This could be a lethal blow

I’ve been telling you for years about the cracking foundation of the world of local broadcasting. Well, new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is asking his fellow Commissioners to vote March 31st on a proposal from him that would stick a rather large knife in the side of broadcast companies. TVNewsCheck describes it this way:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will ask his fellow commissioner to vote March 31 on a proposal that will ban joint sales agreements and joint TV station retransmission consent negotiations, a senior FCC official told reporters Thursday.

The JSA and retransmission consent bans will become effective immediately, assuming a majority of the agency’s commissioners vote in support of the regulations, an FCC source says.

A senior FCC official also says the JSA crackdown will apply to pending station transactions at the FCC, and provide up to two years for existing JSAs to unwind.

The official also says Wheeler is proposing to adopt an expedited waiver review process under which broadcasters will be able to seek waivers for JSAs.

If a broadcaster can show that a particular JSA serves the public interest, it may be able to get a waiver to continue a joint sales sharing deal, the FCC said.

You need to go read the link, because the reaction in the comments and at the end of the article are worth much.

Here’s my take. Between Joint Service Agreements, Local Marketing Agreements, Shared Service Agreements, Transitional Service Agreements, shadow corporations and probably a host of others I can’t recall, it’s really hard to tell who owns the network affiliate down the street. These things have  so changed the face of broadcasting — by reducing the number of faces on the air in many, many markets — that the real losers have been the same public that broadcast spectrum is given to these people in the first place to serve. It’s all corporate doings nowadays, which makes the whole industry seem like greedy Wall Street monsters. Many more people will lose jobs, because these corporations exist to line the pockets of those who run them. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not, I suspect, what that spectrum was originally intended to create.

The upside is that this move will put pressure on broadcasters to participate in spectrum auctions, which will grow the mobile Web, while will continue to advance what Jay Rosen calls “The Great Horizontal.” One to one communications, without middlemen, is one of the beauties of the network, and broadcasters’ one-to-many model is increasingly archaic. Ahead lies a reworking of everything, including many laws that were created for the days of one-to-many, and frankly, I can’t wait. Broadcasting will continue, at the very least as cable channels, but this proposal, if approved on March 31st, means a major blow to certain groups of people who thought their money tree had permanent roots.

And think about it, one potential end to this is the irrelevance of Aereo, which requires broadcast signals in order to justify its business model.

The Obama Administration supports broadcasters against Aereo and then turns around and says, “We’ll eliminate your ownership loopholes and end consolidated retransmission negotiations.” Frankly, broadcasters would have preferred it to be the other way around.

Honestly, let the future in, people. Let the future in.

The power of personal media

I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.

Broadcasters and Aereo: sometimes winning means losing

We have a lottery game here in Texas called “All or Nothing.” The point is that if you get ALL the numbers on your ticket, you win, but you also win if there are NONE of the numbers on your ticket. Hence, “all or nothing.”

I think the Supreme Court’s pending decision in the broadcasters versus Aereo case is a similar proposition for the broadcast TV industry, although the other way around. They will lose even if they win.

Historically, when given the opportunity — which this case does — to come down on the side of culture, the high court cannot resist, and culture — whether we like it or not — is moving to a one-to-one model of communications. There are exceptions, certainly, but the use of government resources, like spectrum, to enable old school thinking is up for grabs in the hands of the high court. What most people don’t realize is that one-to-one can mimic one-to-many in certain necessary situations, but one-to-many cannot mimic one-to-one. This is the essence of Jay Rosen’s “Great Horizontal,” and why this case is so fraught with danger for the status quo. You see, it isn’t about my ability to receive; it’s about my ability to send, and that’s why a whole host of laws have to be modified, including the use of the spectrum that’s owned by the people.

TVNewsCheck’s Harry Jessel published a piece last week that examined the question of what happens if the court sides with Aereo. As informative as the essay is, the comments are not only entertaining but also revealing regarding how broadcasters think in terms of defending themselves in the case. Here are six general themes:

  1. Its “unnegotiable” civil defense mission is what will sustain broadcast spectrum. The Telcos even now are working to develop a new system of civil defense warnings and assisting the government in real time and beyond.
  2. The question before the court can’t produce a loss for broadcasters. Since when has the “question before the court” prevented the Supremes from deviating? Sorry, I don’t view this as protection.
  3. Local bandwidth is too small to permit any significant competition to high quality OTA broadcast delivery. This is the same argument used by broadcasters when cable first came on the scene. Quality follows what culture wants.
  4. The most likely outcome would be for Congress to intervene, revising the Copyright Act to bring systems such as Aereo’s within the purview of the transmit clause. The Supreme Court doesn’t need Congress to make law.
  5. There is a finely balanced economic ecosystem going on here in which everyone thrives. But it’s an ecosystem that can be damaged if something disruptive, like a Supreme Court win for Aereo, took place. Nobody cares about our “finely balanced economic ecosystem,” except where it impacts their wallets, and that is a biggie that the court could impact.
  6. If the Supremes give the decision to Aereo, then broadcasters’ spectrum is safe, because Aereo depends on a broadcast signal in order for its antenna farms to work. Well, yes, and that’s a possibility, but Harry’s piece fully explores how that could be a net loss for broadcasters anyway.

If the broadcasters were to win, however, there’s a significant chance, in my view, that the price of winning will be its spectrum, because there is widespread and significant pressure to shift TV stations to cable in the name of spectrum use for the one-to-one world of the Web.

It is the law that gives broadcasters the spectrum. It is the law that says cable companies MUST carry the broadcast signals. It is the law says that broadcasters have a right to compensation for cable carrying their signals. And now broadcasters want the law again to boost their business model. Live by the law, die by the law, for the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is or isn’t law, and that’s why this case was such a crap shoot from the beginning.

Broadcasters are already acting as cable companies, and here’s the rub. If broadcast signals become cable channels, then must-carry laws are irrelevant, and retrains fees become renegotiable. Without the weight of law behind the broadcast companies, there’s little doubt in my mind that the networks will by-pass the local money tree in making their programming available via cable. Hence, the losing even if they win.

The problem for the Supremes — and the key reason I think they took this case — is the profound necessity of rewriting what copyright means, absent the immense Congressional lobbying power of the status quo. “Intellectual property” is an oxymoron created by the entertainment industry to give itself the weight of law in conducting its business throughout the world. It works fine in the one-to-many world of mass media, but it makes no sense in the Great Horizontal, and this is the conundrum for the court. Personal use of products must include sharing in a one-to-one universe, and every one of the old industries that thrived in a one-to-many paradigm must face this reality. It will take something like a court ruling to give the people formerly known as the audience (thank you, Jay Rosen) what they deserve.

The supermarket can’t charge me twice for a meal I share with neighbors, yet this is the absurdity of current copyright inside the network. The network is a cultural shift that’s here to stay, and its advancement is the duty of those in positions to make it so, such as our Supreme Court justices. Neither side in this case gives a ripple chip about consumers, the people, and that’s what the court will be forced to consider.

Folks, there’s much more riding here than the question before the court. In attempting to right what they view as a business wrong, broadcasters have opened Pandora’s box, and the chaos unleashed will likely produce a deleterious result for anything “business as usual.”

BONUS LINK, also via TVNewsCheck: Michael Berg’s legal view of the case (although tilted by an admitted bias towards the NAB).

Only 1 in 5 think TV reporters have high ethical standards

I hate to be redundant, but TV News people head out the door each day in the belief that they have the public trust. They do not, and yet, we keep throwing the same old stuff at viewers. Here’s new data from Gallup. Note that just 20% of Americans feel TV reporters have high or very high standards of honesty and ethics. That’s one in five.

gallupethics

Now let’s switch over to TVSPY for a piece on a young reporter looking for investigative chops in the small market of Fargo. Her piece on “school security” was as cheap as one in the same market many years ago about “airport security” (or was that Duluth?). Really, people, who do we think we’re fooling? This isn’t a real investigation by anybody’s standards; it’s an attempt by the reporter to get something on her reel that will convince her future employers that she’s tough. Puh-leeze.

Do we really wonder why we’re so screwed?

The spaghetti logic of the NAB’s Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith is getting publicity today for a speech denouncing the term of former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (see TVNewsCheck). It’s actually a cheap attempt to lobby inbound FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (all right, that’s Mr. Smith’s job), but unless you have those “eyes to see,” you’ll take what he says here at face value, and that’s just a bad mistake.

What I find truly amazing is his use of the phrase “encourage further innovation and investment in broadcasting” in harping on Mr. Genachowski’s encouragement of innovation and investment in broadband. There isn’t even a whiff of innovation in the broadcast model. What Smith really wants is more of the same, especially a sign of encouragement from the FCC about continuing the broadcast money tree known as “retransmission consent fees,” fees, I should add, that increase the cost of cable everywhere.

Smith rebuked the “myopic” Genachowski FCC for doing whatever it could for wireless broadband, while ignoring broadcasting, despite all the public good that it does.

Last March after he announced his intention to leave the agency, Genachowski, Smith said, released a list of his accomplishments.

It catalogued approximately 50 items, including proceedings undertaken and industry investments. What I found most notable about the list was that there was not a single accomplishment outside of the broadband realm. Not one.”

Look, let’s just assume that broadcasting fears broadband, because its flexible one-to-one model is proving tough competition for a model that is schedule-bound and one-to-many. Smith’s continued references to the “good” that broadcasters contribute to local communities are going to bite him in the ass one day, when efficient and flexible, mobile broadband emergency coverage proves it can outperform television stations. Not only is his logic a wad of interconnected spaghetti, it’s been in the water a little too long.

The unwillingness to actually innovate is what’s really killing broadcasting, and unless and until its mothership — the NAB — starts actually innovating, instead of basing its entire argument on an archaic paradigm, the industry is headed for the death of a thousand cuts.

 

Passages, my own

I’ve kind of given up on my blog, and that bothers me. One of my categories here is “Passages,” those stories about people moving along from one part of life to another, including death. I’ve been going through my own passage, and it’s kind of disrupted everything about my postmodern message and beyond. I’ve been writing for dear friends at Street Fight and will soon be cross-posting original versions of those pieces (or you can find the edited versions here). My good pal Gordon Borrell said it’s some of my best work, but I don’t know. Like I said, I’ve been dealing with personal issues, and I really haven’t been myself.

This week, I’m beginning a Wednesday feature on NetNewsCheck called “Reinventing Local Media,” the title of my books. This publication is more focused on my old business — broadcasting — and thus more in line with the industry I hope to influence. Broadcasting is in trouble, which is the theme of tomorrow’s first piece.

I’m also reactivating The Pomo Blog, because there are many other thoughts and ideas I wish to express. It’s odd, but the older you get, the less you realize you actually know, and that provides a license to speak with a certain boldness. Culture in the West is confused and burned out, and it’s pretty clear that our leadership isn’t doing much in the way of leading. We need to reinvent “government of the people,” and I have as much to say about that as I do media.

I’ve also discovered, as I’ve gotten older, that the line between one with integrity and one who screams “Get off my lawn” is very, very thin. I hope you’ll enjoy discoveries like these and more as I reopen the door with a sincere “welcome.”