RIAA:

    The deal with Disney calls for Verizon to conduct copyright-related surveillance of the network's users -- and demonstrates the power that content owners may be able to wield in a world of converged services.
    Besides giving Verizon the right to carry Disney broadcast and cable content, the deal also could undercut a 2003 federal appeals court decision that required content owners to sue individuals for copyright piracy before Internet service providers such as Verizon disconnected the alleged infringers.
    Under the agreement with Disney, Verizon agreed that it would terminate broadband services to individuals who infringed upon Disney's copyright and received multiple notices. Alternatively, at Disney's request, Verizon would "provide subscriber identifying information pursuant to lawfully served subpoenas."
    According to the agreement, Verizon will not release "subscriber identifying information" without a subpoena, but will now terminate Internet access -- without a lawsuit -- to repeat offenders."

This bears close watching.  We'll keep you posted.  Link: DrewClark.com.

The Day TV Changed Forever?

This is the Day Television Changed Forever, Verizon modestly trumpets as it launches its new fiber optic TV over broadband IP system launches in Texas.  Well, that may overstate it a wee bit....

But we welcome Verizon to the TV business and look forward to its new service successfully spreading across the country.  Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the other cable operators have been monopolists too long and need this infusion of price and programming competition.  We're pleased that Verizon will carry several independent cable nets that can't get carriage from Comcast, which makes no secret of wanting to control all the content it delivers over its pipe, whether it is TV or Internet.  Of course, we want to see Verizon carry local public access, educational, and government channels and conform with all the public interest requirements that cable must.  Beyond that, we want them to be responsive to local interest.  And, importantly, they need to be Net Neutral and allow their broadband customers to access the entire Internet, not just the "Verizon Net," as the Brand X decision now allows. 

But on balance, Verizon's launch is a healthy dose of competition and diversity of voices for the American public.

Link: Verizon takes on cable, starts TV service over fiber - Telecommunications - Fiber Optics - Earnings.

The Beeb on the Broadband/TV Future

The Beeb adds to The Hollywood Reporter's view over the horizon on the potential for TV over broadband:  The technology is currently more widespread in Europe than in the UK because of faster and cheaper broadband.  The 'pull' of broadband network television will replace the 'push' of traditional broadcast television," explained co-author Graham Lovelace.

This means that the control of what programmes and content is available to watch will move out of the hands of the traditional broadcasters and into the hands of the viewer.

Link: BBC NEWS | Technology | Broadband to rule the TV waves.

Big Media Circa 2015

Diane Mermigas in The Hollywood Reporter offers what from here looks like a surprising optimistic vision of the future.  Of course, it's highly unlikely to ever happen, as it would be disastrous for the Big Media companies and if it happens, it'll be over their dead bodies: "In 2015, today's media and entertainment conglomerates will still be purveyors of branded content and services, but their business models, revenue streams, creative dynamics and key relations with global advertisers, consumers and competitors will be dramatically different -- and they will no longer own the space.

The likes of News Corp., Viacom, Time Warner, the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Sony will compete alongside blog-bred consumers and electronic entrepreneurs who are providing a new generation of content, products and services on a playing field leveled by a super-race of digital broadband interactive devices."

Link: The Hollywood Reporter.com.

More TV Veterans Are Making Jump to the Internet

For interesting TV, turn on the Internet.  More and more producers are eyeing the Net as the place to go to do something innovative.  "What I love about this so much is it hasn't shown its potential," TV veteran Harvey Levin said. "It's more exciting to me to be at a place where I can at least attempt to break some ground than to basically follow a set path." 

Link: More TV Veterans Are Making Jump to the Internet - Los Angeles Times.

And check out The Strand: Venice CA, Dan Myrick's webisodic drama, available only over the Net. 

To preserve the Net as a safe haven from broadcast and cable TV, we need an Open Internet, operating under the principles of Net Neutrality set forth by the FCC last month. (More on this below)

Watch Anything You Like -- As Long As It's Comcast

NY Post reports that Comcast and Viacom are teaming up to launch a slew of new networks -- which gives the lie to Comcast's claim that it has no space left on its system for new networks owned by independents.  Says the Post, "It appears that what Comcast failed to do in one fell swoop it is now trying to accomplish with a series of smaller moves. Last year, the Philadelphia-based cable operator made a bold bid to take over Disney — a move that, had it succeeded, would have instantly transformed the company into one of the world's largest media companies, powerful both in content and distribution.  But since the failed takeover bid, Comcast chief Brian Roberts has hardly abandoned his content ambitions.A year ago, the company swooped in at the last minute to join a group of investors led by Sony that was bidding on movie studio MGM. The deal allows Comcast to use Sony and MGM content for video-on-demand services and to create new cable networks. Comcast has also teamed with Time Warner and the New York Mets to launch a new sports network, and in the past has expressed interest in acquiring a large stake in the Yankees' YES Network. And if Comcast can't own ESPN, whose corporate parent is Disney, then it hopes to at least compete with the sports juggernaut. Comcast is transforming its Outdoor Life Network into a broad-based national sports network. OLN, which has mostly been known for airing minor sporting events — at least to American sports fans — such as the Iditarod dog races and the Tour de France, will now carry the National Hockey League."  The report left out Comcast's blocking DC residents from watching their new baseball team, The Nationals, in the hope of securing a big chunk of the ownership of the new network that owns The Nationals' TV rights.  Link: New York Post Online Edition: business.

Net Neutrality Getting Big Hill Push

Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo and IAC/InterActiveCorp. are up on Capitol Hill seeking to turn into law the Net Neutrality principles articulated by the FCC.  "The measure that group is seeking would codify FCC principles laid out in early August, which are designed to ensure that companies providing high speed data services – such as the Bells or cable firms – don’t discriminate against the content of competitors. In the cable industry, content companies pay cable firms to carry their programming; the fear is that a cable or Bell company could deny access to a Web site if the owners of the site did not pay to be carried on the companies’ high speed network." 

Paul Misener, Amazon’s point-man on the effort, explains "competitors could pay a cable or Bell firm so that their advertisements would pop up on the front of Amazon’s home page -- or the high speed data provider could ensure certain Web sites load more quickly than others if they pay for it.

“It’s a pure economic incentive,” Misener said of the potential. The economic incentive may be even greater if most broadband services are provided by just two sectors – either the former “Baby Bells” or the cable industry... In 1996, you had a choice of a lot of [dial-up] Internet providers, and it drove prices down and service up,” Misener continued. “Now the landscape is radically different... Increasingly, the way to get a high speed service is through a cable or telecom company.” 

Link: Dialing Up K Street.

FCC Regulator Lauds CV's Media Indecency Study

Writing in National Journal's Technology Daily, David Hatch writes, "FCC Commissioner Michael Copps applauded a new study released by media watchdogs that links media consolidation and broadcast radio indecency...

Copps asked rhetorically: "As media conglomerates grow ever larger, as control moves away from local communities, as the big companies focus so much of their programming on one or two particular demographics, doesn't it stand to reason that community standards may go by the boards?"

Thanks, Commissioner, we appreciate your support.  Link: FCC Regulator Lauds Findings Of Media Indecency Study.

CV's Report Released: Media Concentration and Indecency: Is There a Link?

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Creative Voices's research report, "Ownership Concentration and Indecency in Broadcasting: Is There a Link?" finds that from 2000 to 2003, four of the nation's largest radio companies were responsible for 96% of FCC indecency fines, while their stations accounted for only about half of the country's listening audience. The study points out that some of the politicians who are now trying to crack down on indecency by raising fines on broadcasters are the same ones who voted in 1996 to relax ownership rules that contributed to concentration. The report concludes that, "One of the unintended consequences of their support of deregulation is an increase in indecency." Rather than increase fines for indecency, the report suggests that a more effective and First Amendment-friendly approach to the indecency problem would be to reintroduce meaningful station ownership caps, limit vertical integration of program ownership, and promoting localism and diversity of voices in our nation’s media.

The study -- "Ownership Concentration and Indecency in Broadcasting: Is There a Link?" -- is now available online here.

Thanks to all who came to our event to introduce the report at National Press Club, Washington DC, and the many more who have commented and written about it. 

Thank You, Thank You

Bill McConnell, now at The Deal, writes that, "The Federal Communications Commission's four-year campaign to deregulate the media industry has frozen to a halt, trapped in the pack-ice of politics and negative publicity."  While we're momentarily high-fiving all around the office, new FCC Chair Kevin J. Martin, far more politically-savvy than his predecessor, Michael Powell, is poised to restart the agency's dereg campaign.  So, it's back to work protecting the public interest in an open, independent, diverse, and local media.  Link: TheDeal.com - Winter of discontent.

Muni Wireless -- Striking Fear in the Hearts of Cable and Telco

Andy Kessler has an interesting column promoting municipal Wi-Fi systems, such as that being built in Philly, as a great way to bring broadband to the masses and competition to the cable and telephone industries.  Beyond being an interesting article, it's fascinating that it appears in the Wall Street Journal of all places, which is usually so hostile to such an allegedly "socialist" idea.  Writes Kessler:

But the real whopper is that--as Ms. Neff claims--by the third year, Philly will be saving $2 million a year on its $150 million IT budget by not having to pay Verizon for Internet access at its 24,000-employee city offices. Hmmm. That whole disadvantaged thing is just icing. Sounds like some sort of arbitrage.

It is, and it's not going to be pretty for Verizon. By rigging the city with wireless hotspots under the guise of helping the disadvantaged, Philadelphia may completely bypass Verizon. A T1 line from Verizon, which carries 1.5 megabits of data per second, runs anywhere from $400 to $1,300 a month. With Municipal Wi-Fi (Mu-Fi), that could drop to $300, heck, maybe even $20 a month. Consumers (read voters) are happy and small businesses will save tons of money. No wonder phone companies are circling the wagons. Think of it as a telco tax cut. Cheese steak sales are gonna boom.

Link: OpinionJournal - Cross CountrySubscription May Be Required.

500 Channels? Many Voices, Few Ventriloquists

Remember when we once celebrated the 500 Channel Universe on cable as a wonderful opportunity for diverse, independent voices and viewpoints to reach an audience that they could never reach via the four broadcast networks, GE/NBC, Disney/ABC, Viacom/CBS, UPN, and FOX?  Well, guess what's happened -- those four nets have bought the 500 Channel Universe and are using it to repeat the programming they're showing on the Mother Ship broadcast nets.  In other words, add Time Warner/WB/TBS/TNT/CNN to the mix and the 500 Channel Universe is really a Five Channel Universe.

Consider how the Nets are using their cable networks to promote/repeat the upcoming new shows.  Quotes TV Week, "Clearly, we want to get as much attention and as much sampling as possible for our fall shows," said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal cable entertainment, digital content and cross-network strategy. "What we're able to do with cable assets combined with a network is play the strategies of both and mix them up."

During the first three weeks of the season, episodes of "Surface," a family adventure series about a mysterious new form of undersea life, will debut in the series' regular time period at 8 p.m. Mondays on NBC, then the same episodes will get additional airings on Sci Fi.

During the fourth week of the season, Sci Fi will run a "Surface" marathon in prime time, a strategy Mr. Gaspin said NBC has used successfully in cable, most recently with Bravo's "Project Runway."

He added that when the shows run on cable, they will contain promos that ensure viewers know that the program regularly can be found on NBC.  "This is not about trying to help out the cable nets. This is the cable nets helping out the network," he said. Link: TV Week.

More Howard Stern

As we blogged below, as part of a consent decree Infinity signed with the FCC to settle indecency violations, the company agreed to immediately suspend any DJs who receive formal Federal Communications Commission complaints in the future — even before any internal investigation.  Said Howard Stern yesterday, "I pray to God the FCC hands down a fine against this station for my broadcast in February so that we can see them enact this ridiculous policy. Steve [Infinity lawyer Steve Lerman] might say, 'You know what, we don't think this is indecent or obscene. We aired it and we think it's fine.' No. They're going to suspend me no matter what. No matter what!" Stern railed.

That's right, under the terms of this draconian Consent Decree, Stern is guilty and suspended until proven innocent.  Link: New York Post Online Edition: news.

Broadband is a Right and a Necessity

So writes the San Jose Mercury News in an excellent editorial urging localities to step into the breach left by federal gov't inaction and promote wireless broadband alternatives to big cable and telco. 

The potential benefits of wireless access are as diverse as the cities that are exploring the idea. Widespread wireless broadband in a city or region can:

Help bridge the digital divide by providing free or subsidized access to low-income residents.

Deliver high-speed Internet access to areas where service is not provided by private companies.

Bring more competition to a broadband market increasingly controlled by a duopoly of cable and telephone firms.

Replace older communication networks used by police or firefighters and provide time-saving applications to other city workers. Imagine a building inspector accessing city codes from a neighborhood, or a surveyor downloading a map at a construction site.

Be a tool of economic development.

Link: MercuryNews.com | 08/21/2005 | Broadband is in the air as cities launch initiatives.

The Future Internet: Open or Closed?

Cultural Commons just posted "The Future Internet: Open or Closed?", our article about the implications of the FCC's decisions, upheld by the Supreme Court in the Brand X Case, to allow cable and telephone companies to "close" the Internet to sites they approve of for their broadband customers, and the implications for creative artists and anyone else who cares about an open, independent, and diverse media.  Link: Cultural Commons - Cultural Comment.

Howard Stern -- Over and Out?

Howard Stern's run on terrestrial radio may be over sooner than anyone thought.  According to FMQB, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau is "investigating an early February broadcast in which allegedly indecent material was aired on The Howard Stern Show. The complaint, submitted by Florida-based decency crusader Jack Thompson, was filed against Beasley Broadcast Group’s WRXK/Ft. Myers and Infinity Broadcasting’s WXRK/New York. ..

Here's the killer:  Stern will be guilty until proven innocent, and thrown off the air under the draconian free-speech chilling terms of last year's FCC - Infinity Consent Decree.  Contained within the Consent Decree was a provision stating: "If a Viacom-owned station receives a Notice of Apparent Liability for a broadcast occurring after the Effective Date which relates to violation of the Indecency Laws, all employees airing and/or materially participating in the decision to air such material will be suspended and an investigation will immediately be undertaken by Viacom."  And that would put Stern off the terrestrial air for good, even though this would only be a Notice of APPARENT Liability and not a Final Order.

Link: FMQB: FCC Investigating Howard Stern Broadcast.

WiMAX at Sundance

Fascinating report from Intel about its WiMAX demonstration at the Sundance Film Fest.  For the non-geeks, WiMAX is the next generation wireless broadband Internet that can send signals across an entire metro area, as opposed to the limited range of today's WiFi.  The Fest used WiMAX to deliver films wirelessly to movie theaters, make all of Park City a wireless broadband hot spot, enable VOIP phoning, massively game, and all other kinds of cool stuff.  This may be the future and it is coming far faster and far more cheaply than most think, with standards now agreed to and deployment set to begin later this year.  Download wimax_at_sundance_intel.pdf

Big Media Kowtow

Clear Channel-owned ABC station KTVX refused to air the Cindy Sheehan anti-war ad, telling the organizing group, Washington-based Gold Star Families for Peace, that it was an “inappropriate commercial advertisement for Salt Lake City… incompatible with our marketplace,” according to the group. Gee, isn't that something that the citizens of SLC can decide for themselves?  Could another explanation be that giant broadcaster Clear Channel, poster child for the ills of media consolidation as it ballooned from 40 stations in 1996 to over 1200 today, doesn't want to upset its relationship with the administration and reraise all those nasty "indecency" issues that dogged it last year, resulting in CC signing one of the most draconian and self-censoring "Consent Decrees" with the government that we've ever seen -- a consent decree that has CC on such a short leash that it cannot afford to antagonize the government in any way for fear of losing its broadcast licenses?  Just wondering...

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Many Cable Channels, Few Ventriloquists

The dream of Cable's 500 Channel Universe has become the reality of cable networks owned by the broadcast networks burning off their refuse.  Latest examples: David E. Kelly's summer NBC reality series, The Law Firm, which only aired twice before exiting the network, will resurface on NBC Universal-owned Bravo.  Earlier this month, CBS moved the Monday edition of its Rock Star: INXS to co-owned VH1.  Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Another Indie -- Hallmark Channel -- Bites the Dust

Big Media claims another victim -- The Hallmark Channel.  Here's a company that did everything right -- great family-friendly programming, great Brand Name Recognition, good demographics -- yet still couldn't get sufficient cable carriage to succeed.  Here's the skinny:

Basically, Crown officials said they were throwing in the towel because it is too difficult to continue operating as an independent cable network without the backing of a major media company.  “After considering various factors, including the strong performance of the Hallmark Channel and the prevailing current economic realities of being a one-channel business in our industry, the board unanimously determined that now is the time to look at all alternatives,” Crown CEO David Evans said in a prepared statement. Gould noted that even though Hallmark, a general-entertainment service, has been performing remarkably well, as a stand-alone, it still isn’t generating any cash flow. “That’s the problem with Hallmark,” he added. “They’ve done a great job gaining subscribers. They’ll be at 72 million subs at the end of this year, which puts them right below the fully distributed networks … They’ve done pretty darned well with the ratings. No one’s ever going to get in trouble putting a Hallmark Channel show on the air. It’s certainly politically correct. The only problem is the cost of the programming and the cost of subscriber acquisition...” As an independent, Hallmark also suffers because it doesn’t have any leverage when it negotiates carriage deals with distributors, Gould said. “It was one of these situations where quarter after quarter, you’d see the subscriber growth, you’d see the ratings improvement, you’d see the ad revenue coming in and you’d end up seeing the debt increase,” he added. “The economics just didn’t make sense to be a stand-alone network.”  Link: Multichannel News: Analysts Encourage Hallmark Moment.

Another excellent reason to let the FCC know why Big Cable needs to be reined in, at this link: Free Press : Comment on an FCC Proceeding.

Comcast Renames Its Customer "Bitch Dog"

Every company is entitled to make a mistake.  But it seems that it's always the monopolies, with no competitive pressure forcing them to improve customer service, that always provide us with the worst customer service horror stories.  What's so interesting here is that Comcast has spent so much time and money trying to convince the world that it's not a monopoly.  Some FCC Commissioners are falling for it.  A majority of the Supreme Court appeared to fall for it in Brand X.  But just try telling that to its dissatisfied customers -- including the Chicago customer Comcast renamed "Bitch Dog".

From the Chicago Tribune:  ...After persistent problems with (LaChania Govan's) digital recording system forced her to make dozens of calls to (Comcast) in July, her August bill came with a change really worth complaining about: In place of her name were the words "Bitch Dog."  "I could not believe it," said Govan, who works in customer service for a credit card company. She said she immediately called Comcast to cancel her service and was sent to an operator. "She asked me for my name. I said, `You really don't want me to go there,'" Govan said. Recounting her problems on Tuesday, she said she was transferred to a supervisor who assured her he would find out what happened and get back to her soon. In the meantime, she said, he offered her two months of free cable, which she declined.  [BTW, more than a week later, she had not heard back from Comcast.]

Link: Chicago Tribune | And the customer service award does NOT go to ....

Readers to FCC: Forget Deregulation

Media Life Magazine surveyed media planners and buyers about media "deregulation."  The results are fascinating:

We asked: “What’s your opinion of media deregulation?”    Three-quarters of respondents agree with the statement: “It’s absurd. I don’t want one huge conglomerate to own everything. It’s not fair to the little guys and it really hurts me as a buyer/planner.”    But media people also worry that further consolidation will have the effect of hurting the quality of the entertainment product in which they play their clients' ads.    The question: “What does media deregulation mean for the quality of entertainment? Will it suffer?”    Eighty percent think so, agreeing with the statement:    “Yes. With less competition, of course there will be fewer innovations and less critical thinking. You can already see it on TV and radio.”    Just 20 percent disagree.     Many readers think the entire deregulation issue has become tainted by politics.    We asked readers: “If you could give new FCC chairman Kevin Martin one piece of advice as he wades into deregulation, what would it be?”     “Leave politics at home. Remember the original intention of the FCC and that the airwaves belong to the people,” advises one respondent.   “Stop catering to the big corporations and think about what's right for the American public--which is his job, after all,” writes another.

Link:  Media Life Magazine.

Why the FCC was Wrong to Eliminate Broadband Competition

From one of our devoted readers comes a textbook example of why the FCC's decision last week to eliminate competition on both DSL and cable broadband lines is just plain wrong.  Because if the below is the situation WITH competition, imagine how lousy cable and DSL service will be now WITHOUT competition.

Hi Jon, in the brief windows of opportunity while my DSL was/is working, I was able to print your statement re FCC Broadband...that was done amidst my troubleshooting and negotiating with Verizon about my still unresolved problems including sending a tech person to my home in less than 15 minutes after I said I wanted to cancel my service and THEN graciously offering me a $100 credit for my troubles.......when I said the $ didnt equal my time (at Federal min. wage no less) spent trying to get online, my "personal preferred customer rep" (wow sort of like a personal shopper) said "sorry but if verizon gave $100 to every dissatsfied customer they would be out of business" I told him he needed to think about re-phrasing......!! I wish I could elaborate on the entire experience, among the omitted portions the 1st call I made to tech support where during the 4+ hours waiting time I had to keep running back to the computer room to check the monitor & in my anxiety over not wanting to miss the help person, I actually hit my head on the corner of a bookcase running back & forth......trust me there's more but given the fact that these DSL glitches (on an existing account mind you) actually kept me from shopping on CCVM's online  store from the comfort of my own home, I am proud to offer these words and you have my permission to edit as well (under the truth being stranger than fiction statute)!!!  FYI web access still unpredictable so I may not be back online for day or so......E

And these are the people that the FCC is trusting with our nation's broadband future?  Oy vey!

Link:  Consumers Frustrated With Static on the Service Line -- Washington Post

Help Support Public Access to the Public Airwaves

Just a few months ago, the FCC opened up a new swath of the Public Airwaves for use by Community Wireless Networks, neighborhood organizations, independent ISPs, schools, churches, and anyone else who wanted to create wireless broadband systems. But now, a coalition of major corporations is fighting to keep this spectrum for themselves -- they want to reopen the 3650-3700MHz proceedings and get the FCC to overturn its decision.  Until August 11th you can file comments opposing the reopening of the 3650-3700MHz proceedings and stop this pillaging in its tracks.  Visit this link for easy instructions.  Please take 5 minutes right now to help forge national telecommunications policy in the public interest.  Link: Support
Public Access to the Public Airwaves & Help Save the 3650-3700MHz
Band
.

Powell on the Prowl

Former FCC Chair Michael K. Powell will now do media and technology deals with a private equity firm.  In classic Powell-mode, he immediately insulted half of DC with his refreshingly impolitic comment, "I didn't want to be a lobbyist. I didn't want to be a classic former government official that does nothing but sell access back to the corridors of D.C."  He always did tell us how he really felt!  But the picture of Powell in the NY Times -- hey, the guy looks good!  Apparently, being an ex-Chair of the FCC suits him.  Suits a lot of other people too.  It'll be interesting to see if the deals he does are to build up media companies -- to take advantage of those "synergies" of bigness he was so fond of touting.  Or if he'll make his dough breaking up the Big Media he hatched as Chair because the benefits of "synergy" turned out to be not merely imaginary, but downright harmful to the public.  Link: Former F.C.C. Chief to Join Providence Equity - New York Times.

Broadband Reality Check

Free Press pours cold water all over FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's claim in the Wall Street Journal last month that the US was doing just great in the adoption of broadband (see our post below, "Martin Calls Broadband Internet 'Essential,' Then Pursues Policies That Endanger It.")  Instead, it turns out that, per Free Press, "America's access to affordable, high-speed Internet lags far behind the rest of the digital world."  And it's Martin and the FCC's policies that are to blame.  Link: Free Press : Press Release.

Icahn Tries to Break Up Time Warner?

Carl Icahn may press the Time Warner board to spin off Time Warner Cable, and possibly other divisions.  No wonder.  Consider the performance of Time Warner's stock after the company decided to go Big Media, creating "synergies" such as its combination with AOL.  TWX, which closed at $18.54 a share yesterday, traded at $64 immediately after the combination with America Online closed in January 2001, and reached a high of $94 in late 1999, just before the deal was announced.  Gosh, it's hard to imagine how much worse the stock could have performed without those "synergies."  Link: Icahn Tries to Form a Team to Take On Time Warner - New York Times.

Cisco Chief Has News for Big Media

Says Cisco Chief John Chambers, ''It is extremely unlikely for us to ever do a large acquisition. My view is most all of them fail,'' he said. ''In fact, you can argue the real large ones -- almost without exception -- have been disappointing.''  And Big Media is Exhibit A!  Link: Cisco Profits Jump Nearly 12 Percent - New York Times.

Enforcing Net Neutrality

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) wants to take the FCC's Net Neutrality policy statement and turn it into enforceable law.  "The FCC's recent adoption of a Policy Statement regarding the principles of Net Neutrality is an appropriate first step in ensuring that all persons continue to enjoy the unfettered ability to access and use the Internet in a lawful manner without being impeded by broadband network operators," Boucher said, "However, the next step must be taken by the Congress in codifying the Net Neutrality principles and bestowing on the FCC the clear authority to enforce the principles."  Bravo!

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: Boucher Pushes Mandated Net Neutrality.

More Thoughts on Hermiston Oregon and its Wi-Fi Network

More thoughts on Nicholas Kristof's column about Hermiston, Oregon, and its Wi-Fi network:

One reason it sprang up here is that a nearby Army depot contains chemical weapons, so there is special concern about what would happen if a cloud of nerve gas escaped from the depot. That fear helped provide a pot of federal money to underwrite safety systems.  Usually, the police and fire agencies communicate just by radio, but Hermiston decided to go with a public-private partnership that established a Wi-Fi network. The police chief, Dan Coulombe, showed me the wireless computers that all police officers now carry. They can download data and receive images from video monitors - and, if nerve gas ever escaped, display the cloud's direction and speed. Fingerprint readers are now being added to these portable devices so a police officer can almost instantly run a person's fingerprint through a multistate database. And if there's a report of a burglary, the police rushing to the scene can download floor plans of the building, live images from video monitors and information about the alarm system. Link: When Pigs Wi-Fi - New York Times.

All I know about Hermiston, OR and its Wi-Fi network is what I'm reading in Nicholas Kristof's Sunday New York Times column, link below.  But I'm fascinated by it and the reasons it was funded and built - which have nothing to do with media reform and democracy, and everything to do with "public safety" and "defense."  I wonder whether that model can be used across the country?  Because in many ways, Hermiston may be that elusive "positive vision" for the media and democracy movement we're so often called on to define.  And there it is, no idealistic ivory tower model, but up and running in the real world for all to see and ponder.  Built by a community represented in Congress by a Republican - Greg Walden.

I'm particularly impressed by the "public safety" and "defense" rationales for creating the network.  Hermiston sits next to a nerve gas depot, so obviously there are some extremely compelling safety reasons for networking the community.  They can more easily get the word out to evacuate in case of a leak.

But is this really so different from, say, Minot ND and its infamous toxic gas leak from a rail car? In Minot, the Sheriff went to the local radio station, owned by Clear Channel, to spread the evacuation word and found no one there.  But if Minot had Hermiston's Wi-Fi system in place, when its citizens heard the siren blaring, they could've turned on their broadband to get emergency information and not relied on non-local radio or TV.  In this way, are Hermiston and Minot really so different from, say, anywhere in America today?  I live near a nuclear power plant.  I'd sure like one of those Wi-Fi networks here to let me know when it's time to head for the hills or swallow the iodine.  When one considers the threat of terrorism striking anywhere at anytime, then anyplace in America is a potential Hermiston or Minot.

The "public safety" and "defense" rationales for building networks have a long history in this country, as others are far more equipped to discuss than me.  One example is our national Interstate highway system, funded under the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956.  By adding "defense" to the rationale for public as opposed to private toll road highways, public funding won the day.

While we may tend to view these questions from our media and democracy perspective, the Hermiston OR example demonstrates there are other compelling perspectives and rationales for building these networks that we want so badly.  I wonder if it's possible to place more emphasis on these "public safety" and "defense" arguments?  And if are there alliances to be made with others who are making them? 

The Future is Now -- in Hermiston, Oregon?????

What's OUR vision for a better media system in America, we're often asked.  Well, here's part of the vision -- operating today in Hermiston, OR.  High speed broadband with no cable or telephone company "gatekeeper" to steer you to websites that pay them.  It's a vision these companies find threatening and are spending millions to prevent from happening in the hallways of Congress, state legislatures, and the FCC.  Fortunately, Hermiston is so small that it apparently evaded their radar and, like an incoming stealth missile, is taking dead aim on the cable/telco vision of a closed Internet that only they can sell admission tickets to.

Writes Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times:  But Hermiston is actually a global leader of our Internet future. Today, this chunk of arid farm country appears to be the largest Wi-Fi hot spot in the world, with wireless high-speed Internet access available free for some 600 square miles. Most of that is in eastern Oregon, with some just across the border in southern Washington.  Driving along the road here, I used my laptop to get e-mail and download video - and you can do that while cruising at 70 miles per hour, mile after mile after mile, at a transmission speed several times as fast as a T-1 line. (Note: it's preferable to do this with someone else driving.) This kind of network is the wave of the future, and eastern Oregon shows that it's technically and financially feasible. New York and other leading cities should be embarrassed that Morrow and Umatilla Counties in eastern Oregon are far ahead of them in providing high-speed Internet coverage to residents, schools and law enforcement officers - even though all of Morrow County doesn't even have a single traffic light.

Link: When Pigs Wi-Fi - New York Times.

FCC Eliminates Competition on DSL Lines

Today’s FCC decision that telephone companies no longer must share access to their broadband DSL lines with competing Internet Service Providers is not good for creative artists and the American public, but it could have been far, far worse. In conjunction with today’s decision, the Commission unanimously adopted an important policy statement on "Net Neutrality" principles that will guide its future policymaking concerning high speed Internet access.  We call on the Commission to ensure that these Net Neutrality principles are not given mere lip service, but are rigorously implemented and enforced in a manner that serves the interests of all Americans. Today’s open Internet must be kept safe from a hostile takeover by the few corporate gatekeepers who now control high speed access to it, following today’s Commission ruling.  Read our statement here: Center for Creative Voices in Media: Statement

Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?

If you have kids, as we do, how many times have you told them "two wrongs do not make a right?"  Yet, some at the FCC want to extend the "wrong" of the Brand X decision that allows cable companies to dictate where you can surf on the Net using their broadband access, and who your ISP is, to the telephone companies providing broadband DSL.  Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union puts it well:

"Brand X stands for the proposition that a cable monopoly can decide who can use its network at what price and on what terms. To extend that principle to telephone networks would be compounding an enormous policy mistake," said Gene Kimmelman, public policy director of Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. "This form of gatekeeper control either on cable or on telephone is synonymous with inflated prices," he added. "We are going to see a mass exodus from the market. It's going to be a two-player-dominated system."

Link: FCC May Let Phone Companies Off DSL Hook.

The Internet's Threat to Cable

If you wonder why cable wants to control the Internet for its broadband subscribers, under the Brand X decision, read on.  As cable subscribers learn how to use Video on Demand, they quit channel surfing on the cable system and focus on just watching what they want when they want it.  And the broadband Internet is poised to become the Mother of All Video On Demand systems.  To avoid giving its customers the rope with which they will hang cable, cable operators believe they must control the Internet content so as not to make their cable systems superfluous.

“We're seeing a behavioral change in San Diego,” Youngman said. VOD and DVR subscribers pretty much cease channel-surfing or using their on-screen guides. They are now operating in a search mode, carefully hunting for specific shows or genres...  So if subscribers can find precisely what they want to watch anytime they want to watch it, the traditional cable-TV model seems almost superfluous. A giant part of their systems' resources is devoted to the conventional cable channels, which suddenly become less important. Operators have spent $80 billion in recent years expanding their capacity to deliver ever more channels. Some of that goes to Internet and phone traffic. But about 75% of the costly capacity is devoted to delivering an average of 223 plain, old linear video channels.

Link: Cable's Wake-Up Call - 8/1/2005 - Broadcasting & Cable.

Calling All Luddites - Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman's column highlights the scandal that is America's relentlessly sluggish pace of networking itself via broadband Internet, particularly when compared to the connectivity revolution taking hold of the rest of the world, developed and undeveloped. 

The technological model coming next - which Howard Dean accidentally uncovered but never fully developed - will revolve around the power of networks and blogging. The public official or candidate will no longer just be the one who talks to the many or tries to listen to the many. Rather, he or she will be a hub of connectivity for the many to work with the many - creating networks of public advocates to identify and solve problems and get behind politicians who get it.

Isn't it time that America realized that networking itself to the Internet is the 21st century equivalent of networking itself together in prior centuries via canals, railways, electrical grids, water systems, and roads?  And that our policymakers in DC should imaginatively make our connectivity a national priority, using every means at their disposal?   Instead of trying to snuff out today's entreprenurial approaches to connecting America, such as muni broadband and unlicensed spectrum dedicated to wireless broadband, policymakers should be unleashing and encouraging these initiatives.  Of course, the cables and telcos object, arguing that if policymakers just give them everything they want, they will -- at their own torpid pace -- eventually network everyone together.  But the price they are trying to extract from America is too high -- they want to control the Internet they deliver.  It's a Faustian bargain -- instead of networking everyone together and allowing them to interact seamlessly, they want to wall off the Net into their own proprietary fiefdoms, like the America Online of old, giving Americans the choice of the Comcast 'Net or the SBC 'Net, but not the full Internet.  To realize the Net's promise of the freest, fullest possible flow of communication for all, policymakers must balance the proprietary, profit-maximizing interests of the Comcasts and SBC's with the interests of the public in becoming fully networked to the entire Internet.  To paraphrase President Reagan's stirring words as he stood before another closed, proprietary system that impeded the free flow of information -- the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe -- Mr. Policymaker, tear down these walls!

Link: Calling All Luddites - New York Times.

Why Net Neutrality and Reversing Brand X is So Important

The day has finally arrived when the public gets its television and information from the Internet via broadband -- and interacts with it -- as MTV, CNN, CBS, and many others create original and repackaged programming on the Net.  Which is why Net Neutrality -- giving the public the freedom to go where it wants when it wants on the Net is so vitally important, see our posts below.  Link: More People Turn to the Web to Watch TV - New York Times.

Media Stocks -- The Bankruptcy of "Synergy"

It's nice to see that Wall Street, the financiers of the media companies' drive to improve profitability via "synergy," has finally come around to our point of view -- that "synergy" is bullshit.  Anthony Noto, a Goldman Sachs media analyst, points out that for most media companies, the return on invested capital is lower than the cost of capital, because they made acquisitions that failed to generate sufficient returns to cover the costs of the equity and the debt used for the purchases. "If your returns are below your cost of capital, the best thing to do with your money is to give it to shareholders, because that is a direct return without risk," Mr. Noto said. "The acquisitions were either too expensive or the hoped-for synergies did not materialize."  Not to mention the damage done to independent and diverse voices and viewpoints that have now been snuffed out in TV and radio.

Link: Growth or Value? Media Stocks Seem to Be Neither - New York Times.

Think Again: Buyouts, Payoffs, and the Public Interest

Eric Alterman writes a terrific column to which we can only say, Amen and please read.  It concludes:

If Mr. Martin (FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin) has his way, America will look more and more like a small town with only one voice. And the freedom to determine the course of our political debates will rest only with those wealthy enough to own not merely a printing press, but billions of dollars worth of broadcast satellites, fiber-optic cables, and studios – as well as a few hundred printing presses. In hastening that day, the FCC will be helping to destroy a vital lifeline of democracy.

Link: Think Again: Buyouts, Payoffs, and the Public Interest - Center for American Progress.

14,000 Comments Opposing Comcast/TW

In just a few days, the FCC has already received 14,000 public comments opposing the Comcast/TW takeover of Adelphia and allowing Big Cable companies to grow even bigger.  File your comment with the FCC using the link in the post below.

Link: Cable Merger Dissent Grows.

Telling the FCC What You Think About Cable

The FCC has two critical proceedings underway to determine just how much bigger Big Cable can get -- and YOU CAN TELL THE FCC EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK.  One proceeding will consider limits on how big any one cable company can get.  The other will consider whether Comcast and Time Warner, the nation's two biggest cable companies, can swallow up bankrupt Adelphia.  Creative Voices filed comments with the FCC opposing these two companies' purchase of Adelphia as a threat to independent cable networks and an open Internet (see our posts on the Brand X decision, below).  For the same reasons, we will also file Comments in favor of reasonable ownership limits that protect independent and diverse voices and viewpoints. 

AND NOW, YOU CAN FILE YOUR OWN COMMENTS AT THE FCC!  Free Press has an excellent page for filing electronic comments with the FCC in these cable proceedings.  Tell the FCC what you really think about Big Cable getting Bigger!  Link: Free Press : Comment on an FCC Proceeding.

Another Way Big Media Keeps Indies Off Radio -- Payola

And, as a result of the payola, detailed by NY AG Eliot Spitzer in a $10 million settlement, "Sony BMG and the other record labels present the public with a skewed picture of the country's 'best' and 'most popular' recorded music." Writes the NYT, "Mr. Spitzer's  inquiry is now expected to shift to the other three major record companies  -   Vivendi Universal, the Warner Music Group and the EMI Group - and the radio companies whose employees have accepted gifts in exchange for playing songs. Mr. Spitzer's investigators have served subpoenas on several radio companies, including Clear Channel Communications and  Emmis Communications."

"Several independent record labels say the settlement could signal a shift that might break the major record companies' chokehold on the airwaves. "This sounds to us like something that will be very helpful," said Don Rose, president of the American Association of Independent Music. "It's obvious to us that we're not getting the fair share because of the embedded relationships with big radio.""

Thanks, General Spitzer!  Link: Radio Payoffs Are Described as Sony Settles - New York Times.

CV Asks FCC to Block Adelphia Sale

CV joined other public interest groups in asking the FCC to block the acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp. by Time Warner and Comcast, the nation's two largest cable TV providers.  Such a combination would give Comcast and TWC an oligopoly over television programming today, where their combined market power gives them the power of life and death over new cable channels.  In the future, this combination would have the power, after the Brand X decision (see below), to control the future Internet, turning it from an open system into a proprietary "walled garden" that would more closely resemble cable TV than the Net we know today.  Read our FCC Petition to Deny and our Letter to America's Mayors Here.

Rupert Joins Us

Rupert Murdoch joins us in opposing the Comcast/Time Warner deal to buy bankrupt Adelphia -- but not much else.  Murdoch's DirecTV satellite system filed comments with the FCC saying the deal "would create many more such regional monopolies where anticompetitive behavior would be likely" and thus presents "a far more serious threat to the public interest than did earlier proceedings raising similar issues."  As they say in the Outback, "Good on ya, Mate!"

Link: Variety.com - DirecTV opposes Adelphia purchase.

Digital TV Transition -- What's in it for the Public?

What's in the Digital TV transition for the public, other than an even more concentrated media and the great pleasure (?) of buying a new television set? CV and other public interest groups are calling on Congress to set aside a small slice of the broadcasters' old analog spectrum for low-cost wireless broadband Internet access. That approach could help the public -- and creative artists -- circumvent the broadcast/cable/broadband Big Media choke-points and generate a more diverse, vibrant, independent, local media. The text of our letter to Congress is here.

Lawmakers Push Set Aside For ‘Public Broadband’

Here's a wonderful way to get around the cable and telco broadband "choke-point" just sanctioned by the Brand X case: Public Broadband.  Consumer advocates, now joined by allies in Congress, see the transition to digital television as a crucial opportunity to take the old analog spectrum about to be returned to the public from broadcasters as they go digital and set aside a small slice of that spectrum for affordable wireless broadband.

Link: Lawmakers Push Set Aside For ‘Public Broadband’.

Creative Voices on Capitol Hill

Yesterday, we spoke to an SRO crowd of Congressional staffers about the media reform issues and challenges facing creative artists today, including the need for an open broadband Internet (overturning the Brand X decision), ownership concentration and consolidation, and free speech/indecency concerns.  The point we made, which was extremely well-received, was that a wide diversity of independent creative voices and visions must have access to our nation's media -- the modern-day equivalent of our "town square" -- to provide the public with the news and information they need.  It's not only better for creative artists; it's better for our nation's democracy and culture.

Many thanks to the event sponsors: the Future of American Media and Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucuses and the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors.  And many thanks to the other speakers: Vin Di Bona, chair of the Caucus and producer of America's Funniest Home Videos, Michael Bracy of the Future of Music Coalition, and Robin Bronk of the Creative Coalition.

Media reform groups urge open, comprehensive process in review of media ownership rules

The FCC at the last moment today failed to begin the long-awaited process to review the nation's media ownership rules.  Creative Voices joined Common Cause, Consumers Union, and a number of other public interest groups in issuing this statement:

Today, the Federal Communications Commission was not able to begin the process to revisit media ownership rules that a federal appeals court struck down in 2004.  Today's impasse reportedly resulted from an inability of the Commissioners to come to a final agreement on the process for issuing that rulemaking.  It is vitally important that the FCC involve the public in a meaningful way in any revision of media ownership rules.  The court faulted the FCC for ignoring the public last time.  This time, the public not only must have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rules, they must be able to react to a specific proposal that tells them in what ways the FCC intends to change the rules.  The public must have enough time to comment on these rules, and they must have a hearing before the FCC.  This agency must hold public hearings throughout the country, hearings at which all Commissioners are present, and which respectfully take into account the concerns of the citizens and families the FCC is supposed to serve.  The FCC also must address the rules in a comprehensive way.  Ownership rules, for example, that permit one media company to own a newspaper and a TV station in one community are related to ownership rules that permit one company to own two TV stations in one community.  They must be considered together because each of these rules has a significant impact on the diversity of voices, or lack of diversity, a community will have.  We call upon all the FCC's Commissioners, and particularly FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, to avoid Michael Powell's mistakes, mistakes that led the court to throw out the 2003 media ownership rules, and to approve an open, comprehensive, transparent process for any media ownership rule changes they will consider.

 

Link: TV WeekSubscription May be Required.

Media Ownership Reform Act Introed in House

Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Diane Watson (D-CA) have introed the Media Ownership Reform Act in Congress.  "The current state of today’s media system threatens the ability of our democracy to function because it does not allow for the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources and shrinks the marketplace of ideas," Hinchey said. "The Media Ownership Reform Act tackles the issue of media consolidation head on and implements new standards for a diverse media that will ensure Americans have access to a wide array of ideas and information." MORA is a broad measure that seeks to undo the massive consolidation of the media that has been ongoing for nearly 20 years. It restores the Fairness Doctrine, reinstates a national cap on ownership of radio stations, and lowers the number of radio stations one company can own in a local market. It further reinstates the 25 percent national television ownership cap, requires regular public interest reports from broadcasters and provides for more independently produced programming on television. The bill establishes new public interest obligations to ensure broadcasters are meeting the needs of local communities and requires increased and sustained public input and outreach so that Americans have a voice in the programming they receive. "From the recent debate over public broadcasting, to the uproar that followed when the FCC tried to weaken its media ownership rules in June 2003, it is clear that Americans want a diverse media that is responsive to local communities," Hinchey said. "Unfortunately, the consolidation of the media has created a system that is less diverse and less responsive to local needs.  It is imperative that the Congress take action to fix this broken media system."

Thanks, Congressmen! Link: Congressman Maurice Hinchey (NY22) :: Press Release :: Hinchey Introduces Sweeping Reform Bill To Restore Integrity To America's Media System.

Carsey-Werner, One of Last Independent Producers, R.I.P.

Scott Collins' story in the LA Times is a must read requiem for the closing down of Carsey-Werner, a proudly independent producer responsible for The Cosby Show, Rosanne, 3rd Rock from the Sun, That '70's Show, and so many other hits.  Writes Collins, "It's a quiet end to a onetime TV powerhouse that has brought in an estimated $3 billion in revenue over the last decade. But Carsey-Werner basically became the equivalent of a mom-and-pop grocer in a Wal-Mart world. For all its successes, the company still struggled alongside other studios — such as Warner Bros. Television and 20th Century Fox Television — that enjoy enormous advantages in getting new series picked up by sister networks. Since the mid-1990s, when the government overturned rules prohibiting networks from owning a stake in shows they broadcast, independent studios have faced increasingly limited prospects.  "Marcy (Carsey) has felt — and she's entitled to feel this way — that the challenges of getting a show on the air have become too daunting," (Tom) Werner said. "I'm stubborn enough to try to find another process for TV comedy development."

Well, we wish Tom luck.  But why would our government adopt policies that run such creative people out of the TV business?

Link: calendarlive.com: TV vets wind down a once powerhouse shop.

Brand X judgment threatens free flow of information

Writes Dan Gillmor in an excellent analysis of the Brand X decision:  "The FCC’s intentions in the Brand X case seemed more deregulatory than invasive. But even granting that intent, the effect is even more pernicious. It endorses what the big telecoms companies have been wanting: absolute control over the data that flows in the lines they control not just the provision of data access.  America is rapidly heading toward a time when a typical community has at most just one or two serious broadband data providers: the cable company and the phone company. Apologists for this trend say it will bring prices down. It will, for a time. But does anyone really believe that a duopoly will lead to serious competition in the long run?"

Link: FT.com /Dan Gillmor: Brand X judgment threatens free flow of information.

Pulling the Plug on Local Internet

With the Supreme Court decision in Brand X giving cable companies the right to control the customers' access to the full Internet, municipal broadband service is emerging as a critical competitive alternative that will allow citizens access to the entire Internet.  Naturally, the cable and telcos are fighting this emerging competition.  Writes Steven Levy at Newsweek.com, "The likes of Verizon, SBC and Comcast are lobbying hard and donating big. They argue that taxpayer-funded competition makes the marketplace unfair (ironic, since those firms owe their dominance to government-granted monopolies). Then they claim that cities are too unsophisticated to pull off such projects (so why are they worried?). They fund think tanks that churn out white papers with titles like "Municipal Networks: The Wrong Solution." And they are racking up successes—14 states so far have passed laws that constrain localities in muni Wi-Fi efforts. In Pennsylvania, only a grass-roots protest from Philadelphians forced the legislature to exempt the city from its bill..."

To preserve an open and "neutral" Internet, muni broadband is vital.  Link: Pulling the Plug on Local Internet - Newsweek.

Death of Broadcast TV Greatly Exaggerated

So writes Chi Trib TV Critic Steve Johnson, noting "there is nothing on the horizon that looks remotely possible of achieving the reach, breadth and ratings impact of network news...  Day-to-day, nothing in cable news, not even Bill O'Reilly's nightly hour of sober intellectual debate, comes close to the networks.  And nothing on the World Wide Web will have a shot at doing so until broadband Internet access achieves the nearly universal household penetration that television currently does, and that's not likely to happen until companies decide to offer it free of charge."

Bottom line: the existence of cable and the Internet does not obviate the need for taking a hard look at excessive concentration in broadcast TV.  When it comes to drawing a mass audience, broadcast is still the only game in town.  Link: Chicago Tribune news : Do Not Adjust Your Picture.

Comcast aiming to control the content it delivers

Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator, is trying to take a controlling interest in all the content it delivers.  So, if you're living in a territory where Comcast is the monopoly cable franchisee, to paraphrase Henry Ford's comment about his Model T, you can have your choice of any cable programming you want, as long as it's owned by Comcast.

"When Time Warner and Comcast get behind a channel, it has a 100 percent chance of succeeding," said Doron Gorshein, who is trying to launch an independent cable channel. "If Comcast and Time Warner don't get behind a channel, it has almost zero chance of succeeding."  Gorshein said his America Channel, which aims to feature independently produced documentaries about life in the United States, is among those that have been rejected by Comcast and Time Warner. Together, the two cable operators serve about half of all households that receive cable or satellite TV. "I do not believe that a small group of four or five companies ought to have domain over creativity in America," Gorshein  said.

Now, what does this say about the Brand X case and the fact that Comcast is not only the nation's largest cable operator, but also the nation's largest broadband Internet provider?  It says this:  Comcast wants to control the content it delivers -- ALL the content it delivers.  And it will seek to control that content whether it delivers it via broadband Internet or via cable television.  Which is why cable ownership limits and muni broadband (see below) are so important in the fight to preserve citizens' rights to freely access independent voices and viewpoints on both cable television and the Internet.

Link: Philadelphia Inquirer | Comcast aiming to control the content it delivers.

Lafayette to America's Rescue -- Again

Lafayette may be coming to the aid of Americans during yet another revolution.  This time, it's not the Marquis or the Revolutionary War, but the city of Lafayette, LA and the broadband revolution.  Lafayette is doing its darnedest to join the broadband revolution by building its own municipal broadband Internet service.  But BellSouth, the local phone company that has failed to deliver broadband to the community, doesn't like the competition on its "turf."  So it's throwing up roadblock after roadblock in the way of the broadband-deprived citizens of Lafayette.  And, like its cable and phone company brethren, BellSouth is lobbying the states and the feds to prevent citizens from organizing together, through their city government, to provide their own broadband, just as cities provide electricity, gas, water, cable TV, and other basic services throughout the country.

With the Supreme Court's unfortunate decision in Brand X, citizens creating their own muni broadband networks is one of the few options available to those who want to ensure full and complete high speed access to the entire Internet.

Commenting on the legislation pending in Congress that would prevent cities like Lafayette and Philadelphia (where another muni broadband project is underway) from building their own broadband nets, Michael Carlini, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, says, “We're killing ourselves from a global-competitiveness standpoint so that a few companies (like BellSouth) can keep making money on an obsolete business model.”

Link: Towns Battle Big Companies -- USA Today.

Redstone: Age of Media Conglomerate Over - Yahoo! News

News from the annual media mogul confab in Sun Valley -- they don't need to have any more confabs.  Why?  Because "the age of the conglomerate is over," says Sumner Redstone, architect of the Viacom conglomerate that is now "de-conglomerating" by splitting up what Redstone put together just a few years ago.  He added,"the time has come to be more nimble" for media businesses.  "It hasn't been working," Redstone said of large media conglomerates.  Thank God one of the empire building media moguls finally woke up and smelled the coffee.  Has he been reading our stuff? 

Link: Redstone: Age of Media Conglomerate Over - Yahoo! News.

Martin Calls Broadband Internet "Essential," Then Pursues Policies That Endanger It

FCC Chair Kevin J. Martin writes in the WSJ that, "Broadband access is essential to an expanding Internet-based information economy."  We couldn't agree more.  But he then claims the Supreme Court's decision in Brand X to let cable broadband providers discriminate among websites and, in essence, sell their own proprietary "Internets" somehow serves the public interest, not just the interest of the cable companies.  To that, we couldn't agree less.  Martin then tortuously twists the fact that the US ranks 12th in OECD rankings of broadband penetration into more good news, when it's a tragedy directly related to the FCC's misguided anti-competitive policies.

What made the Internet "essential" was its openness.  A consumer could easily go anywhere and find anything.  We hope Martin pursues policies that preserve the Net's unique openness.  Unfortunately, his WSJ piece taking a bow for his misguided policies promoting closed, proprietary Internets, a la America Online's "walled garden" of the pre-Internet era, indicate he's headed in a very wrong direction.

Link: WSJ.com - United States of BroadbandSubscription May be Required.

Post Brand X Decision, Congress Must Enact "Net Neutrality"

Excellent editorial from Silicon Valley's San Jose Mercury News calling on Congress to enact "Net Neutrality" following the Supreme Court's Brand X decision.  Says the editorial, "the ruling also opens the door for cable companies -- and eventually their telephone rivals -- to pick and choose what Internet content and services their customers get to use."  We agree, and that's a bad thing not only for creative media artists, but for the public that has come to rely on the Internet as an important source of news and information.  Link: MercuryNews.com | 06/29/2005 | Cable ruling could tangle Internet use.

Even When He's Gone, He's Here

The Hollywood Reporter's story on yesterday's Brand X decision by the Supreme Court features a photo of former FCC Chairman Michael Powell, even though he is never mentioned in the story.  Hmmm...  Link: Supreme Court overturns ruling on cable Internet lines.

Public Loses Brand X Case at Supreme Court

Statement of Jonathan Rintels, Executive Director, Center for Creative Voices in Media, on the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision in the Brand X case holding that cable companies do not have to share access to their lines with competing Internet Service Providers.

The Supreme Court's decision in Brand X to permit cable companies to discriminate in providing Internet access is a potentially devastating blow to the wide diversity of viewpoints and voices upon which our democracy and culture depend. Despite its underwhelming name, today's Supreme Court decision is overwhelmingly significant. It is nothing less than the opening shot in what promises to be an ongoing war over whether the future Internet will be "open" or "closed." Will Americans enjoy the freedom to visit any website, as they do today, or will they be restricted to visiting sites approved by - or in business with - the cable, telephone, or media conglomerate "gatekeeper" that provides broadband access to the Internet.

Extreme media consolidation and concentration has eliminated many independent voices and visions from much of America's media. Many creative artists, present and future, passionately hoped that high speed broadband would empower them to share their creative visions directly with their audience over the Internet, eliminating the Big Media gatekeeper/distributor. Today's Supreme Court Brand X decision may have dashed those hopes. Here's why. Cable broadband providers will have the power to discriminate as to which websites their customers visit. They can demand payment from content creators for access to their broadband customers. They will have the power to divert their customers to sites they own and operate, or that pay them "carriage." Or they can simply block customers from accessing programming that competes with websites or TV networks that they are in business with. And no doubt the FCC will soon extend this power to discriminate to telephone company ! DSL broadband services as well.

Thus, the implications of Brand X and the ongoing battle over whether the Internet will be "open" or "closed" can hardly be overstated. As FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps has observed, "This Internet may be dying. It may be dying because entrenched interests are positioning themselves to control the Internet's choke-points and they are lobbying the FCC to aid and abet them… We seem to be buying into a warped vision that open networks should be replaced by closed networks and that traditional user accessibility can be superseded by a new power to discriminate. Let this vision prevail and the winners will be entrenched interests with far greater power than they have today to design and control the Internet of the future."

In its controversial 2003 media ownership proceeding, the FCC majority claimed that, "via the Internet, Americans can access virtually any information, anywhere, on any topic." Therefore, the Commission majority justified and permitted ever greater media consolidation and concentration. Fortunately, that decision was reversed by a US Court of Appeals as "arbitrary and capricious." Whether the Commission majority's claim was valid in 2003 is open to debate. But today's Brand X decision makes that reasoning history. With the FCC now poised to take up these media ownership rules again, it must take into account the fact that as a result of today's Brand X decision, one of its primary justifications for relaxing the prior ownership rules just vanished. Americans may no longer have the freedom or opportunity to "access virtually any information, anywhere, on any topic" on the Internet.

Today, the Supreme Court helped make the cable and telephone companies' vision of a closed Internet a reality. Most Americans have no choice for broadband access other than a cable or phone company gatekeeper. Now, their Internet may bear more resemblance to a "souped-up" cable television system or the early "walled garden" days of America Online, where customers were limited to AOL content. For many Americans, their only broadband Internet may be the cable company's walled garden Internet or the phone company's walled garden Internet.

We hope that the FCC and the Congress will seriously examine the harmful implications of this Supreme Court decision and immediately act to preserve and protect the free, vibrant and open Internet, full of diverse and competing voices, that has become the lifeblood of America's democracy and culture, as well as an engine of growth for its economy.

Additional information and background on Brand X may be found in our article in the upcoming Journal of the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors, which is posted on our website here.

Lord of the Rings v. Kings of All Media

Peter Jackson, director of the immensely profitable Lord of the Rings trilogy, is suing New Line, alleging that the studio allowed its sister Time Warner divisions to pay below market rates for all kinds of books, DVDs, and merchandise, thus cheating Jackson out of his agreed upon share of those revenues.  Writes the Times, "According to people on both sides of Mr. Jackson's lawsuit, the claim strikes at the heart of the modern vertically integrated media company. One of the apparent - though largely unproven - benefits of media integration is the ability of conglomerates like the Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, the News Corporation, Viacom, Sony and General Electric to sell subsidiary rights to the many divisions within the company.  By painting this corporate synergy as "self-dealing," Mr. Jackson's lawsuit and similar suits filed in the last few years, called vertical integration lawsuits, argue that the idea of the media conglomerate is at odds with the interests of the creative minds behind the content."  For reasons that go far beyond the monetary, we agree.

Link: The Lawsuit of the Rings - New York Times.

End of an Era for Independents

Marcy Carsey, who along with partner Tom Werner, ran Carsey-Werner, the last of the significant independent production companies operating in TV, is retiring and the partners are shutting down their famed shingle. The Cosby Show, Rosanne, That '70s Show, Third Rock, on and on and on -- they created some great TV, but competing against their customers, the networks, to sell shows to the networks was incredibly difficult.  They will be missed.

Link: Variety.com - Inside Move: CW close to clicking off buttonSubscription May Be Required.

Media Companies that Didn't Play Merger Mania Outperform Those That Did

Fascinating article from The Street.com that confirms with data what we've been saying all along -- media consolidation is not only bad for the public, it's bad for the consolidated media companies themselves, as well as their suffering shareholders.  Writes Sandy Brown, analyzing the superior stock market performance of smaller, local companies to the consolidated national media giants, "Smaller media companies have little time for any notion that they should restructure. Instead, they have been choosing mild-mannered Internet plays and local dominance to help grow their businesses. The moves showcase a steady approach that offers stark contrast to their larger siblings' merger mania and recent deconsolidation drives."

Link: Scripps Outshines Big Names.

"The End Of the Media Conglomerate"

Writes Andy Serwer in FORTUNE about the trend to de-consolidate media:  Why for the love of Koo Stark were these companies all put together in the first place?  Simple. Because investment bankers convinced media CEOs that they needed to "dare to be great," that they needed "scalability," and that they needed to have "global reach." Such hogwash. If Nickelodeon wants to do a cross-promotional deal with Legoland, they do a cross-promotional deal. Does Viacom need to buy Legoland to do such a transaction? Of course not. In fact, it actually makes the situation less desirable, because if Nickelodeon and Legoland were part of the same company, a deal doubtlessly would be forced upon them from HQ. And that deal probably wouldn’t make much sense, and it would likely be unwelcome by one side, or both.

Link: Investing - The End Of the Media Conglomerate.

Returning Independent Producers to TV

Lorne Manley has a good article in the Times on the absence of independent producers on primetime TV and the salutary efforts of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and others, including us (!), to put them back on. 

Link: Networks and the Outside Producer: Can They Co-Exist? - New York Times.

"Age of Conglomerates is Over" - Sumner Redstone

Said Sumner Redstone yesterday on celebrating the split up of his Viacom into two companies, to be called CBS and Viacom, "I think the age of the conglomerates is probably over."  Redstone put the two companies together just 5 1/2 years ago to achieve "efficiencies" and "synergies." We've critized from the start the consolidation of media in general and Viacom in particular as utterly bogus ego-gratifying empire-building that harmed not only shareholders, but the public.  If you're a shareholder of one of these Big Media stocks, you know just how non-existent these "efficiencies" and "synergies" have been -- they are as a group among the worst performing publicly-traded stocks in America.  Although there is still a tremendous amount of de-consolidating to do at both the new CBS and Viacom, Redstone at least deserves credit for realizing his mistake and reversing course to this extent.

Link:  Slate -- The Redstone Dilemma.

Supreme Court Won't Review Tossing of FCC Media Ownership Rules

Commenting after the Supremes refused Big Media's appeal of last year's Appeals Court overturning of the FCC's media ownership rules as "arbitrary and capricious," Andy Schwartzman of the Media Access Project was pleased, but sounded a cautionary note: "Expect difficult fights ahead.  FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has signaled that he will try to divide the media ownership proceeding into several pieces to reduce its visibility.  If true, that won’t work, because the American people now know what's at stake."

We agree.  And now, as the FCC again takes up media ownership, with a far more politically savvy Chairman Kevin Martin pushing the deregulatory agenda, we have our work cut out for us!

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television. Subscription May be Required.

Indigo Girls Plug Bill of Media Rights

Thanks to the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, for promoting the Bill of Media Rights and Low Power FM Radio on Capitol Hill today in a great event organized by the Future of Music Coalition.  A packed room of 150 Congressmen and staffers sang along with the girls and heard how important Low Power FM is to combat the media consolidationi that has destroyed commercial radio.

Indigos, Lawmakers Link for LPFM Legislation.

Congloms Killing Creativity, Selves

Diane Mermigas, The Hollywood Reporter's respected media analyst, takes the media congloms to task for turning themselves into uncreative, old-media dinosaurs through relentless consoldation. "Making creativity and innovation priority investments would put media and entertainment companies on a digital fast track and likely boost their stock price and shareholder value in ways that buybacks and asset spinoffs won't. But that would require a penchant for risk-taking and a stable of cutting-edge talent, some of which were lost in consolidation cost reductions and safer production line profits of the past decade. Industries charged with dictating popular cultural and social conscience shouldn't have to be reminded to keep the need for new ideas in products and services top of mind. In truth, media and entertainment players will not survive in an age of broadband interactivity without innovation. The dynamics, demands and opportunities of the new media age are radically different than what has gone before. New business models alone will not facilitate the change. These bedrock industries must reinvigorate their artistic soul."

Link: Media need to innovate amid evolving industrySubscription May Be Required.

More Benefits of Synergy

In addition to the public benefits from media concentration such as Rupert Murdoch and son's huge salaries, see below, here's another one:  The Fox Reality channel starts airing on Tuesday on satellite TV service, DirecTV. Fox Reality is the first channel devoted to repeats of reality TV programs, and it spotlights the corporate synergy between Fox, which runs the channel, and DirecTV. Both are controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp Ltd.

Thanks, Rupert.  No wonder you get the big bucks, see below.  Link: Fox Reality Channel to Air on DirecTV| Reuters.com.

The "Benefits" of Synergy

Here's what the media company's quest for synergy is really about:  more money and bigger empire for ego-driven moguls.  Per Daily Variety: "Rupert Murdoch got a nice raise last year -- about 42%...  Murdoch received a salary of $4.5 million and a bonus of $12.5 million in 2004. That was up from the same salary but only a $7.5 million bonus in 2003.  In addition, the proxy statement notes that News Corp. paid annual upkeep of about $660,000 for the past three years on a Los Angeles residence for Murdoch that was also used for company functions...  Lachlan Murdoch, received substantial bumps in both his salary and bonus. His salary rose from $1.4 million in 2003 to $1.8 million in 2004, and his bonus rose from $1.2 million to $2 million.

Well, that certainly seems fair and balanced...  Link: Variety.com - More money for Murdoch.

PBS Finally Fights Back

Tuesday in DC, PBS landed a one-two counterpunch to the crusading zealotry of the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and his misguided attempt to bring Fox News-style "fair and balanced" to PBS.

At lunch at the National Press Club, Public Broadcasting Service President Pat Mitchell said PBS "does not shrink in the face of political threats," and is more important than ever in a world where "a small number of media conglomerates make decisions based on the need to earn higher profits."  Hear, hear.

Then, on Capitol Hill in the late afternoon, we had the privilege of hearing Bill Moyers also demand that the government -- and the corporation it funds and appoints highly politicized board members to, the CPB -- keep its hands off public broadcasting, quality journalism, and free expression.  Moyers showed examples of his PBS journalism that had been cited by Ken Tomlinson, head of CPB, as biased.  After seeing these clips for ourselves, never has it been more clear that there is no bias here.  Rather, this is a dangerous demand to drop all pretense of PBS independence and instead toe the Tomlinson/Fox News line.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television.

Bill Moyers's speech at the National Conference for Media Reform is here.

Comcast/Time Warner Takeover of Adelphia Bad for Public

Writes Jeff Chester in an important commentary on this dangerous increase in concentration in the cable business:  "Ever ravenous to swallow up more media properties, Comcast and Time Warner are poised to jointly carve up Adelphia Communications (which currently has 5 million cable subscribers).  Comcast and Time Warner, the first and second largest U.S. cable operators respectively--expect to acquire the fifth largest cable company with hardly a whisper of protest from the two federal regulatory agencies responsible for its approval (FTC and FCC) or from Congress. In their “Application and Public Interest Statement” (PDF) to the FCC, filed on May 18, 2005, Comcast and Time Warner claim that this deal will “generate substantial public interest benefits…and will do so without producing any possible countervailing harm.”  Of course, this is 86 pages of pure fiction--if not outright lies."

Link: Center for Digital Democracy | Washington Watch.

 

Time Warner Tosses a Nickel to Suffering Shareholders

Time Warner, the poster-child for the failed media "synergy" strategy of yesteryear, with its disastrous AOL merger, got an earful from suffering shareholders at its annual meeting.  "Don't tell me you're going to give me a nickel. I don't need your nickel," Hortense Friedlander, a retired shareholder, said as part of an extended tirade about TWX's announcement of a whopping five cent dividend. "You insult my integrity when you tell me you're giving me a nickel when you're getting $16 million," she said, referring to CEO Richard Parsons' compensation in 2004.

Given the colossal failure of its "synergy" strategy, wouldn't it be more fair to give $16 million to shareholders and a nickel to TWX management?

Link: Update 2: Time Warner Questioned Over Stock Price - Forbes.com.

Dependent on Gov't Favors, Nets Pull News Punches

Broadcasting & Cable editorializes critically of the industry it covers:  "After 9/11, we were promised, the news media would toughen up, dig deeper, cover the world for us. What we seemed to have gotten was softer coverage and a propensity to pull punches. How odd and dangerous it is that, in these most perilous times, the news business has rarely seemed more frivolous...  That's because cowed and battered networks can more easily be seduced into the safety of synergy over the risk of doing hard-hitting stories that could get them in trouble with the government that controls their licenses and, sadly, some of their content."

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: Seriously MissingSubscription May be Required.

The Death of "Synergy" -- Ad Infinitum

The broadcast nets have announced their fall schedules and guess what:  Says NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker: “The whole idea of vertical integration and complete reliance on your in-house studio was not the driving force in a lot of pickup decisions.”

Well, as Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"  When the FCC gave the nets the power to own both the production and the distribution of their primetime shows in the '90's, the nets instantly forgot their "heart-felt" paeans to the creative independent producer that they used to snow the FCC and instead strong-armed every producer to come "in-house" with the net as a partner or full owner, or else kiss goodbye any chance at placing a show on that net's schedule. 

Incredibly, this vain but determined attempt at vertical integration was all vanity.  The nets ignored the best business and management practices learned by their layers upon layers of MBAs; that the best companies in America stick to what they do best and outsource the rest.  Dell doesn't make chips for its computers.  Walmart doesn't make anything.  Instead, they buy the best production available and make their money on distribution. 

But the nets just had to make their own programming -- and only broadcast the programming that they themselves made -- no matter how schlocky and un-economic it was, ultimately losing a big chunk of their audience to cable, which now commands the largest share of audience on an average night (of course, the nets own the vast majority of the cable nets as well, so this is hardly a triumph for anyone thinking our nation's democracy and culture could benefit if a few more independent non-network voices were added to the mix). 

The folly of this quixotic drive to "synergy" is now apparent.  Not only did the nets lose much of their audience to cable, but their stock prices are, across the board, consistently underperforming the rest of the stock market.  As Casey Stengel famously said, "You can look it up!"  GE/NBC, Fox, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner -- these stocks performance over the past five years stinks so bad, they are a good argument against adding private accounts to Social Security.  One would think that the economic benefits of synergy would make these stocks outperform the market.  But really, the only thing that's gone up is the gargantuan salaries and benefits that the execs of these companies who are trustees of the public's airwaves lavish upon themselves.  For 2004, when Viacom's stock left its holders screwed and fuming, the company's three top executives helped themselves to salaries, bonuses, and benefits of nearly $100 million. 

So while it's nice to see the broadcast nets are loosening up and looking outside their own four walls, let's not declare victory yet.  The nets are only buying shows from each other.  The number of shows on the fall schedule made by anyone other than one of the five conglomerates that own the nets is zero, as far as we can tell.  Meaning the net new independent voices added to the mix next fall -- bupkiss.

The bottom line:  We thank the nets for proving we've been right all this time:  "Synergy" is bullshit.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of TelevisionSubscription May be Required.

New TV Season -- Same Ol' Story

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the new TV season just announced for Fall 2005 features "the virtual disappearance of independent production entities with any kind of real clout with the networks."  Rather it's just the 5 congloms, WB, GE/NBC, DIS/ABC, VIA/CBS/UPN, FOX, all producing for themselves and selling to each other.  Nice, cozy, and closed.

Link: A threepeat for WarnersSubscription May be Required.

Net Neutrality in Telecom Rewrite?

Per Communications Daily:  Cong. Rick Boucher (D-VA), influential on technology issues, says Congress should adopt principles of network neutrality so platform owners can't keep customers from particular websites. He cited a high-profile example in which a small phone firm that provides DSL blocked subscribers' access to Vonage: "I have no doubt that unless a law prohibits this, it will become a more regular practice," says Boucher.  The incentive is there to misbehave."  We agree.

Comcast Seeks Divine Intervention

The Communications Workers are challenging the imperial reign of the Roberts Family as heads of Comcast at the annual shareholders meeting at 9:00 am June 1 in the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. They welcome people to turn out, meeting at 8:00 am.) Their resolutions call upon the company to change the voting structure so that the Roberts Family, owners of a minority of Comcast stock, still has the power to outvote every other shareholder.

And Tony Daley of CWA reports, "we did an action on Sunday and Monday. Brian Roberts was getting an honorary degree at the University of Pennsylvania. CWA hit the hotel rooms and slid flyers under doors. Then, we hand-billed the stadium with roughly 4,000 flyers. Roberts was actually handed a flyer, to which he responded "Oh my God!"

Perfect Storm of Media Issues in DC

Media, media everywhere in DC.  In addition to the indecency issues, digital TV transition issues, rewrite of the '96 Telecom Act issues, add to the plate the FCC opening its Cable horizontal and vertical integration rulemaking -- how many cable subscribers (horizontal) and cable networks (vertical) can a cable company own?  This proceeding takes on tremendous importance after the announcement of the takeover of Adelphia by Comcast and Time Warner, as well as the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Brand X over whether cable companies can "close" the Internet to their broadband subscribers, many of whom have no other broadband option.

And Senator Stevens, The Media Man in the Senate, now wants to hold hearings on the tricky issue of "retransmission consent," where local broadcasters (who are rarely local) can choose whether the local cable operator "must carry" their channel or must pay a fee to carry it.  The networks, which own the biggest "local" broadcasters, choose retransmission consent and then as their "fee" demand that cable operators carry their cable channels such as MTV, MTV-2, MTV-Ad Nauseum.  Said Stevens, "It bothers me a little bit to realize that the negotiation process that brought retransmission consent into being has led to something Congress did not contemplate at the time. "The net result, I am told, is that if you buy and carry network programming, you may be required to pay for channels they own too, whether or not your viewers or you actually want to carry them."

Hey, Senator, you woke up and smelled the coffee! 

The FCC Notice for Cable is here. 

Copps Stops Show in St. Louis

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps fired up the St. Louis Media Reform Conference crowd with these stirring words:  "Don’t listen to those who counsel that now is not the time to fight. Don’t let the usual suspects inside the Beltway write the rules.  Jump in with both feet.  Involve your friends, your neighbors, anyone you can.  Convene meetings.  Write letters and articles.  Take to the Internet.  Use every source you can access. Do everything you can—and then do a little bit more! A lot of work to do?  Sure.  Powerful interests on the other side?  You bet.  A steep climb?  Absolutely.  Winnable?  I have a two-word answer for that one:  Damned right!"

Link: Copps Calls Big Media Foes to ActionSubscription May be Required.

Full text of speech here.

Congratulations, Rupert!

Congrats and kudos to Rupert Murdoch, first inductee into Free Press's "Big Media Hall of Shame."  Phil Donohue presented the un-coveted honor at this weekend's National Media Reform Conference in St. Louis.  Murdoch beat out a strong field of Big Media promoters, besting Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Sinclair Broadcasting's David Smith, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, and Lowry Mays of Clear Channel. Unfortunately, he was unable to claim his prize in person.

What better way to celebrate Mr. Murdoch's victory than by purchasing one of our "MURDOCH: IT'S AUSTRALIAN FOR MONOPOLY, MATE!" shirts from our Free Speech store at right!

Link: Big Media Hall of Shame.

“Take Back the Media” - A C-Ville Talks event

A podcast of our "Take Back the Media" panel, sponsored by C-Ville Weekly, on May 9, 2005, with Jonathan Rintels of Creative Voices, Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression; Roxanne Cooper of Rox Populi; Jessica Coen, editor of gawker.com; moderated by syndicated cartoonist Jen Sorenson, author of Slowpoke.

Link: “Take Back the Media” - A C-Ville Talks event.

Media Reform Conference, St. Louis

We're here!  And too busy to blog.  But our pal and counsel, Harold Feld of Media Access Project, isn't, fortunately.  He wrote a terrifically insightful piece on the dynamics of the conference and the need to maintain the broadest-based possible movement here: Harold Feld's Tales of the Sausage Factory: Media reform conference -Friday.

Jarvis Dumps on Bill of Media Rights

We like super-blogger Jeff Jarvis and are glad to be in the TV Watch coalition against heavy-handed government indecency regs.  But he's not a big fan of the Bill of Media Rights, thinking it's too heavy-handed as well.  Rather than paraphrase him, his post is here BuzzMachine ... by Jeff Jarvis.  Her's our reply:

I'm the Exec Director of the aforesaid Center for Creative Voices in Media.  Just a couple of points.  First, Creative Voices didn't "release" the Bill of Media Rights, we're a signatory to it, as are at least 115 other groups with memberships of over 20 million people, or so I'm told by the people at Common Cause who are counting these things up.  Having said that, we support it and are proud that we took the lead in the coalition in drafting it.  Because we think that while some might take issue with one principle or another, as Jeff did with one, all in all it's a terrific statement of general principles to keep in mind as Congress prepares to reopen the 1996 Telecom Act, act on the Digital TV transition, and make more draconian the indecency regulations.

Second, yes, we do believe the American public has a right to "electoral and civic programming," etc.  That doesn't mean we're trying to "mandate" it, as Jeff writes.  We're part of a coalition that asked the FCC to put it in a VOLUNTARY GUIDELINE that was specifically NOT MANDATORY for broadcasters who receive from the public a free license to use the public's airwaves.  Is that too much to ask?  Well, the broadcasters certainly think so.  I don't. 

Third, I don't care for content guidelines either.  A far less concentrated media structure that allows more access to the public's airwaves, and more independent voices on our cable systems, would, IMO, make content guidelines unnecessary, just as it would make any indecency regs unnecessary.  The market itself would address that and give the audience the power to pick and choose what to watch and what to avoid.  But we don't have that now.  And that's what the vast majority of the principles of the Bill of Media Rights address. 

Maybe blogging and the Internet will one day turn these conglomerates into dinosaurs, as Jeff writes, but I heard that about the 500 channel universe of cable, too.  Instead, the conglomerates took over cable and we have many voices, few ventriloquists.  And they'll try to do the same with the Internet, which is why the Brand X case is so important.  We lose that case, broadband providers like Comcast become Internet gatekeepers.  Blogs -- and everything else on the Net -- are at their mercy.  So the Bill of Rights talks about that, too, stating as a principle that Americans should have the freedom to surf to any site on the Net over their broadband connection.  Is that a problem for this group?

Bottom line:  before dismissing the Bill of Media Rights out of hand, read it first.  It's on our website, www.creativevoices.us.  We think it's a terrific document and are pleased to support it.

Jon Rintels
Executive Director
Center for Creative Voices in Media

Another Nail in "Synergy's" Coffin

From Reuters:  Emmis Communications Corp., which owns radio stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, may sell its 16 television stations after the company posted three losses in the past five quarters.  And get this:  On that announcement, the stock rose 19 percent! 

Chief Executive Jeffrey Smulyan, who founded the company in 1979, follows Viacom Inc.'s Sumner Redstone, IAC/Interactive Corp.'s Barry Diller and Liberty Media Corp.'s John Malone in splitting off businesses after their founders spent decades bringing together disparate assets.

Link: Bloomberg.com: U.S..

Huffington Post Launches

Warren Beatty, a member of our Board of Advisors, says to Howard Kurtz that the newly-launched Huffington Post mass blog "holds out the possibility that the horrifying danger of media consolidation may be ameliorated." He says Huffington will provide a forum "not owned by the New York Times, News Corp., General Electric, Disney, Viacom, The Washington Post, Tribune Media, Knight Ridder, Gannett and the like" and that smart writers "will have no fear of being edited or fired for views that might go against the interests of the publisher."  That's a definite check out.

Link to Howard Kurtz's column: Dazzle, Yes. But Can They Blog?.

Huffington Post is here.

Bill of Media Rights Kicked Off

Tonight, Monday, May 9, at 9:30 p.m. and midnight EDT, C-SPAN will televise the Media and Democracy Coalition's press conference unveiling to the public the Bill of Media Rights, a milestone in the media reform movement that presents a positive and unified vision for a competitive, diverse, and independent media to better serve our nation's democracy and culture, today and tomorrow.  Groups representing millions of Americans are signing on in support of this important document.  And, we're proud to say, Creative Voices took the lead in drafting the Bill, earning us this laurel from Common Cause President Chellie Pingree at today's event: the "Thomas Jefferson of the Media Reform Movement."  Gosh, that's heady company, thanks!

In reply, we said, "The Center for Creative Voices in Media is proud to have taken a lead role in drafting the Bill of Media Rights, a visionary set of principles for a future American media that respects the public interest and promotes our nation’s democracy and culture. This newly reformed media will be more open, diverse, competitive, and locally-responsive, benefiting both the creative media artists we represent and, most importantly, the American people."

Read the Bill of Media Rights here on our website, or on the Bill's website, www.citizensmediarights.org.

"Synergy killed the radio star"

On The Deal.com, Richard Morgan details the blow up of Clear Channel's much-touted "synergy" strategy of combining concentrated power in radio station ownership and live concert promotion.  And, thanks to him for giving us the kicker line in this terrific analysis: 

"Jonathan Rintels, for one, is already declaring April 29 — the date Clear Channel announced its breakup plans — "a great day for musicians and creative artists and, most importantly, the American public." But then Rintels founded the Center for Creative Voices in Media expressly to take on media monoliths that, in his view, muzzle individual expression.

"Clear Channel was killing both radio and live performance," says Rintels, a television scriptwriter and Washington lawyer, who also serves as executive director of his 3-year-old foundation. "Now maybe they'll just stick to killing radio.""

Link: TheDeal.com - Synergy killed the radio star.

News Flash: Study Funded By Media Congloms Finds Media Congloms are No Problem!

Wonder if it'll make the Media Congloms' news programs? 

Link: MediaCitizen: Sock Puppet Revue.

UPDATE: Having now had an opportunity to review this alleged "report" ourselves, revealingly titled "The Media Monopoly Myth," to say it is a hatchet job is an insult to hatchets.  This is pure polemic argument, bought and paid for by Big Media, not any "report."  When the author's argument stumbles across inconvenient facts, statistics, and research, he ignores them, as they get in the way of his "Monopoly Myth" theme that media reformers' case against Big Media has been made up out of thin air and then endlessly repeated, until it ultimately attains mythical status.

In one of the more comedic passages, the author reveals the unstartling news that some groups -- he names Creative Voices here, along with unions and newspaper publishers -- may have had a financial interest in advocating some media reform issues.  Of course, he fails to mention that Big Media has by far the greatest financial interest in these issues.  And he fails to disclose that his “Media Monopoly Myth" report was financed by the media oligopoly through the "New Millennium Research Council."  Well, we can only speak for Creative Voices.  But we'd gladly trade the support he got from Big Media, via this front group, for all the support we've ever gotten from the Creative Community, which is a matter of public record for us as we're a nonprofit 501(c)(3).

Death of Synergy - More

Clear Channel Communications Inc. (CCU) posted a sharp drop in earnings for the first quarter due to declines in revenue from its radio broadcasting and live entertainment businesses.  To stanch the bleeding, the company's board selling in its entirety its ownership interest in the live entertainment business.

It's the death of media synergy, this time in music, which justified so many mergers and combinations that have harmed the public.  Clear Channel crowed it would mint money by combining its contolling position in radio station ownership with its control of the live concert promotion business.  Not only did that strategy obviously fail financially, it resulted in tremendous injury to musicians who could get black-balled if they didn't play ball with Clear Channel. 

Link: Excite Money & Investing.

Public Interest To Get Shaft on Hill?

Regarding the Digital TV transition bill about to be taken up on the Hill, Bill McConnell writes in Broadcasting & Cable:

"Activist groups such as Media Access Project (MAP) and Common Cause are pushing for public-interest obligations as well, but broadcasters involved in the talks hope to exclude them from the deal-making. .. For instance, activists have pushed for quotas for independently produced programming, which broadcasters oppose, refusing to give outside parties any programming say over their operations."  [Ed. Note: those "activists" include Creative Voices.]

If you think the public interest should not be excluded from talks about the publicly-owned airwaves, you may want to contact your congressman.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable - Quid Pro Quo.

Big Media and Big Gov't -- Too Cozy?

Norman Horowitz writes in a TV Week op-ed:  "Consider the power of over-the-air broadcasters and the satellite and cable companies and you conjure up the most potent force in the history of media in our country.  Newspapers, magazines and the Internet are not insignificant, but have nowhere near the clout of television. The major media companies need the government to assist them in their never-ending attempts to gobble up America's electronic delivery systems, while the government needs a compliant media to be quiet about things like the war, the deficit, gas prices and so forth. It is sort of a "You won't hurt me and I won't hurt you" scenario. If you are over 40, do you find it strange that none of the broadcast networks have done a documentary concerning the events leading up to the Iraq war? Where are Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Richard Salant now?"

Yet another reason we need to break up ownership of media, especially TV.  Link: TV Week.

Opposing Comcast/TWC Buy of Adelphia

Kimberly Johnson of the Denver Post gave us some nice quotes on our opposition to Comcast/TWC's buy of Adelphia.

The deal will make them the "gatekeepers" of what Americans watch on television, said Jonathan Rintels, executive director for the Washington-based Center for Creative Voices in Media.  The center - which advocates for artists interested in more independent viewpoints on TV and the Internet - is asking officials in cities nationwide to oppose the deal, which was announced Thursday and requires regulatory approval. "Because of its size, Comcast can control the networks that get on the system," Rintels said. "And if you don't make a deal with Comcast, you don't have a network."

Link: DenverPost.com - BUSINESS.

"Saving the Internet"

Barry Steinhardt and Jay Stanley have an excellent article on Media Channel about the future of the Internet in a broadband world.  The question of whether that future Internet will be "open," as it is now, or "closed" is momentous and not getting anywhere near enough attention.  They start:

The Internet as we have known it is going to change -- the only question is how. There's a fight going on over that question, and at stake is nothing less than the Internet's potential as a medium for free expression, civic involvement, and economic innovation. Unfortunately, unless the government changes course and begins to restrain the increasingly concentrated power of the companies that sell Internet access, the Internet's vaunted freedom and openness will dissolve as these private interests gain leverage over our most precious communications medium.

Link: MediaChannel.org - Saving the Internet.

Creative Voices Calls on Mayors to Oppose Adelphia Sale to Comcast, Time Warner

Read the letter Creative Voices and other Public Interest Groups wrote today to local community officials asking them to join us in opposing the purchase of Adelphia cable by behemoths Comcast and Time Warner.  These two cable and media giants will have unacceptable power to control the information that their customers -- as well as other Americans -- receive over both their televisions and their broadband Internet.

Link: Center for Creative Voices in Media: News.

Battling Comcast, Time Warner Buy of Adelphia

Creative Voices is part of a coalition that intends to fight Comcast and Time Warner Cable's purchase of Adelphia in Washington and in local communities served by Adelphia.  Writes David Lieberman in USA Today, "With 21.5 million subscribers — a number an Adelphia deal might raise by 10% or more —“failure to get on Comcast systems could doom a channel,” says Consumers Union's Gene Kimmelman.  Congress tried to address this concern in 1992, ordering the FCC to cap the national market share a cable operator could have. But in 2001, a federal court rejected the regulators' limit of 30%, saying that the FCC hadn't justified the number. The commission has yet to address that objection or try to set a new limit. That ghost could haunt Time Warner and Comcast efforts to divvy up Adelphia. Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm, says he might ask the court to insist that the FCC set a new cap before approving any additional deals."

Link: USATODAY.com.

While Shares Fell, Viacom Paid Three $160 Million

Unbelievable.  Viacom, a trustee of your public airwaves, claims to the FCC it needs to concentrate and conglomerate in media to compete.  Which seems somewhat inconsistent with this, from Geraldine Fabrikant at the NY Times:

The top three executives at Viacom Inc. received total compensation last year valued at about $52 million to $56 million each in salary, bonus and stock options, the company disclosed yesterday.  The three officers - the chief executive, Sumner M. Redstone, and the co-presidents, Tom Freston and Leslie Moonves - received a total of $160 million. "The compensation is beyond breathtaking, and it dwarfs what their competitors are earning," a longtime compensation specialist, Brian Foley, said. "If any one of the men had gotten that payment as chief executive, it would still have been a story, but the fact that all three got it is amazing." A Viacom spokesman, Carl Folta, said the overall compensation was "based on the operating performance of the company, and that was excellent in 2004." While Viacom's share price declined 18 percent last year, Mr. Folta said the compensation "was not based on the stock price."

Well, gee, maybe Viacom bringing us Janet Jackson and Viacom's MTV at Viacom's CBS televised 2004 Super Bowl deserved a little extra in the envelope.  Link: The New York Times > While Shares Fell, Viacom Paid Three $160 Million.

Rupert Murdoch on the Future

Love him or hate him, or both, there's no doubt Rupert Murdoch has an uncanny talent for sensing what consumers want that the "orthodox" (his term) media isn't providing and then pouncing on that market opportunity.  His speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors about the future of newspapers and the Internet is an excellent example, well worth reading.

Link: News Corporation.

Copps Calls on Media Artists to Fight Mergers

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps delivered an important message to Hollywood last week.  According to Brian Lowry in Daily Variety, Copps warned that the "industry's creative talent needs to deliver 'a collective message.' They must remain vigilant because major media companies are reluctant to cover the implications of deregulation."  Copps "urged Hollywood guilds and activists not to become complacent in their battle to curb media consolidation during an address Sunday night, saying it is 'all up for grabs right now' and that renewed action on regulation will likely occur in the next year."

Hear, hear, Commish!  We're with ya.

Link: Variety.com - FCC Dem spurs H'w'd to fight mergers. (Subscription May Be Required.)

Brand X Case -- The Future of TV AND the Internet

In a excellent piece in USA Today, Andrew Kantor spells out in easy to understand prose exactly what's at stake in the Brand X case just argued before the Supreme Court:  the future of BOTH television AND the Internet.  Writes Kantor:

Two devices: your television and your computer. Two connections: to the cable company and to the Internet. Two separate models.  Now imagine them merged. Imagine turning on your TV and having an Internet's worth of programming to choose from, just like when you start your Web browser. I'm not talking about Web pages — I'm talking about television content delivered through an Internet-like model. Today, if you want to watch "Battlestar Galactica," you tune to the Sci-Fi channel on Friday evening as provided by your cable company. But tomorrow you'll go right to the Sci-Fi Network "page" and choose the episode you want to watch. Want a pay-per-view movie? Go to the Universal or MGM site and get it from there. Want to hear the Springsteen's "Born to Run" album? Go to Springsteen's page — or maybe Amazon's or Sony's. In other words, you'll be cutting out the middleman. Your data provider will give you the pipe, but then you'll use that connection to go directly to whatever content you want: TV networks, music stations, Web pages, photos… whatever. The channel model will be gone. And that is what cable companies see on its way, and that is why they want to be considered information providers. By maintaining control over the content carried on their lines, cable companies can ensure themselves a profitable future — a future in which they act as (and are paid to be) the gatekeeper to your programming. Preferably the only gatekeeper. It would be like the old days of online services. If you were an America Online customer back then, you could only get AOL content. CompuServe customers only got CompuServe content. And so on.

Must reading on this critical debate over the future of our nation's media structure.  Link: USATODAY.com - Court quietly hears case on the future of television.

“Synergy, Sminergy!”

So said Tom Freston, now Viacom Co-President and Co-COO, to Max Robins, editor of Broadcasting & Cable a few years back, according to Robins’s column.  Some other choice Freston quotes about the alleged wonders of "synergy:"

“Synergy is an awful word. It's hard to pull off in a company that has creative products, because they're not going to work with somebody just because they're in the same company.”  [Any doubts about this?  Read James Stewart's new DisneyWar!]

“So because we're all part of the same corporate family, we of course make the Beavis and Butt-Head movie with Paramount.  Then when it's released, we'll promote the hell out of it on MTV, and we'll all make a lot of money. But we just as well could have done the movie with another partner and still made a lot of money. Who knows? Maybe some other studio would have been a better creative fit, and we would eventually end up making even more money.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of TelevisionSubscription May be Required.

San Francisco Hates Comcast

Excellent article on the monopoly power of Comcast and its power over what Americans watch on TV. 

"Just do a Google search on 'Comcast' and 'hate,' " Sydney Levy of Media Alliance suggested. So we did, and it generated 339,000 hits.

In fact, a 2004 American Customer Satisfaction Index survey found that Comcast – the nation's largest cable company, with 21 million cable subscribers nationwide and 70 percent of the nation's top 20 markets – has the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company or government agency in the country, including the Internal Revenue Service.  So why is business still booming at Comcast? Deregulation and a set of favorable Federal Communications Commission policies – in large part, the result of the cable industry's lobbying muscle and healthy campaign contributions – have granted Comcast near monopoly power in 8 of the country's top 10 markets.

This San Francisco Bay Guardian News article is a must-read for all concerned about media concentration. Click here.

Death of Synergy -- Ad Infinitum

Speaking to Wall Streeters, Time Warner Cable chief Glenn Britt confirmed what we've always been saying:  that there is no "synergy" in growing bigger in the cable biz.  According to Daily Variety, Britt said that TWC's "cable biz doesn't need to grow -- it's already large enough to realize necessary economies of scale. 'But the real thing is, we like the business.'"

OK, let's remember that when they want their offer to buy Adelphia approved by regulators and they shout, "Synergy!"

Link: Variety.com - Cable crazinessSubscription May be Required.

Linking Concentration and Indecency

Robert McChesney and Ben Scott of Free Press write in an excellent editorial in the Detroit Free Press:

We should look at indecency as a symptom of a larger problem: the lack of consumer choice and control over what they see on television. The answer to concerns over indecency, then, is not less speech, but more speech.

We should pursue public policies that expand the diversity of content on television to offer more choices, reflecting the reality that different households have different media preferences. Families should be able to choose from a wide variety of independent, alternative and noncommercial programs and channels.

Read the entire piece, it's excellent.  Link: COMMENT: Cleaning up TV.

"The Cable Behemoth" -- LA Times

Editorializes the LA Times, "rising sports-channel costs are a legitimate concern for cable operators and consumers. Why should all basic cable subscribers subsidize costly sports programming that most don't watch?...  The growing power of cable operators to restrain trade and competition, on the other hand, is a matter for Congress and the rest of the nation to keep an eye on."

We agree.  As we repeatedly point out below, giving consumers the option to buy their cable channels a la carte, rather than in mandatory packages full of channels they don't want, whether because they object to the programming or they aren't sports fans or whatever, would solve a host of problems with the concentration of and objectionable content in television.

Link: The Cable Behemoth.

Milestone: Cable Beats Broadcast TV in Sweeps

For the first time in history, the combined ratings for cable beat the combined ratings for broadcast TV in a sweeps month (February 2005).  First, cable defeated broadcast in the summer months, when broadcast was full of repeat shows.  Then, in the non-sweeps month.  But during sweeps, broadcast networks run their most highly-rated shows and promote the hell out of them, trying to turn them into events.  So cable beating broadcast during a sweeps is a true milestone in the slow death of broadcast TV.  Writes Broadcasting & Cable, “The final story in this chapter has closed,” said Turner Chief Research Officer Jack Wakshlag in presenting the company’s quarterly ratings to reporters. “The end of the broadcast-dominated world is in place. Unless something incredibly extraordinary happens, broadcast will never win another sweeps.”

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: Cable Victorious in SweepsSubscription May be Required.

Clear Channel's Blood in the Water?

A jury in Chicago found Clear Channel guilty of unfair competition in trying to dominate the promotion of motocross races and awarded a smaller promoter damages of $90 million.  Now, apparently, the Justice Department is taking a hard look at Clear Channel's anti-competitive behavior, trying to determine if the company has violated antitrust laws.  Says Andy Schwartzman of Media Access Project, "There's a little bit of blood in the water."  It's about time!  What Clear Channel has done to ruin radio and live music is Exhibit A in the dangers of extreme media concentration caused by "deregulation" run amok.

Link: The New York Times > Clear Channel Loses Case With Rival.

Brand X -- The Future of the Net is at Stake

Will broadband Internet access be provided only by two mega-monopolies, the phone company and the cable company, who can control where you surf and what you see?  Or will there be Earthlinks, and AOLs, and Brand X's to also serve the public over the cable and DSL broadband lines, ensuring that Net users are not at the mercy of the two monopolies?

That's what's at stake in the Brand X case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.  In many ways, the future of the Internet as an open system, rather than a closed system like cable television, is at stake.

Link: Justices Take Up Future of Net Access.

Overestimating Media Synergies -- Add Two

To further demonstrate Wall Street's falling out of love with the "synergies" of media consolidation, Friday's Wall Street Journal reports on its front page that radio is in Big Trouble.  Reason:  "After Mergers, Bland Sound Left Giants Vulnerable."  Result of public being pissed off?  They've flocked to iPods and Satellite Radio.  What will the Giants do to win back public?  "Fewer Ads, Added Variety" -- in other words, they can no longer behave like monopolies that ignore what the public wants.  After all, if there had been real competition, they would have been forced to yield to consumer demands for fewer ads and added variety long ago -- unless you think the public demands more ads and less variety.

Tellingly, both Clear Channel and Viacom's Infinity recently wrote down the value of their radio assets by over TWENTY BILLION DOLLARS to reflect how they have so mismanaged their radio stations and driven away listeners.  That's not what was supposed to happen.  "Synergy" was supposed to happen.

In another story about Viacom's proposed breakup, the Journal reports, "Breaking up Viacom raises questions about the supposed synergies that came from combining broadcast-TV operations with cable networks and a film studio."

And Broadcasting & Cable reports, "Bank of America media analyst Doug Shapiro has armed deal critics with harsh analyses of past acquisitions. He notes that growth in media giants like Viacom, Disney and Time Warner has slowed for several reasons but the underlying truth is that “many have simply become too big and have consequently diversified away their growth.”"

But one worried investor hits the nail on the head -- "If you separate the [broadcast] television totally from the cable, it reduces your ability to be a gatekeeper." PRECISELY why they need to be separated!

Overestimating Media Synergies - Add One

From The McKinsey Quarterly Chart Focus Newsletter.

"History shows, however, that the value created by mergers generally goes to the seller, not the acquirer. Our research indicates that this happens primarily because acquirers overestimate the synergies mergers yield and underestimate the costs they create."

If McKinsey, which has consulted on many mergers, is saying we need to think twice about all these mergers, then clearly the Wall Street tide has turned against consolidation and concentration.

The Death of "Synergy"

For too long, we heard Wall Street and media execs breathlessly extol the virtues of "synergy" -- consolidating and concentrating media assets to improve efficiency and profits.  At the same time, public interest advocates, including us, said this financially-driven consolidation frenzy came at a cost too high for America's democracy and culture, extinguishing independent, diverse, and original voices. 

But now, with Viacom seriously considering, at the urging of Wall Street, breaking itself into two separate and competing companies, it appears Wall Street and media execs are realizing the alleged business advantages of this consolidation and concentration are imaginary. We wonder what took them so long to get it?  Viacom and Time Warner's stock are languishing.  The apotheosis of the consolidation strategy -- Time Warner's merger with AOL -- nearly destroyed that company.  Almost all other large successful American businesses -- think Dell -- view diversification and conglomeration as negatives. 

"In large conglomerates, size and complexity is the enemy," says Bruce Greenwald, professor of economics at the business school at Columbia University, where he teaches a course on the media. "Often, executives can't focus carefully on each of the businesses, so they don't run as well."

Writes Geraldine Fabrikant in the NY Times, "One indication of just how little synergy there was for Viacom is the fortunes of its movie studio. In the era of consolidation, media executives pointed to the advantages of combined studios with TV networks and cable networks.  At Paramount, the combination did not pay off. Viacom owns Paramount Pictures as well as MTV and CBS, but if Paramount made a movie that was poorly received, the film was likely do badly on television and cable. The same was true for television programs. "Poor films and TV shows go right through the pipeline and destroy value," said a media executive who insisted on not being identified."

Should Wall Street stop eagerly bankrolling further media consolidation and instead condemn it, it would be a tremendously positive turning point in the media reform movement's battle against media concentration.

Link: The New York Times > Viacom Fights Against Its Own Size.

Appointment of Kevin Martin as FCC Chair

Incoming FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s support as FCC Commissioner of increasing media concentration and consolidation, as well as expanded government regulation of program content that some find objectionable, are cause for concern to not only creative artists, but more importantly, to the American public.

Read CCVM's Press Release here: Center for Creative Voices in Media: News.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Laurie Garrett Quits Newsday: "When You See News As a Product...It's Impossible To Really Serve Democracy"

Pulitzer Prize-winning muckracking journalist Laurie Garrett quit Newsday last week, signing off with this blistering broadside against today's journalism, as practiced by the giant media conglomerates.  Yet another Exhibit A in why we need more independent, diverse, and original voices in our overly-concentrated media for the sake of our nation's democracy and culture.

"All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations - and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions...  This is terrible for democracy. I have been in 47 states of the USA since 9/11, and I can attest to the horrible impact the deterioration of journalism has had on the national psyche. I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness...  It would be easy to descend into despair, not only about the state of journalism, but the future of American democracy. But giving up is not an option. There is too much at stake."

Link: Democracy Now! | Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Laurie Garrett Quits Newsday: "When You See News As a Product...It's Impossible To Really Serve Democracy".

Laurie Garrett's website is here.

TV News, Brought to You By Your Government

Yet another reason why we need more independent voices and viewpoints on our nation's airwaves -- prepackaged government news.  An important report in The New York Times reveals how the government uses television news -- that alleged independent "fourth estate" government "watchdog" -- to broadcast government-produced pro-government news.

Writes the Times, "the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source. The government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.  Some reports were produced to support the administration's most cherished policy objectives, like regime change in Iraq or Medicare reform.  They often feature "interviews" with senior administration officials in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy. Some of the segments were broadcast in some of nation's largest television markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta."

If there were ever -- EVER -- a reason to require that more independent and diverse voices be given access to the public's airwaves, it's this.

Link: The New York Times >Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye to Chairman Powell

“I will miss you dearly. The commission will miss you dearly,” FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy told outgoing Chairman Michael K. Powell at his going away party today.

And so will we.  After all, as we've written before, here, Powell MADE the media reform movement.  In 1998, he commented that after he was sworn in as an FCC Commissioner, "I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come."  And during his entire tenure at the FCC, Powell sat waiting, waiting, waiting for the public interest angel to visit him, when what he should have been doing all along was going outside the Beltway to visit the public and find that elusive ol' angel -- that is, in those few moments available to him between his industry-paid appearances before industry groups (a practice since stopped after being revealed by the Center for Public Integrity).

One of our great thrills was a late Friday call from Chairman Powell himself, objecting to an op-ed we'd written.  After we jousted verbally with him for nearly half an hour, then faxed him three articles documenting our charge, he gamely stuck to his guns, insisting we'd incorrectly said he supported "THE" meeting of the cable and broadcast television industries to work out their differences over digital must-carry, when in fact he'd only supported "A" meeting of the cable and broadcast television industries to work out their differences over digital must-carry.  We conceded the point, marvelling at his carrying on this debate for TWO DAYS to "correct" us on this utter insignificance -- yet he could not find the time to hold more than one public hearing on media ownership, one of the most far-reaching of FCC proceedings.

As an organization that would never have come into existence were it not for Chairman Powell's dissing of the "public interest," we wish the Chairman well in his future endeavors.  And who knows?  It's not just our friends on the religious right who believe in redemption.  Maybe as he takes his well-earned vacation outside the Beltway, that elusive, yet very real, angel of the public interest will come a callin' on Private Citizen Powell.

AFL CIO Endorses Bill of Media Rights

Meeting in Las Vegas last week, the AFL CIO Executive Council endorsed the Bill of Media Rights and urged its affiliated members to sign on.  Said the Council, eloquently:

In our nation, no other entity is as potent or pervasive as the American media in influencing thought and attitudes, impacting our democracy and shaping the popular culture. Given this power, American citizens share the responsibility for making sure the media is held to the highest standards of ethics, fairness and objectivity. The AFL-CIO endorses the Bill of Citizens' Media Rights as the standard-bearer for our ongoing campaign to achieve that goal, as well as the goal of a diverse, competitive, reliable and unbiased marketplace of ideas. We urge our affiliated national unions to sign on to the statement and our state and local labor councils to support community efforts to hold local media accountable.

The full Executive Council resolution, which is excellent, is at Media Reform Campaign.

To read the Bill of Media Rights, and sign your group up, click here.

Creative Voices, Others, Urge Adelphia Not to Sell to Comcast/Time Warner

Creative Voices, Common Cause, and other public interest groups told the officers and Board of Adelphia today that they strongly oppose any sale of Adelphia's cable systems to Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  If those two cable behemoths, the largest cable operators in the country, take over Adelphia, it will cement their stranglehold over cable access.

Comcast and Time Warner's control of cable homes served give them "gatekeeper" power over which television channels -- and the content on those channels -- that Americans receive on television, whether they are Comcast and Time Warner subscribers or not. Their market clout extends to broadband communications as well.  As has been recently demonstrated (see below) with broadband providers blocking Vonage customers, giant broadband providers such as Comcast and Time Warner have the power to significantly impact where customers go and what they see on the Internet.

Should Comcast and Time Warner Cable get any larger, diverse voices and independent viewpoints on television AND the Internet will suffer.  So will America's democracy and culture.

Read our letter to Adelphia and Press Release here.

Is This the Future?

Daniel Myrick, director and co-creator of "The Blair Witch Project," is trying his next project on the Net.  Why?

"There are a handful of executives out there who are the gatekeepers of what gets made and seen -- or not.  I've pitched so many ideas and come away frustrated. So we just decided to do it ourselves. For me as a creative, the webisodic format allows me to do so much exploration of characters and story without constraints on language or topic.  Unlike a Fox show that needs 3 million viewers a week or it's canceled, I only need a fraction of that and I can be filming forever. At Sundance, we were the only ones out there not looking for distribution. You've already got the largest distribution network in the world already on your desktop, and the end-user experience is getting better every day."

According to Chris Marlowe's story in The Hollywood Reporter, Myrick "believes that the entertainment industry is averse to taking risks, a condition that limits innovation and creativity, but that the Internet can provide a viable alternative for filmmakers. Adding a micropayment system rather than rely on advertising gives online ventures an interesting business model as well."

Link: Myrick finds thread for 'Strand'Subscription May be Required.

The Strand's website is here.

Preserving an Open Internet

Kudos to the FCC for fining a NC phone company for blocking Vonage VOIP phone calls over its broadband DSL lines, thus trying to steer customers to its own phone service.  While this may seem small and obscure, it is a critically important action in preserving an open Net.  Broadband providers are classic "gatekeepers" who can use their power to block access to sites or steer customers to their own sites.  Imagine if this wasn't some podunk local phone company, but Comcast. 

"Blocking is akin to censorship," Vonage chief executive Jeffrey A. Citron said. Voice-over-Internet traffic is just like any other type of content, he said, and if an Internet provider were allowed to block calls, it could also censor certain types of news or entertainment.

He's got that right!  Props to the FCC on this one.

Link: Phone Company Settles in Blocking of Internet Calls.

Wonkette Nails It

In her excellent article in Wired, Wonkette notes that FCC and Congressional "deregulation" allowed giant congloms Clear Channel and Infinity to buy up locally-owned radio stations and then replace local programming with Howard Stern and other "offenders."

For all Stern's complaints about the FCC, the truth is that government policies made him what he is today. When the government lifted regulations on radio station ownership in the mid-'90s, communications giants like Clear Channel muscled their way into local markets - so no more Dave in the Morning or Billy the Wonder Weasel. Larger-than-life national personalities like Stern and Rush Limbaugh replaced quirky local hosts. Stern can now be heard on 40 stations nationwide. He may be pissed at the FCC for telling him what not to say, but he should send them a thank-you note for allowing him to spray himself across such a big audience.

This, alas, is the clear link between increased media concentration and increased complaints about indecency.  If policymakers really want to deal with the "indecency" problem, instead of simply raising fines, they ought to take a good look at their own culpability for supporting "deregulation" and roll it back.

Link: Wired 13.03: Howard Stern and the Satellite Wars.

'The Big Picture'

Jonathan Yardley reviews Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture:   The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood" in The Washington Post today, noting: 

The grasp of the Big Six (Time Warner, Viacom, Fox, Sony, NBC Universal and Disney) is astonishing. They "own all six broadcast networks in America," as well as "64 cable networks whose reach accounts for most of the remainder of the prime-time television audience," a combination that enables them to "control over 96 percent of the programs that carry commercial advertising during prime time." They "control the television networks depended on by advertisers to reach children under 12 . . . and those designed for younger teens." They "dominate the worldwide distribution of movies, a studio business [the late] Steve Ross once described, with considerable justification, as a 'money machine,' " and they "control a large part of the entertainment media, including magazines . . . TV and radio interview shows . . . and cable channels that publicize movies." All of which is to say that they control "one of the largest consumer-based industries in America: home entertainment"...

The Big Picture and James Stewart's DisneyWar are both must reading for those concerned or curious about media concentration.

Link: 'The Big Picture'.

Character Counts

Our pal Andy Schwartzman of Media Access Project did a remarkably good deed for our country this week.  The FCC requires all radio and TV license holders to be of "good character."  When broadcasters fail that test, they forfeit their licenses.

Yet, the FCC staff approved station license sales worth $2.2 million by an Oklahoma politician who had recently been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice before a federal agency, rather than require him to forfeit the station licenses back to the government for free for being of bad character. 

Schwartzman complained to FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell's office -- which did nothing.  Then, Andy got The New York Times to ask Powell's office some questions.  Suddenly, Powell did an about-face and the entire Commission will reconsider whether this convicted perjurer should be allowed to sell station licenses he should have forfeited. 

While this may appear "technical" and arcane on its face, enforcing the "character" test for station license holders may have interesting implications for media consolidation and concentration.  For example, several newspapers that lied about their subscription figures to get higher ad rates also own broadcast licenses.  Can those papers be forced to forfeit their broadcast licenses? 

Stay tuned.

Link: The New York Times >F.C.C. to Review Decision on Sale of 4 Stations.

FCC's Adelstein Cites Big Media Dangers

According to Communications Daily, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told a press conference that media mergers need to be held to a higher level of scrutiny than telecom acquisitions.  “It has a direct impact on our free exchange of ideas and on our very democracy. The other mergers have impacts on our marketplace,” he said. According to the article, Adelstein believes no more mergers or waivers should be granted unless the companies prove that what they’re doing is serving the public interest and until there is certainty in the marketplace of the impact on mergers.  Adelstein added, “It’s so important that we don't allow any additional mergers to take place until we know the broader impact on the media industry and the people who rely on that for a diversity of ideas.”

Article not available online.

How Network TV Works Today and Why the Public is Poorer for It

We gave Brooks Barnes of WSJ heck (an epithet officially approved by your U.S. Government) below, so let's in fairness highlight this part of his story which he got right:

"Now that networks own a portion or all of the shows they air, outside producers frequently grumble that network-owned shows have a different barometer of success. Network chiefs insist they don't get paid to program with the financial interests of their sister studios in mind. But a network executive who can figure out how to keep a struggling show on the air to help the company's studio make more money can win gold stars with the corporate bosses. Networks don't like talking about it for fear of appearing too cozy with their studio siblings, which is what led to the FCC's now-abandoned ownership rules in the first place."

It's time those rules or some other rule that divorces the production from the distribution of content came back, in both broadcast and cable (see posts below).

Wall Street Journal:  New Hope on TV's Bubble.  Subscription May Be Required.

DVD Sales Only Possible After Networks Take Over Production of Shows? Puh-leeeze!

Brooks Barnes has a remarkable -- and remarkably skewed -- take on the structure of the TV industry in today's  Wall Street Journal.   He describes the increasing sales of DVDs of TV programs, and that those sales may give another season of life to shows that are "on the bubble."  He then reaches out to make this observation:

"The DVD option wouldn't have been possible without a 1993 Federal Communications Commission ruling relaxing ownership rules for TV shows."

Huh?  What?  Not true.  There is no link between selling a TV program to DVD and whether a network or an independent producer owns a TV show.  The FCC rules that were eliminated, known as the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (FISR), prevented broadcasters that distributed TV programs over their networks from producing and owning those programs.  Why this rule?  Because if the networks that own the distribution "choke point" -- one of the few national broadcast networks -- can produce and own their own shows, then independent producers will be out of business.  No business can be dependent for its success on making a sale to the same company that's competing with it.  With the end of FISR, the networks that control distribution are able now to demand (most in the biz say "extort") ownership of shows from independents, as in "we like your show, now turn it over to us, or else it won't get on our schedule."  Independent production has effectively ended, except for a few long established hold outs like Carsey Werner -- which is exploring a sale.

This has nothing to do with sales of TV show DVDs.  Consider the syndicating of a TV show for later repeat viewings on another network, broadcast or cable.  We all know that TV shows were syndicated before the end of FISR and shows are still syndicated after the end FISR.  Same with DVD sales.  All that changed with the end of FISR was between independent and network, who owns the program and controls that sale to DVD or syndication.  When it's the network that both makes the content and distributes it, the American public does not receive the "widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources" which is its First Amendment right, per the Supreme Court.  Just as in the examples in the 2 prior posts concerning cable.

This "cause and effect" statement, that DVD sales of TV shows are only possible after the elimination of FISR, accompanied by this positive spin, as if DVD sales are a public benefit of eliminating FISR, is just wrong. 

Wall Street Journal:  New Hope on TV's Bubble.  Subscription May Be Required.

Another Indie Cable Network Snuffed

Broadcasting & Cable reports that yet another startup independent cable channel has been snuffed out by a a cable/satellite/content-producing vertically and horizontally integrated media conglomerate.  "Reality 24/7, once known as Reality Central, is having trouble getting off the ground.

The network got slammed when mighty News Corp. decided to launch a similar channel, Fox Reality Channel. That venture came armed not just with programming off Fox Broadcasting, like Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life, but also Fox Cable’s distribution clout with cable operators."  Not to mention Fox's ownership of DirecTV, which ensures any Fox Channel a carriage "critical mass" for start up. 

As we noted in the prior post, content and distribution need to be broken up, if the American public is to receive the "widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources," which is its First Amendment right.

Link: Startup Channel Finds Reality Bites.

Comcast to Snuff Indie/Rival Networks?

And this is the company that may be on the verge of buying a big chunk of bankrupt cable operator Adelphia?

Comcast, after buying up Sony and MGM film content via its role in the purchase of MGM,  is now using its own content to compete with independent and non-Comcast cable nets.  As we've often written, independent TV program producers could not stay in business selling their programs to the broadcast network "gatekeepers" that controlled access to the audience, after those same networks were allowed by the FCC to become the indies' competitors and produce their own shows.  Unsurprisingly, the networks only broadcast the shows they produced, running the indies out of business, including some of the best TV producers around. 

Now, according to Daily Variety, using the content it now owns, Comcast is poised to try the exact same tactic -- using its role as cable "gatekeeper" to the nearly 30 percent of American cable homes it controls to dominate and/or destroy independent cable networks by favoring its own content.

Writes John Dempsey, "A robust MoviePass (Comcast-controlled content) could deliver a potent weapon to Comcast's arsenal when it negotiates contract renewals with movie-dependent basic-cable networks. Comcast has made it clear that it thinks many cable networks are overpriced and must be willing to take cuts in their license fees.  If these networks continue to demand big jumps in monthly payments, Comcast could say, in effect, "Take a hike: We don't need you and your movies. We have MoviePass, which our subscribers love." Faced with the loss of Comcast's 21 million subscribers (more than a quarter of the entire domestic cable-TV universe), most cable networks would see the light and modify their demands."

Imagine the disaster for non-Comcast content if Comcast had succeeded last year in buying Disney, one of the biggest content owners in the world?

To preserve voices, viewpoints, and real choice, content and distribution must be separated again.  An independent has no chance when its biggest customer -- Comcast, in this case -- is also its competitor.

Link: Variety.com - Cable keeps off competishSubscription May Be Required.

Media Barons' Monuments to Themselves

Fascinating article on the Manhattan skyscrapers many top media companies are building, "thanks to massive consolidation in the biz..."  Well, now we know where the money went from the alleged "synergies" of these giant corporations' buying up local stations -- not into better service to the local communities, but vertically up into the Manhattan skyline.  I'm sure the locals will be thrilled to hear it.

Link: Variety.com - Gotham's skyline shift.

Trust, but Verify

A study to be released tomorrow conducted by CCVM Advisor Martin Kaplan finds that "in the month leading up to last year's presidential election, local television stations in big cities devoted eight times as much air time to car crashes and other accidents than to campaigns for the House of Representatives, state senate, city hall and other local offices."

These are the same broadcasters who complain that last week's FCC vote to deny their demand for "multi-cast must carry" on cable of up to five more of their digital channels will somehow deprive the public of civic and electoral programming -- the very programming this study confirms they aren't carrying now.  And, these are the same broadcasters who refuse to accept even the most minimal non-mandatory FCC guidelines to measure their claims that they serve the public interest.

As President Reagan memorably said, "Trust, but Verify."  Broadcasters want the trust, but they don't want the "verify."  The FCC got it right.

Link: The New York Times> Study Looks at Local Political News.

Powell’s Legacy: He Riled the Masses

Michael Powell’s performance in the FCC's 2003 media-ownership proceeding was a galvanizing example of how not to regulate “in the public interest,” prompting over 3 million Americans to file protesting—and unheeded—comments with the commission. As the FCC again reviews its rules, this time it must let the public meaningfully weigh in and help define exactly what constitutes the “public interest.” Read our full article in Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable - Powell’s Legacy: He Riled the Masses.

With No More Indies to Extort, CBS Extorts Rival Congloms

Viacom-owned CBS is now demanding co-production on many of its fall 2005 pilots -- much to the displeasure of Disney-owned Touchstone and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox TV, who produced the pilots.  This extortion -- give us ownership or you don't get on our network schedule, no matter how good the show -- is the same practice that ultimately drove independent producers out of business, after the FCC changed its rules to allow the practice.  But now the conglom-networks, trustees of the publicly-owned airwaves, having found no more indies to eat, are now eating their own. 

Meanwhile, the public and the creative artists are the ultimate losers, as great projects become victims of bottom-line driven network shenanigans.  Could these networks be acting any less like "trustees" of the publicly-owned airwaves?

Link: Variety.com - Eye mandate ruffles rivals.

"Fox News Buys Al-Jazeera"

Andy Borowitz and the Borowitz Report get the scoop!

Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox parent company News Corporation, said that changes to al-Jazeera's programming would be "minimal" at first: "We'll be going through their news copy and every time they call President Bush 'Satan,' we'll take out the words 'President Bush' and replace them with 'Ted Kennedy.'"

But viewers can expect much bigger changes to come, as the channel plans to drop al-Jazeera's most popular program, "This Week in Jihad," in favor of a new show, "Hannity and Hussein."

Sure, it's a joke.  But anyone notice how NBC has radically altered Bravo's programming since purchasing it?  And in these days of ever-increasing media consolidation, is this really so far fetched?

"Fox News Buys Al-Jazeera" -- Borowitz Report.

Cable -- the Next Battleground

Comcast is already the No. 1 cable company in the United States, with more than 21 million customers, and Time Warner ranks second, with almost 11 million subscribers.  And now, they're working together to buy Adelphia and divide it up between them. 

This is highly worrisome not only for its harmful effects on more diversity and viewpoints in television, but also for its concentration in the delivery of broadband internet access.  Comcast, following its purchase of AT&T Broadband in 2002, already controls nearly 30 percent of all cable households in America, making it the 800 pound gatekeeping gorilla, with awesome power to extort terms and conditions from -- or put out of business entirely -- anyone who wants to reach the American audience, whether via TV or Net. 

Big Cable, particularly Comcast, is the next front in the battle for a more open, diverse, and independent media. 

Link: Forbes.com: Adding Up Adelphia.

CCVM on Bush Admin. Decision Not to Take FCC Overturn to Supreme Court

Excerpts from our statement on today's good news that the Bush Administration won't appeal to the Supreme Court a decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn 2003's disastrous FCC decision to increase media ownership and media concentration.

"This time, the Commission needs to get the process right. Before the FCC can decide what media ownership rules are in the public interest, it must let the public weigh in on the fundamental question of what constitutes the public interest. The full Commission should schedule hearings across the country to engage the American people on the future of their media and to gain a better understanding of the impact of media concentration on our communities and our democracy. It must also reach out to the artists who create media and ascertain the harmful effects that media concentration has on our nation’s culture, including the increased production of content many Americans find objectionable. If it does not take these simple steps to reach out to the public and ascertain the public interest, yet another media ownership deal will be crafted behind closed doors that serves only the interests of the media conglomerates.  And that is something the public has no interest in."

Our full statement is on our main website here.

Copps Calls for Independent Voices in Media

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps made an outstanding speech yesterday to NATPE!  And there's no doubt, given that he criticized media consolidation, that you won't be reading, seeing, or hearing much about it from any conglomate-owned media.  Here's one excerpt:

No one should have been surprised that so many in the creative community joined the fight (against media consolidation). Creative artists have so often been in the vanguard of progressive change and democracy in times of social and political challenge. Now their voice is needed again, perhaps as never before. Many of you gathered out there have experienced first-hand the effects of increasing consolidation. You understand that this is about your industry, yes, but it’s about your country, too.

Read Copps's excellent speech here.

 

Bill of Citizens' Media Rights - Milestone for Media Movement

    "A free and vibrant media, full of diverse and competing voices, is the lifeblood of America’s democracy and culture, as well as an engine of growth for its economy."

     So starts the new Bill of Citizens' Media Rights, a milestone in the media reform movement that presents a positive and unified vision for a competitive, diverse, and independent media that will better serve our nation's democracy and culture, today and tomorrow. Groups representing millions of Americans are signing on in support of this important document. And, we're proud to say, CCVM was the lead drafter.  Click on the link below to read this important document and sign up your organization and yourself as an adopter.

Link: Bill of Citizens' Media Rights.

 

Ted Turner Blasts Consolidation, Fox News at NATPE

Ted Turner addressed NATPE today.  Regarding media consolidation, he said, "The consolidation has made it almost impossible for an independent. It's virtually impossible to start a cable network.  Broadcasters and programmers don't want more independent voices out there. They own everything. That's why I went into the restaurant business. Either that or I'd work for a salary for one of the big jerks."

Then, he called Fox News a "propaganda tool of the Bush Administration" that "poses problems for our democracy."  In case anyone missed his point, he compared Fox News Network's popularity to Adolf Hitler's popular election to run Germany before WWII.

Ted, you're beautiful!

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: Turner Compares Fox's Popularity to Hitler

Chairman Powell's Resignation

If Michael Powell is to have a positive legacy as Chairman of the FCC, it is this – more than any other person, he is responsible for the birth and success of the nation’s emerging media reform movement.  For the rest of our statement, please visit to our main website at the link below.

Question:  Less than 24 hours after CCVM predicted in its January 2005 Newsletter, link below, that 2005 would be a good year for media reform, Chairman Powell resigns.  Coincidence? 

Link: Center for Creative Voices in Media: News.

Link: CCVM January 2005 Newsletter.

Network -- An Appreciation

Watching  Paddy Chayevsky and Sidney Lumet's "Network" last night, it is amazing how they foresaw and captured, three decades ago, the ugly evolution of television.  The creation of the Fox network (known as UBS in the film); humiliating "reality" programming (The Howard Beale Show and the climactic assassination of Beale on live TV for hurting the conglomerate's interests); opinion masquerading as news (Madman Beale's "I want you to go to your window and shout, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!'"); and the dangers of media consolidation (the Ned Beatty/Robert Duvall corporate takeover of the "old-fashioned" public service-minded broadcaster William Holden, with their conglomerate ultimately taken over by the Saudis -- the uber-conglomerate), accompanied by the gutting of the news division and the dumbing down of content to aid the corporate bottom line at the expense of the public -- it's all there.  Network is witty and wise must-viewing. 

Big Media Fails Public in 2004 -- Here are the Numbers

Mark Lloyd of the Center for American Progress crunches the numbers to demonstrate how Big Media and the FCC failed the American public in 2004.

Link: Wrapping Up 2004 - Center for American Progress.

TV One Cable Network -- Independent?

Remember the anguished cries of the so-called "independent" cable networks like TV One that independent and diverse programming would be harmed and they would go out of business during 2004's fight to allow consumers to purchase their channels a la carte, rather than in a package that served Big Media?  Today, TV One added Rupert Murdoch's DirecTV to Comcast as its big equity owners.  Independent?  Diverse?  Or isn't TV One really just another part of Big Media?  In fact, most if not all of the cable networks trumpeting their "independence" and "diversity" who claimed a la carte would harm them are owned in whole or part by Big Media, which hates the idea of empowering consumers by giving them an a la carte option to their larded cable packages.

Our view:  cable a la carte will encourage independent and diverse television programming, not harm it.  And the status quo, which they are defending, is in fact not independent, not diverse, and ultimately indefensible.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of TelevisionSubscription may be required.

2004 -- "Hypocrisy Was Rampant"

So writes Joanne Ostrow of The Denver Post in this excellent review of the FCC and television this year. We're particularly grateful that she quoted The Home Office as saying, among other things:

"With media concentrated this heavily, with so much at stake, the corporations are bending over backward to kowtow to the administration," said Jonathan Rintels, president and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Creative Voices in Media, an artists' advocacy group.

"Big Brother is alive and well. Chairman Powell is trashing the First Amendment, campaigning for a far less diverse, much more concentrated media ownership structure. Then, when highly concentrated media ends up being indecent, his remedy is to censor.

"The creative community is walking on eggshells."

Link: All because of a "wardrobe malfunction".

Michael Powell On The Couch

Two excellent articles by Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix and Stephen Labaton of The New York Times trace the "evolution" (we would say "about face") in Michael Powell's attitude toward government censorship and indecency in the election year of 2004 when the Bush Administration would make "moral values" a centerpiece of its campaign.  Must Reading.

Link to Boston Phoenix: News & Features | Unlikely crusader.

Link to The New York TimesIndecency on the Air, Evolution Atop the FCC

AFI Cites Concentration, Censorship Among 2004's 'Moments'

From the AFI's most important moments of 2004 are two that CCVM is right in the thick of:  Concentration and Censorship.

"Final Domino Falls in Vertical Integration of Film and TV": In the AFI's view, that occurred May 12 when NBC and Universal merged, "signaling the final stage of vertical reintegration in the entertainment industry." Fifty-five years after the Paramount Decree, which prohibited movie studios from owning theater chains, "studios, networks, theater chains, music labels and home video departments are integrated to serve and support each other."

"FCC as Cultural Force": "The government's voice in what is suitable for the airwaves is not a new concept, but the staggering rate at which the threat of it grew during the year has had a profound effect on television," the AFI said. "Unsure of how the FCC will rule on an issue, the creative community has begun to self-censor their shows, a disturbing trend in a country founded on free expression."

Link: Yahoo! News - AFI Cites 'Passion,' '9/11' Among 2004's 'Moments'.

HearUsNow.org -- Putting It All Together

Check out Hearusnow.org.  A project of Consumers Union, HearUsNow.org is a terrific central clearinghouse and information repository for nearly every issue in media and telecom reform.   

Link: hearusnow.org: Home Page.

Moyers Exits TV With Blast At Media Concentration

Bill Moyers takes on media concentration in his final NOW show on PBS, airing this Friday (other times in some markets).  Moyers has repeatedly called on Americans to fight against consolidation and once called the battle against deregulation a "struggle for the soul of Democracy."  He will be greatly missed.

Link: Broadcasting & Cable: The Business of Television. Subscription may be required.

Accessible Airwaves -- NOT!

The CBS and NBC networks are refusing to air an ad from the United Church of Christ that stresses tolerance and inclusion in the church, claiming it's too "controversial."  But this ad was aired, without problem, by several of these same networks' local station affiliates, many in smaller markets and "red" states.  Which demonstrates the problem of media concentration.  These giant conglomerates have so much at stake in Washington that they are desperate to curry favor with the FCC and the administration.  The result: they self-censor repeatedly.  Another example:  CBS cancelling "The Reagans" miniseries. 

To see the ad, find out more about this censorship, and file a complaint with the FCC, please visit the UCC's Accessible Airwaves website, link below.

Link: Accessible Airwaves.

"The Stories That Aren't Being Told"

Frank Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times, and one of the nation's foremost advocates of independent media ownership, explains why media concentration is a threat to our nation's democracy and culture. 

"What you have to worry about are the stories that aren't being told," he warns.

Link: Media consolidation a threat, Blethen tells Portland audience.

Let the Market Decide

From Consumers Union, a persuasive white paper on the benefits of offering cable subscribers an a la carte option, instead of just "take it or leave it" packages and tiers. 

Link: "Let the Market Decide"

TV Networks May Challenge Rationale of Media Ownership Regulation

Doug Halonen of TV Week reports: 

NBC Universal, News Corp. and Viacom on Monday informed the United States Supreme Court that they're seriously considering urging the high court to overturn its landmark Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC decision-the case that established the bedrock legal rationale for subjecting broadcasters to media ownership regulation and other special rules.

If the Supreme Court does indeed allow the networks to challenge Red Lion, it will be the mother of all media ownership battles.  Stay tuned.

Link: TV Week.

Media Reform At a Crossroads by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson

A terrific article on media ownership by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, co-sponsor with Congressman Maurice Hinchey of H.R. 4069, the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2004.

Progressive News - Media Reform At a Crossroads by Congresswoman Diane E. Watson.

Campaign's Lasting Effect for Media

Tim Rutten wrote this excellent analysis of why this election demonstrates that one of the most important and fundamental issues facing this country, no matter what one's partisan view, is the anti-democratic effects of media concentration.

(Sinclair) has grown in the face of what amounts to Federal Communications Commission indifference to its own regulatory strictures on media concentration. In several instances, Sinclair has been allowed to control two stations in the same market. It has been allowed, moreover, to compel all its stations - and remember, each is individually licensed to operate in the public interest - to air news and conservative commentary produced by the corporate headquarters.

The ability of an operation like that to focus all its resources on tipping a tight election is obvious...

This threat to the most fundamental of our liberties was created by the FCC's failure to defend the public's interest. Media concentration raises the stakes in any given legal controversy to a point where it virtually invites legal and governmental intrusion into the media's editorial decisions, putting the First Amendment at unconscionable risk.

There's an unlooked-for lesson from this campaign.

Campaign's lasting effect for media | csmonitor.com.

Broadcast Lobbying Tops $222 Million

A new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found that the broadcast industry spent more than $222 million lobbying the federal government from 1998 through June 2004—a period of increasingly intense battles over ownership rules.

In addition, television and radio companies contributed more than $26.5 million to federal candidates and lawmakers during the same period. The companies and their principal representative organization—the National Association of Broadcasters—also sponsored 84 trips for lawmakers and regulators at a cost of $165,474, bringing total spending to affect policy and elections by the industry to $248.9 million.

Well, that just slightly tops CCVM's total spending of $50,000. But, hey, if the Red Sox can win, so can we!

Well Connected - The Center for Public Integrity

Fulminating at the Virginia Film Festival

Jonathan Rintels, Exec Dircttor of CCVM, will speak on a panel at this Saturday's Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. If you're in the neighborhood of U VA, stop by and say hello.

Panel- Speed and Spin: Fox, Outfoxed, and the Changing Politics of Media with Pat Aufderheide, Jim Gilliam, Jonathan Rintels, and others to be announced
3:00 PM, Newcomb Hall

Documentaries have skyrocketed into public recognition this election year, and the films produced by Robert Greenwald—Unprecedented, Uncovered, Outfoxed, and the forthcoming Unconstitutional—have become standard-bearers of a new way to fund documentaries, get them to audiences, and get them to make a difference. What is this new model and what does it mean for an already overheated news cycle in politics? Join us for a lively discussion of documentaries, politics, and ethics. Cosponsored with the Media Studies Program.


Free admission, no ticket neccesary. Please arrive early for a seat.

The Virginia Film Festival :: Schedule

Yet Another Sinclair Proves We Need to De-Concentrate Media

From Jim Sanders of The Sacramento Bee:

Attempting to boost Republican Party prospects, the owner of a chain of Central Valley television and radio stations has donated $325,000 in air time for GOP candidates in many of the state's hottest legislative elections.

The contribution by Harry J. Pappas comes in the final days of campaigning, and those involved in the campaigns could not recall another instance in which a California media mogul donated time on public airwaves for advertisements to benefit one party over another.

Critics say the contribution is a clear attempt to sway close elections, is likely to raise new questions of media bias, and violates federal law requiring broadcasting companies to provide equal time to political candidates.

Tracy Westen, an elections law attorney and chief executive officer of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said the federal government's "equal time" provisions were crafted decades ago to cover such situations.

"I'm amazed if they think they can give it to one side and not the other," Westen said. "The problem with giving it to one side is it distorts the outcome of the election."

STOP THE BIG GIVEAWAY!

IT'S THE HOTTEST THING ON THE INTERNET! And it's perfectly decent!

It's our "STOP THE BIG GIVEAWAY" Ad, calling FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell to stop giving away even more of the public's airwaves to broadcasters who are not serving the public.

Click HERE to view the ad, then click on the ad itself to tell Chairman Powell and Congress to STOP THE BIG GIVEAWAY! Before it's too late!

STOP THE BIG GIVEAWAY

McCain on Sinclair

Senator John McCain weighs in on Sinclair becoming the poster child for extreme media consolidation:

"I do have an opinion that this is an issue that results when you have media concentration, which I have been opposed to," he said at a fund-raiser for Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.). "When you have media concentration - this is the largest TV owner with 62 stations - this is something that happens."

Philadelphia Inquirer | 10/21/2004 | McCain criticizes effects of 'media concentration'

Big-Media Bundling Raises Cable Rates, Reduces Choice

From Ted Hearn of Multichannel News:

The American Cable Association (ACA), which represents 1,000 cable companies with more than 8 million subscribers, is telling the FCC that media conglomerates -- Time Warner, Viacom, GE/NBC, Disney and Fox -- are using their leverage to reach programming-carriage deals that squeeze out independent programmers and cause cable rates to rise. The media giants often allow channels to be purchased individually by small operators, but are priced to make large bundles more affordable. “For smaller cable companies, this presents no meaningful choice. They must buy the bundle,” ACA told the FCC in a letter. The ACA told the FCC that these wholesale offerings meant that small cable companies were forced to buy more programming than they wanted, and having to do so raised cable rates. Carriage of big bundles, the trade group added, also took up capacity that small operators wanted to earmark for independent programmers.


WE TOLD YA SO! See our posts below and Comments to the FCC.

A La Carte Cable Option Benefits Consumers and Creative Artists, Reduces Indecent Programming and Media Concentration

Michael Copps: An FCC Commissioner taking on Big Media

Excellent profile of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the "Paul Revere" of the media movement, by Frazier Moore. Some choice excerpts:

"I always felt this (media concentration) was a grass-roots issue," says Copps, who joined the FCC in 2001. "I think when people found out how this commission was proposing to deal with media ownership -- by not including the American people in the process, by turning this into a stealth process -- they got mad."

Copps sees media ownership as a "bipartisan, nonpartisan sort of issue" that heated up in a free-market climate.

"I think in this town we're almost possessed by that approach: Let the market solve all our problems -- deregulate!" says Copps, whose other jobs in this town have included a stint in the Commerce Department and, before that, as chief of staff to South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings.

"But we've seen with media consolidation what the market takes care of and doesn't take care of," he goes on. "It does not take care of protecting the public interest, or enhancing our democratic dialogue, or giving us diversity and localism in our media."

Michael Copps: An FCC Commissioner taking on Big Media

Sinclair -- Poster Child For Media Concentration's Dangers

Sinclair's Washington bureau chief was just fired for complaining about the company's bias in news reporting and its passing off commentary as news.

Replied his boss at Sinclair, "Jon, all news is agenda driven."

Sinclair owns 62 stations that cover nearly 25 percent of the nation's audience. In many of its markets, it owns 2 stations (duopolies), so that it has even more of a chokehold over those smaller markets.

Digital television technology will allow Sinclair's 62 analog stations to each send up to six different digital channels. Thus, Sinclair may eventually have 372 channels.

Any questions about why we're concerned about media concentration?

"Sinclair's Golden Boy Out of Work After Questioning His Employer". Registration may be required.

Sinclair's Hatchet Job on Kerry

Think who owns and makes the media doesn't matter?

Consider Sinclair's order to its owned affiliates to air an alleged "documentary" that is nothing more than a hatchet job on John Kerry.

At CCVM, we're a nonpartisan nonprofit. But what this episode clearly points up is that television needs more voices owning stations and more voices producing programming. It doesn't matter whether they are liberal or conservative, as long as there are more, so that a Sinclair isn't able to monopolize the public airwaves in the communities it is supposed to serve in the public interest.

Editorializes The Los Angeles Times, a proponent of further media consolidation, "If opponents of further media concentration had floated this as a hypothetical scenario to advance their cause, they would have been laughingly dismissed. But with breathtaking political tone-deafness, Sinclair has come to their rescue."

Brooks Boliek of The Hollywood Reporter quotes Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps as calling Sinclair's decision "an abuse of the public trust. It is proof positive of media consolidation run amok when one owner can use the public airwaves to blanket the country with its political ideology -- whether liberal or conservative."

LA Times Editorial: "A Tone-Deaf Broadcaster"

DNC, senators call for probe of Sinclair's 'Honor'

Cable A La Carte -- The Story Behind the Story

As a group extremely interested in diversity in – and access to -- the media, we at CCVM were stunned by the position so many minority and women's groups took against a la carte, when it’s absolutely clear that it would promote diversity and access.

John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity has just published an incredible study documenting the cable industry's showering very big bucks on many of these groups and then, in essence, dictating what they said.  It's a horrific, yet extremely enlightening, study on the way Washington really works.  A must read!

Anatomy of a Lobbying Blitz - The Center for Public Integrity

For CCVM's position and comments to the FCC on Cable a la Carte, click here.

Consolidation Kills Radio

From the Chicago Tribune, itself a huge promoter of media consolidation:

"Consolidation killed local radio, it dumbed down content, stripped news departments and eliminated the diversity that once made it such an enjoyable medium," Stephen Soboroff, owner of KCJJ-AM 1630, a 10,000-watt independent station in Iowa City, said. "Big Radio has made it worse."

Howard Stern's announcement Wednesday that he plans to jump to Sirius Satellite Radio illustrates the problems confronting the radio industry. Though still in its infancy, the success of satellite radio reveals that a growing number of listeners are willing to pay a monthly fee for programming that can't be found on traditional airwaves.

"You're talking about a business that over the last 30 years plays fewer and fewer songs. There are more and more commercials, there's less and less diversity," said XM spokesman Chance Patterson.   "Clearly, there's been an awakening, where music fans and listeners across the country have said, `Wait a minute, Why are the songs always the same? Why are there so many commercials?'"

Soboroff believes that little will change unless the industry addresses the impact of consolidation. Concentrated ownership, he said, has given large radio companies incentive to pay government fines for indecency rather than fight them.

"When you have big corporations more interested in the next station, the next property to buy, they'll do anything to get them," Soboroff said. "Even if that means giving up their 1st Amendment rights."

Chicago Tribune | Radio facing music of change

Powell Fumbles Public Interest

FCC Topper Michael Powell will be on Monday Night Football at halftime tonight, promoting the transition to digital television, following his kick-off event with industry reps at the Commission this morning. Said Powell, according to Brian Blackstone of Dow Jones Newswires, "I haven't even done it yet and it's the coolest thing I've ever done."

Unfortunately, as Blackstone writes, even before he takes the field, it's clear Powell has already fumbled away the public interest.

But Monday's briefing served as a reminder that issues affecting what people see on the tube are bound to draw critics. A handful of protesters picketed FCC headquarters Monday to press the agency to consider public-interest and local- content issues and to complain that they were shut out of Monday's event that included representatives from ESPN, Fox, CBS, Discovery and HBO.

"Nearly five years after the FCC posed the question of how television broadcasters should serve the public interest with their increased digital capacity, the FCC remains silent" the Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition wrote in a letter to Powell that was released Friday.

The FCC's two democrats, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, echoed that complaint, stating in a release Monday that "launching a consumer outreach initiative is a positive step, but we're disheartened that the Chairman failed to include consumer and public interest representatives in today's important initiative."

"Today's event highlights what has been missing in the FCC's view of the digital transition," Copps said. "If the American people are to realize the full benefits of DTV, we have to call the public interest issues forward comprehensively and accord them the urgent and high priority they deserve."

"We are advocating that that before the FCC finalizes rules for the DTV transition that it's appropriate to tell what the public interest obligations are," said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. He wants broadcasters to be required to air civic programming and local election coverage.

"At the end it's about who owns the same beach front property," Chester said, referring to the prized analog and digital spectrum space.

FCC's Powell Kicks Off Drive To Spur Digital TV Switch

Indecency vs. Concentration

The FCC's fining of CBS for the Janet Jackson incident at the Super Bowl is absurd, regrettable, and unjustified, as we've posted on our main CCVM website.

Here on the Blog, let's analyze Chairman Powell's justifications for his strong action on so-called "indecent" programming -- and compare them with his total inaction on media consolidation.

Says Chairman Powell on the need to fine CBS for indecency:
"The U.S. Constitution is generous in its protection of free expression, but it is not a license to thrill." Yet the First Amendment is apparently not "generous" enough for Chairman Powell to protect the rights of the American public to a "wide diversity of viewpoints from a multiplicity of sources" -- the Supreme Court's red-letter test for government media ownership regulation.

Says Chairman Powell on the need to fine CBS for indecency: "'Anything goes' is not an acceptable mantra for those that elect to earn their profit using the public's airwaves." Yet "anything goes" is precisely the Chairman's approach to "those that elect to earn their profit using the public airwaves" when it comes to media concentration.

And finally, Chairman Powell noted the large number of complaints received by the FCC concerning the Janet Jackson incident -- 540,000. Never mind that the vast majority of these complaints were ginned up in a coordinated e-mail campaign by the conservative Parents Television Council.

Yet the Chairman dismissed the nearly THREE MILLION comments received by the FCC which were near unanimous in criticizing media concentration and consolidation.

So, the lesson to be learned here is that if Viacom or one of the other giant conglomerates wants to buy up even more of America's media in violation of the American public's First Amendment rights, no problem. But if they show a boob, Chairman Powell is ON THE CASE!

But which is the longer term threat to our nation's democracy and culture? Extreme media concentration? Or Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction?"

Shouldn't the Chairman take a fresh look at the First Amendment and consider applying it where it's desperately needed -- to extreme media concentration? And stop trivializing it by applying it to a boob flash?

Variety.com - FCC poke in the Eye. Subscription may be required.

Aging media giants' glamour fades

David Lieberman writes in USA TODAY that investors are fed up with the broken promises of media conglomerates to deliver higher profits through mega-mergers. So, if there are no higher profits, no efficiencies, and no business reasons to do these deals, and they destroy the diversity of viewpoints we need in our media, why are we doing them?

The new media reality

Yet stockholders' new demands reflect deep frustrations with big media after a year in which the people who follow the industry most closely reassessed its recent past and its prospects.

Among the conclusions:

•Megamergers don't pay. This may be the most radical change in the conventional wisdom on Wall Street. Researchers say media companies never delivered on promises to unlock profitable synergies and efficiencies of mergers.

Banc of America Securities analyst Douglas Shapiro made a powerful case for that conclusion in a widely read July report provocatively headlined: "The Jig is Up on Big Media Mergers."

He concluded that Comcast would probably trade for about $35 a share — not its $28.12 close Monday — if it hadn't bought AT&T Broadband. Likewise, he says, Time Warner would be near $43 instead of $16.45 without the deals for America Online and Turner Broadcasting System. And Viacom would be near $77 instead of $34.79 had it not bought Paramount, Blockbuster, CBS, BET and Comedy Central.

Bilotti reached a similar verdict.

He says most big deals delivered as little as a 3% return on invested capital the year after they closed, and as much as 7% after 10 years. That's not good enough: Companies have to generate 7% to 9% just to service their debt and attract investors.

Even executives who still want to play king of the hill know Washington is in no mood to allow more huge media deals. In June, the Senate voted 99-1 to reverse key parts of the Federal Communication Commission's 2003 effort to relax media ownership rules.

USATODAY.com - Aging media giants' glamour fades

CCVM at Virginia Film Fest

Thanks to the Center for Social Media for posting a transcript of "The Future of Hollywood: Creators, Conglomerates and Culture," an excellent panel discussion with Frank Pierson, Jonathan Rintels, and Janet Graham Borba of HBO; Moderated by Pat Aufderheide, Director of the Center for Social Media.

"The Future of Hollywood: Creators, Conglomerates and Culture"

BRAVO network -- R.I.P.

Remember a few short months ago when the Bravo cable channel was a haven for people who liked intelligent television?  When The Actors Studio wasn't a weird curiosity but part of a plan of programming that appealed to people not served by the dumbed-down programming served up by the media conglomerates who owned most of the other broadcast and cable networks?

And then NBC bought Bravo. 

Here's an example of NBC's new and improved Bravo programming:

Carmen Electra has been signed to host Bravo's upcoming original reality series Manhunt: The Search for America's Most Gorgeous Male Model.  Manhunt premieres October 12 at 10p.

Ahh, the joys of media consolidation....

Bravo Network -- R.I.P.

Carmen Electra to Host Male Model Show (washingtonpost.com)

Media congloms muzzling dissent

Writes Elizabeth Guider of Daily Variety:

Not only were hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in New York dismissed or downplayed last week by the media (despite the fact that more than a few were billy-clubbed and 1,800 were arrested), but the parent companies of the media are becoming increasingly reluctant to go out on a limb about anything controversial.

The corporate agendas of these mini nation states have become so complex and politically sensitized that anything perceived as out of the mainstream is automatically viewed by top brass with suspicion.

Just imagine: Lawyers and lobbyists perennially on the qui vive to determine if any marketing gimmick, any news item, any movie, any loudmouth talkshow host could cause trouble in D.C., jeopardize a deal in China or hurt cooperation between moguls. Such a scenario of congloms second-guessing themselves at every turn is not so far-fetched.

Examples cited by Guider: David O. Russell's documentary that Warners commissioned to accompany the DVD of Three Kings, and then refused to put on the disk, citing its antiwar tones. And, of course, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, famously dumped by Disney.

She left out The Reagans, deep-sixed by CBS, and anything that might hint of being considered "indecent" by the FCC or Congress, which is automatically cut out by the timid congloms, who have larger corporate interests in DC that they don't want to jeopardize.

Variety.com - Media congloms muzzling dissent. Subscription may be required.

We're Guests on CounterSpin: The Radio Show of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

"Broadcasters and cable companies are fighting over what should be done with the airwaves, or spectrum, freed up by the changeover to digital technology. Who's missing from the discussion? Well, everybody else. We'll talk with Jonathan Rintels of the Center for Creative Voices in Media about the closed-door meetings deciding the future of your TV."

Listen here: CounterSpin: The Radio Show of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

FCC Deregulation Played Role in Halftime Show Fiasco

We missed this article by Media Access Project's Andy Schwartzman earlier, but it's too spot on not to post now.

FCC Deregulation Played Role in Halftime Show Fiasco

Trio: Brilliant But Canceled? A Great Reason for A La Carte Cable

Aaron Barnhart, TV critic of The Kansas City Star and creator of the online TV Barn, give us yet another reason to wish we could choose our cable channels a la carte. Trio is super cool to watch, yet prohibitively expensive since it's buried in cable's most expensive digital package with almost nothing else of interest to any person who would be a fan of Trio. Thus, instead of paying a dollar or two a month to watch Trio in an a la carte system, a Trio fan essentially has to shell out about forty dollars a month for the digital premium package to watch it. No wonder it's dying. And no wonder we need Cable A La Carte.

In the annals of television, few have done so much with so little as the people behind the Trio channel.

Broadcasting 24 hours a day to almost nobody, with a pittance to spend on programs, Trio has won over smart, sophisticated viewers who managed to find it on their digital cable boxes.

With its eclectic schedule of classic TV shows, documentaries, fine arts and just plain odd stuff, all of it packaged with polish and verve, Trio has been a precocious child that acts like it’s much larger than it really is.

The people who have been running the channel for the past two-and-a-half years have been adept at finding the gems buried deep in the rockpile of popular culture, whether it’s airing “Laugh-In” reruns and classic David Letterman shows, repackaging historic flops like “Cop Rock” and “My Mother the Car,” or realizing that “Battle of the Network Stars” is funnier now than it was in 1978.

Aaron Barnhart: Trio: Brilliant But Canceled?

Vin Di Bona on Why We Need More Voices on TV

As Chairman of the prestigious Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors, Vin Di Bona, the producer of America's Funniest Home Videos, submitted testimony in the recent FCC "localism" hearing in Monterey, CA. Vin, one of CCVM's Advisors, astutely and eloquently makes the case that the debate over "localism" and "diversity of viewpoints" in television is really one issue -- we need more voices. Vin's entire testimony is at the link below. Here are a few excerpts:

Television can’t help but be local. It’s from somewhere, written by someone from a place. The characters are somewhere. The problem is that it’s from fewer and fewer places. There are fewer surface differences that allow us to see the deeper connections among and between all of us.

Six large corporations directly control nearly everything you and I see, hear and watch. But it’s worse. These six are so concerned about beating the other on the financial pages that they spend their time trying to both copy and outdo each other. One reality show begets another, and another, and so on. And if they can’t beat each other they try to buy each other. Few voices, fewer views, less local. One idea. One story. From one place. If the story doesn’t reflect my place, if it doesn’t use my vernacular or have my accent – be it “pahking mah cah”, “New Yawk”, “dude”, or whatever – then I won’t be able to locate myself in the richer fabric. I won’t be able to hear the underlying unifying theme because the specific local isn’t about me to begin with. I will never see that I am part of the rich tapestry because I am never invited in to begin with.

Vin Di Bona's FCC Testimony on Localism

Kerry Raises Media Consolidation as Campaign Issue - Again

Susan Crabtree of Daily Variety reports:

Just one day after touting his business endorsements from such media heavies as News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, Paramount's Sherry Lansing and Viacom's Tom Freston, Democratic presidential nominee Kerry told an audience of minority journalists Thursday that he opposed the idea of big media conglomerates growing even bigger.

"I'm against the ongoing push for media consolidation," he said during a Q&A at the Unity 2004 conference. "It's contrary to the stronger interests of the country."

Kerry went on to say he believes the Federal Communications Commission's decision last year to relax rules governing media concentration should be reversed. If he were president, he said, he would pursue a media policy seeking as diverse and broad an ownership as possible.

"It is critical to who we are as free people," he said firmly. "It's critical to our democracy."

As a nonpartisan group, CCVM wonders what President Bush's position on Big Media is? It's high time he talks about it.

Variety.com - Kerry eyes a trimmer U.S. media. Subscription may be required.

News Anchors Criticize Media Concentration

Writes I Want Media:

During a discussion of campaign news coverage at Harvard University on July 25, which was telecast on C-SPAN, leading TV anchors spoke out against media consolidation. "We would all prefer to have more media in more hands," says Peter Jennings of ABC News. "The larger corporations for which we now work are very, very bottom-line conscious. There's no great secret about that in any of our newsrooms." Dan Rather of CBS News concurs. "It would be unwise for the viewers, readers and listeners not to recognize that these pressures exist [and] have gotten worse," says Rather.

I Want Media - Media News & Resources#offline

Turner Again -- on Murdoch and Big Media

From I Want Media:

CNN founder Ted Turner was at his outspoken best during an hour-long interview on "The Charlie Rose Show" on July 23. Turner revealed that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal turned down his "scathing" opinion piece knocking Big Media that ended up being published in the much smaller Washington Monthly. "At least [it was] published," he sighed. Clearly playing to Charlie Rose's live audience, he added that AOL Time Warner "made a big mistake" firing him: "I'm going to cause a lot of trouble! Ha, ha, ha!" Turner spent several minutes tearing into his longtime rival, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch: "He's a very frightening person. He literally has control of Britain. I talked to [Prime Minister] Tony Blair many years ago, and I said, 'Tony, why don't you crack down on Rupert a little?' He said, 'Ted, I wouldn't be in my job without Rupert. I can't go after him.' Rupert has half the newspaper readership and all the television channels [in Britain]. He's close to running Australia. He'd like to run the United States. And he'd like to run India. He really would like to dominate the world. He only cares about two things: money and power. He does not care about doing good. He doesn't even have a small foundation. He gives no money away to charity that I know of." Rose asked Turner how he came to be such a media visionary. Turner's response: "Thinking and using [my] brain. I didn't watch much television, for instance."

I Want Media - Media News & Resources#offline

Democrats Include Rolling Back Media Concentration in Their Platform

Democrats include rolling back media concentration in their platform:

"Because our democracy thrives on public access to diverse sources of information from multiple sources, we support measures to ensure diversity, competition and localism in media ownership."

Democrats Worry Big Media Threaten Democracy

"My Beef With Big Media" by Ted Turner

In an excellent, thoughtful essay in The Washington Monthly, Ted Turner explains why misguided government policies protect Big Media and prevent another Ted Turner from emerging -- and why that's so bad for our nation's media and the public.

"My Beef With Big Media" by Ted Turner

Media Concentration Not Only Bad for Public, It's Bad for Media Companies

Good news from Jay Sherman in TelevisionWeek, who reports that "thanks to recent setbacks both in the courts and in Congress, coupled with the market reality that there is little left in the way of assets in the United States for media companies to buy and a growing number of analysts wondering aloud whether any of the past media-merger crazes were little more than bad ideas, it appears clear that Wall Street's love affair with the media sector isn't likely to resume anytime soon."

One welcome benefit: an end to media mergers? Why? Because it turns out they're not only bad for creative artists and bad for the public, they're bad for the conglomerates themselves.

Mr. Shapiro (Douglas Shapiro, a media analyst for Banc of America Securities) recently did an analysis examining what would happen to the stock prices of several large media companies if they avoided the merger craze of the past 10 years, and found most companies would have seen their stock prices perform better.

He predicted Comcast shares would trade at nearly $35 apiece without the AT&T Broadband merger; Time Warner's stock would have reached nearly $43 a share absent the America Online and Turner Broadcasting System purchases; and Viacom shares would have hit $77 without its series of acquisitions over the last decade. By comparison, Comcast shares trade around $28, Time Warner's stock is in the $17 range and Viacom's widely traded Class B shares hover around $35.50.

With everyone else revolting against mega-media mergers, will the shareholders of the media conglomerates themselves now also revolt?

TelevisionWeek -- Television and Media Finance

Cable A La Carte Already Working

Cable companies claim a la carte cable can't work, that it's "not feasible." Well, it's already working. From one satisfied customer in Canada:

Date: 07/15/2004 09:01 AM

From: Sarah Szefer (sarah.szefer@sympatico.ca)

Subject: Cable Debate Generates Static

Regarding the whole debate about a la carte channel subscriptions ("Cable Debate Generates Static," July 15, 2004): I live in Montreal, Canada, where 4 cable/satellite providers are in the market: Videotron, Bell ExpressVu, LookTV and StarChoice.

I have a digital cable subscription to Videotron 's illico service and I have an a la carte channel subscription, plus one thematic subscription (the U.S. superstations: WGN, WSBK, WPIX and KTLA).

Videotron offers traditional thematic packages, but it is also possible to subscribe to channels via an a la carte subscription (either pay for each individual channel or buy packs of 5, 10 or 20 channels). The only true restriction is that the customer must subscribe to the basic cable lineup and that more than half the channels must be Canadian (which is a CRTC rule).

I love being able to pick only the stations I want; for instance, only yesterday we dumped MSNBC and replaced it with G4TechTV Canada, among other swaps. I might not have picked up G4TechTV if I would have had to get it through a package that included channels that don't interest me.

Wired News: Rants & Raves

Powell's New Math

FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently claimed the FCC had no choice but to step up fines against broadcasters for violating decency rules, given a "breathtakingly dramatic increase in complaints" from the public. He said the FCC received 550,000 such complaints in the first few months of the year, up from a few hundred in 2001.

Gee, but when the FCC received nearly 3,000,000 complaints from the public about media consolidation and concentration -- an unprecedented outpouring of protest -- Powell dismissed them as irrelevant.

The Powell New Math: 550,000 is "breathtakingly dramatic" but over five times that many is irrelevant.

FCC chief worries about fees / Phone competition may be hindered, Powell says

Media Consolidation Threatens Comics

Welcome newspaper cartoonists to the un-merry group of creative artists getting crushed by media consolidation, as the conglomerates reduce both the number of strips they carry and the prices they pay in order to please Wall Street.

"Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams says he worries not only for himself ("Yes, I am that selfish") but for artists trying to break into the business who could inject new life into newspapers. "There are several up-and-coming cartoonists who I have great hope for. If you have fewer spaces, these new guys aren't going to get a chance."

MSNBC - Newspapers: The Un-Funny Pages

Murdoch Gaffe Shows Need for More Voices in TV

Okay, now that we're over our laughing hysterically at Rupert Murdoch for ordering his New York Post newspaper to tear up its front page and print, wrongly, his "scoop" that John Kerry would pick Dick Gephardt as his running mate, let's consider the implications for our democracy and culture. Murdoch's News Corp./Fox is one of five media conglomerates that have been awarded, at no charge, control over our nation's public television airwaves by the FCC. His personal control of the editorial voice on his media outlets demonstrates why our nation needs a wide diversity of viewpoints and voices in television. While Murdoch's gaffe makes us laugh now, it points up the danger of him -- or anyone else with control over such a broad swath of our public television airwaves -- acting like a Berlusconi in Italy or a modern day Citizen Kane, not reporting news impartially, but creating it and shaping it to fit his purposes.

As A.J. Liebling famously said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Are we sure we want to turn over our television press -- which is what our public airwaves are -- to just five media conglomerates/barons like Murdoch?


The New York Times > National > The News Media: Murdoch Is Said to Be Source of Post's Gephardt 'Exclusive'

Powell Interview Demonstrates Confusion over First Amendment

In a recent interview, Chairman Michael Powell of the FCC mischaracterized the position of CCVM and others arguing for more independent voices in TV, saying:

And what is juxtaposed against the media ownership debate? Indecency, which maybe is what you mean by content. Hollywood was happy to beat up on ownership liberalization because they want the government to intervene so we can promote more independent programming — which is content. But the same Hollywood says the government can't say that Howard Stern can't say the F word, because that's censorship and inappropriate.

Regrettably, Chairman Powell is misstating our position, which is coherent and consistent in its dedication to First Amendment principles. For the government to mandate independent programming is not regulating program content -- it's regulating the structure of the marketplace. No one is asking the government to dictate who or what the programs produced by independents should be. Perhaps they'll all be produced by rabid conservatives! We don't know and we don't care. The point is that some programs must be produced by an entity not owned or financially tied to the network broadcasting the program over the public airwaves. That structure is critical for a wide diversity of viewpoints to be available to the public.

Government should not intervene in the content of programming, that's infringement of free expression and violates the First Amendment. That's why we are opposed to the FCC's regulation of so-called "indecency."

HOWEVER, the government should -- and often does -- promote a more vibrant "marketplace of ideas" through rules that structure the media marketplace to allow the widest diversity of viewpoints and voices as possible. Examples are rules that say one company can't own too many TV stations, or a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. These rules are PRO-First Amendment, expanding the number of voices in the marketplace.

The distinction between regulation of content and structure is crucial. As Chairman of the FCC, Powell should be aware of it. His comments equating federal regulation of program content with structural rules promoting MORE, not less, viewpoint diversity in media, demonstrate unfortunate confusion.

The Gartner Fellows: Michael K. Powell's Interview

Setting the Record Straight on Cable A La Carte

In a provocative piece titled, "The Cable Industry’s Lies about Programming Diversity and A la Carte," Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy addresses the disinformation and misinformation put forth by the cable companies to torpedo a la carte cable.

Center for Digital Democracy | Market Watch

FCC Finds Media Concentration Causes Indecency?

As anyone who reads this blog and our website knows, we vehemently disagree with the FCC fining anyone over the Super Bowl halftime incident, assuming CBS had no advance knowledge of what was going to happen. Stuff happens on live TV!

However, we find the FCC's rationale for fining CBS, its owned stations, but not its affiliate stations ver-ry interesting. According to Daily Variety:

The FCC is unlikely to hold Eye net affils accountable for the Super Bowl incident, according to the source, because they are not owned by Viacom/CBS.

Targeting just Viacom/CBS owned-and-operated stations is a way to punish the massive media conglom for making the decision to allow another one of its companies, MTV, to produce the halftime show, the source noted.

Doesn't this mean that the FCC agrees with us that media consolidation and concentration caused the indecent episode at the Super Bowl? And that consolidation and concentration cause indecency?

Variety.com - Boobgate bill for Viacom

Michael Powell Lays an Egg

He's bright, personable, an excellent lawyer, a distinguished veteran, and the son of the Secretary of State. Yet, Michael Powell's record as the Chairman of the FCC has been one misstep and reversal after another. In telecom and media regulation, his quest to "deregulate" has disintegrated into a search for something -- anything! -- that will pass muster with the courts, the Congress, and, most importantly, the American people.

Now that a U.S. Court of Appeals has rightfully tossed out the Commission's new rules that would have exponentially increased media concentration and consolidation -- rules which Powell pushed through the FCC despite an overwhelming public outcry last year -- his tenure as Chairman, which so many expected would lead to him becoming a star in Republican politics, may instead be his political swan song.

Powell frequently cites his strong commitment to the First Amendment as grounds for media deregulation. Indeed, the "Powell Doctrine" claimed Big Media had a First Amendment right to consolidate and concentrate (although it said little about the First Amendment right of the public audience to be served by a wide diversity of voices and viewpoints). But despite his championing of the First Amendment and free expression, he tried to implement his new rules quietly, without a single public hearing. Finally, when the public rebelled, Powell grudgingly held one public hearing in Richmond, Virginia.

Powell even tried to run roughshod over Congressional opposition from leading Republicans such as Senator John McCain, his former patron. Instead of defusing the opposition, Powell galvanized it. Congressional offices were deluged by constituents’ complaints about Big Media. The public simply had NO interest in what Powell claimed was the "public interest." Nevertheless, despite the FCC receiving an unprecedented two million public comments, near unanimous in their opposition, Powell pushed through his Big Media deregulation. By seeming to snub both the public and Congress, Powell appeared to be a politically tone-deaf idealogue doing Big Media's bidding. And the "Powell Doctrine" appeared to be nothing more than "Let Big Media and Big Telecom do whatever it wants. If the public doesn't like it, let them eat cake. There's always the Internet."

Chairman Powell's tenure at the FCC will no doubt end after the election, whatever its outcome. His legacy, if there is one, will be that as rapid technological change gripped both the media and telecom industries -- change which could have made America's media more diverse, more local, and more competitive -- he used that change instead as a pretext to justify further consolidation and concentration, at the expense of competition, diversity, and localism.

Fortunately, Powell has been repeatedly stymied by several shifting coalitions and opponents who often could agree on only one thing -- that Big Media and Big Telecom are ultimately unhealthy for America's democracy and culture. As Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council memorably quipped, "When so many disparate organizations - groups ranging from the Catholic Conference to Common Cause, from the Family Research Council and the NRA to Move On, the Writers' Guild and NOW - when all of us are united on an issue, then one of two things has happened. Either the earth has spun off its axis and we have all lost our minds, or there is universal support for a concept." That universal concept was " Save Democracy, Stop Powell."

Then came the Super Bowl. The Chairman seized on Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” to rush to the head of the censorship parade and lead the fight against so-called "indecent" programming over the public airwaves. In his rush to become the “Nation’s Nanny,” Powell's FCC overturned long-standing bright line regulations and substituted far more expansive, vague, and opaque indecency rules.

The net result is that Chairman Powell has been responsible for the censoring of a significant amount of original, controversial, and worthy content on the nation's airwaves -- the very free expression that is not only protected by the First Amendment, but should be encouraged by the FCC! What should have been the Chairman’s finest hour, defending the First Amendment he claims to cherish, became his worst. When the First Amendment needed him most, Chairman Powell abandoned it.

How will Chairman Powell be remembered? Probably not for the Commission's few accomplishments during his tenure. Rather, he will more likely be remembered for the tremendous opportunity he had to move communications policy forward in this country while at the same time his own political star ascended to the heavens. And how he squandered that opportunity. To use the lingo of Daily Variety when a Broadway show flops, Michael Powell has truly “laid an egg.”

Kerry Releases Letter to Chairman Powell

CCVM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group. However, we are printing on our blog for public information a letter Senator John Kerry wrote last year to FCC Chairman Powell questioning the FCC's rush to issue its new media ownership rules, promoting further consolidation and concentration. Those rules were recently overturned by a federal court as "arbitrary and capricious." We were pleased to learn that Senator Kerry's arguments to Powell closely tracked our own.


May 30, 2003

The Honorable Michael K. Powell
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Powell:

I am writing in regard to the Federal Communication Commission's review of media ownership rules and its implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As the Commissioners are well aware, these rules greatly influence the competitive structure of the industry and protect the public's access to multiple sources of information and media. It is the Commission's responsibility to ensure that the rules serve our national goals of diversity, competition and localism in media. In light of this, I want to raise some specific concerns over proposals to loosen ownership restrictions and the Commission's rulemaking process.

The television industry is undergoing rapid consolidation as a handful of national networks have acquired local stations across the country. I am concerned that when local stations are purchased by a national network, local and independent voices are lost in the media marketplace. Locally owned and operated stations are more likely to be responsive to local needs, interests and values than those stations owned and operated by national networks. Indeed many local stations are small businesses that drive innovative competition. A system of concentrated station ownership will trend toward nationalized programming aimed primarily at maximizing revenue with less concern for local interests and less room for competition. For these reasons, I urge the Commission to maintain the National Television Ownership Rule at 35 percent and to protect local and independent voices in television.

The Commission is also considering loosening restrictions on cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers within single markets. The cross-ownership rule is intended to increase or at least maintain the number of independent editorial voices in a community. This is especially important in smaller communities where citizens have fewer media operations covering local matters. While there is scant evidence that weakening this rule will result in significant economic benefit, leading academics and media experts have argued that doing so will dangerously reduce the venues for independent public discourse. I urge the Commission to maintain the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule to protect diversity, competition and localism.

I am also concerned with the process by which the FCC conducted these proceedings. The media ownership rulemaking is among the most important the FCC has undertaken, and it has garnered unprecedented public interest. Despite this, it appears the Commission is prepared to loosen ownership rules without first taking public comment on a specific proposal. While the Commission's efforts to collect and review comment on current rules has value, it is insufficient. All parties concerned would be better served if the Commission published a specific proposal and then allowed for a period of public comment before promulgating any rule changes. I urge the Commission to delay any change to the media ownership rules until it has published a specific proposal and taken public comment.

The Commission's first responsibility is to ensure diversity, competition and localism. The Commission has no responsibility to facilitate the business plans of the major networks or any other narrow economic interest. I urge you to protect the public interest and reject any proposal that will accelerate media consolidation, at least until a specific Commission proposal is published, its consequences are understood, and the public has the opportunity to comment. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

John F. Kerry

Rupert Tells Us Why We Need A La Carte

Rupert Murdoch tells The Hollywood Reporter why consumers need an option for purchasing cable and satelllite networks a la carte. Otherwise, it's take or leave the conglomerates' packages, larded with their own networks that no one would pay for separately, while independent, non-affiliated channels with diverse audiences are left out in the cold.

...any new channel we want to launch will immediately go to almost 13 million DirecTV subscribers. Of course, we will happily make any new channels available to our satellite and cable competitors, but DirecTV gives us an immediate launch base.

Dialogue: Rupert Murdoch. Subscription may be required.

Dish TV Supports A La Carte

Echostar, the owner of Dish TV satellite service, has come out in favor of having studies of allowing consumers to choose their cable networks "a la carte." Writes Chris Walsh in the Rocky Mountain News:

"If we're forced to take extra programming, it turns into higher consumer prices," (Echostar spokesman Steve) Caulk said. "Also, it turns into a situation where consumers really have less of a choice in programming, especially if the programmer is a big media conglomerate dictating to us which channels we get and how much we pay."

A la carte legislation would force programmers to sell their channels on an individual basis if cable or satellite providers wanted them to - a move that could lower costs for both EchoStar and its subscribers, Caulk said.

EchoStar's support of initial a la carte studies likely arises from its unique position in the pay-TV industry.

It's the only major pay-TV provider that does not own TV networks (DirecTV's parent, News Corp., owns Fox Network, among others).

Comcast, for instance, owns stakes in regional sports networks, E! Entertainment Television and The Outdoor Network. Time Warner owns CNN, TNT and The Cartoon Network, among others.

The cable companies are fearful of a la carte because their own channels may suffer, a la carte supporters said.

"These companies make money bundling their own channels together," said DeGraff of Consumers Union. "They benefit enormously by not only delivering content to the home but also by owning it. So of course they don't want a la carte."


Rocky Mountain News: Technology

Comcast and Disney -- We Warned You!

We warned you that if Comcast took over Disney, on Comcast cable systems you'd see "All Disney, All the Time."  But this is ridiculous!

On Monday night between about 8:30 and 11:30, many of Comcast's digital-cable subscribers in Washington were shown nothing but the Disney Channel on all of the company's channels. The clicker was useless for about an hour solid and then several times thereafter for several minutes each time.

Comcast subscribers who tuned in to the "Law & Order" repeat on TNT, for instance, suddenly found themselves watching the Disney Channel's "Kim Possible," an animated series about a crime-fighting schoolgirl. Then, it was back to "Law & Order," but with occasional interruptions of one to three minutes, viewers reported.

Comcast Technical Glitch Gives D.C. Viewers a Disney Overdose (washingtonpost.com).

"Sometimes Regulation Can Stimulate Creativity"

Harry Castleman and Wally Podrazik, the authors of "Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television," chronicle the history of television and note that FCC regulations that allowed independent producers to make television programs led to some of the most creative -- and most-loved -- programming in the history of television.

Said the authors in a CBS Marketwatch article, FCC regulations "promote(d) the growth of independent producers like ['Hill Street Blues' producer] Steven Bochco, like a Stephen J. Cannell [creator of 'The A-Team'], who are going to have enough clout against the networks to have more economic power and have their own say. While those [independent] producers are still important, they don't have anywhere near the kind of economic leverage they once had. Because the networks now, with the end of the fin-syn rules, are in a position to be able to say, 'You want us to put on your show, you're going to have to give us a slice of the pie. And we're going to have more say over what happens to the show than you do.' "

Drawing new wisdom from TV's past Subscription may be required.

Net Neutrality

Fascinating column by Jonathan Krim in The Washington Post on "net neutrality" -- the question of whether broadband providers will favor Internet sites and services that pay them a fee or will treat everyone equally. This is a big concern for creative artists and why CCVM joined the "Coalition of Broadband Users & Innovators" with Microsoft, Yahoo, Disney (!), and others. If broadband Internet service providers favor their own sites and services, they will essentially turn the Internet into a glorified cable TV service.

Will Providers Provide Equally? (TechNews.com)

"Mutually Assured Vertical Integration"

With Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, one of the last surviving independent producers of scripted entertainment, now exploring a sale, the broadcast nets have settled into a cozy relationship with each other where one will buy a show from another and vice versa, but not go outside this tight circle. Says David Kissinger, head of newly integrated NBC Universal TV Studio ("NUTS"), that's because we're now living in an era of "mutually assured vertical integration." Good quote, but is it good for the public interest in a wide diversity of viewpoints on television?

Variety.com - TV's change of seasons. Subscription may be required.

"C-W-M Exploring Sale"

Cable A La Carte Anyone?

The leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked FCC Chairman Powell to study and report back within six months on these questions about requiring cable systems to offer cable networks to consumers a la carte in addition to in packages.  Many are pertinent to concerns we have about cable network packages creating "choke points" that shut out independent creative voices:

What effect, if any, would the voluntary offering of a la carte or themed-tier service have on the ability of independent, niche, religious, and ethnic programming to continue to be carried or launched?

Do program distributors currently have the option buying channel a la carte from their suppliers?

What would the impact on retail rates to customers if programmers had to offer their network a la carte and could not bundle them?

What would the impact on retail rates to customers if programmers had to offer their network a la carte but could also bundle them?

How have broadcast networks and affiliate groups used retransmission consent to expand carriage of affiliated networks?

Is there any reason to regulate satellite and cable in terms of this issue?

What Constitutional or other legal questions are raised if Congress mandates stand-alone channel sales and prevents programmers from requiring carriage on particular tiers?

According to Broadcasting & Cable, "Those are the kinds of questions that could strike fear in the hearts of big cable program suppliers. "

Read the letter to Chairman Powell here.

The Bland Play On

John Harris considers the impact of media concentration on the world's music. "MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, 'I want my MTV'; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, 'One planet, one music'. Those four words beg one question: who decides?"

John Harris: The bland play on

NBC's -- and TV's -- Future: "a 24-hour cross-promotional machine"

Jill Goldsmith of Daily Variety saw the future today at the unveiling of NBC-Universal and apparently liked it as little as we do. She writes, archly:

"It was another stage, another set of barstools and another line of men in suits promising the premier media entertainment company of the 21st century. A flashing video with voiceover called the new NBC Universal -- which indeed includes an impressive collection of broadcast and cable TV, stations, film and theme parks -- 'a 24-hour cross-promotional machine.'"
Variety.com - NBC Universal unveiled

Trio Toast Under NBC?

Ahh, the "benefits" of media consolidation. With NBC closing its takeover of Vivendi/Universal today, VUE's cool and unique TRIO network appears to be toast. Apparently, it's not big enough for NBC to care about and its demographic of intelligent people is unappealing. So, the Peacock may do what it did when it took over Bravo -- dump the programming that appealed to the cable network's audience and replace it with reruns, promos, and tryouts for the NBC broadcast net. Yet again, media "synergy" snuffs out media diversity.

Broadcasting & Cable - Is Trio's Time Running Out?

Howard’s Private War

In Howard’s Private War, Joe Hagan of the New York Observer writes in an excellent piece about Howard Stern's "radioactivity" to media executives, regulators, and politicians:

"So far, Viacom president Mel Karmazin has been alone among powerful media figures in defending Mr. Stern. Said Mr. Buchwald (Stern's manager), "There are a lot of industry people who I have been in contact with, and important people in the entertainment community, who have said, ‘Gee, you guys are really fighting the good fight for all the rest of us. I really wish we could do more, but politically it isn’t to our advantage at this moment.’ Privately, people are in great support."

But the chieftains of heavily consolidated media empires like Viacom and NBC are wary of taking on the federal government, which they depend on for keeping their industry deregulated. With fewer companies controlling most of the media, regulating morality becomes easier for the FCC—and a bigger risk for media moguls to confront."

Demonstrating how fatuous the FCC's "case by case" review of indecency complaints is sure to become, The New York Post reports here that 1900 complaints have been filed with the Commission over an Oprah Winfrey show. Wrote some of the complainers, many of whom are Howard Stern fans:

"How can you allow Oprah Winfrey to discuss [anal sex] on a nationally televised show at 4 p.m. when children are home from school, and then persecute Howard Stern for doing no worse at 8 in the morning?"

Another writer fumes: "My twin 9-year-old boys . . . heard a description of how to best please a man orally. Get on the ball and fine Oprah. This show was obscene."

The number of complaints against Oprah are about the same as the number of complaints against Bono uttering the F-word at the Golden Globes. So what will the Commission do about Oprah?

David Brown's "Lessons From a Life in Showbiz"

Famed producer David Brown wrote a brilliant guest column, "Lessons from a life in showbiz," in the March 30 Daily Variety.  Many of his observations relate to the issues CCVM has with media concentration and the homogenization of TV due to network monopolization of program production. Among them:

"An exec who is unwilling to put his job on the line for a project he believes in should lose his job.

One person's vision, right or wrong, is worth more than a consensus of 12. Trust passion.

Relying on other's opinions is a lazy and disastrous practice. Darryl F. Zanuck ordered readers' opinions to be removed from synopses. Barry Diller, while at Paramount, read full material -- books, plays or scripts -- before deciding to proceed with production.

When preserving your lifestyle is the main concern of your career, it's time to quit the business.

Nobody but the filmmakers can be trusted to form a valid opinion of a film by seeing a rough cut or reading a script. Especially marketing people. Show them the finished movie only and even then, their opinion is suspect.

Enthusiasm is the fuel of show business, especially unwarranted enthusiasm. Without it you can't go to work in the morning.

The larger number of executives in a production department, the poorer their movie. Bureaucracy dilutes the creative process -- and slows decision making to a pathetic trickle.

Those entrusted with greenlighting pictures should become involved with the process at the beginning instead of at the end. This would save scads of money spent by development executives with only the power to say no. In films as well as in television, it is ludicrous for the decisionmakers to sanction this waste.

Actresses (and actors) are smarter than most executives. I don't know why that is, but it is."

Could It Happen Here?

Writes Tony Barber of the Financial Times: "The European parliament yesterday attacked the concentration of media power in Italy, just days before the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, is due to push through a law viewed by critics as a boost to his extensive media empire.

By a vote of 237 to 24 with 14 abstentions, the Strasbourg-based assembly adopted a report that called for European Union-wide legislation to guarantee pluralism in the media and singled out Italy for particular criticism.

"The Italian system presents an anomaly owing to a unique combination of economic, political and media power in the hands of one man," said the report, prepared by Johanna Boogerd-Quaak, a Dutch liberal.

The European parliament report noted that Mr Berlusconi had failed to fulfil a promise to adopt legislation that would address his conflict of interest within the first 100 days of his government, which came to power in 2001."