John McCain wants to unbundle cable and to stop broadcasters like CBS and Fox from moving their stations to pay TV. The Arizona senator right now on the Senate floor is introducing The TV Consumer Freedom Act of 2013 (read it here). The legislation is intended to “allow the consumer, the television viewer who subscribes to cable, to have à la carte capability. In other words, not required to buy a whole bunch of channels that that consumer may not want wish to subscribe to,” McCain said moments ago. The former GOP Presidential candidate also went after broadcasters like CBS and Fox who have said that they could move to cable if they lose in the courts against Barry Diller’s Aereo streaming service. “We’ll also establish consequences if broadcasters choose to downgrade their over-the-air service,” McCain told the Senate. His legislation would also eliminate the sports blackout rule “in events that are held in publicly financed stadiums.”
Related: Big Media Could Win Pyrrhic Victory As They Fight Cable Pricing Bill
The proposal is expected to meet heavy resistance among the cable companies. ”Only Dish and Cablevision have been for a la carte and smaller bundles because we think it’s consumer-friendly”, Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen said during his company’s conference call today. “Having said that, there are five big groups that probably have enough clout in Congress to stop that legislation today. He added that “the marketplace is going to determine” if the price is too high. “There’s an awful lot of people who don’t consume (200 channels)”, he said, “and most of us would like to look for creative solutions”. Read More »
Listen to (and share) Episode 33 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media, as Deadline’s Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom look at earnings-season results for most of the Big Media companies; a worrisome prediction for summer box office bombs just as the summer movie season kicks off; the FCC’s new chairman; and DreamWorks Animation’s new tech acquisition.
Deadline Big Media, Episode 33 (MP3 format)
Deadline Big Media, Episode 33 (MP4a format) Read More »
There was laughter at the White House moments ago when the President, who was also smiling, said he anticipates “a speedy confirmation process.” That may be too much to expect following his nomination of Core Capital Partners’ Tom Wheeler, 67, to be the nation’s chief communications regulator. But the FCC won’t be leaderless once Chairman Julius Genachowski steps down: President Obama designated Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to be Acting Chairwoman until Wheeler’s aboard. Wheeler’s mandate is to make sure that the U.S. is “at the cutting edge” of technological change, promoting “American ingenuity and American innovation,” the President said. Genachowski says that he can “attest to Tom’s commitment to harness the power of communications technology to improve people’s lives, to drive our global competitiveness, and to advance the public interest.”
Related: MPAA Chief Chris Dodd Lauds Wheeler Nomination Read More »
The effort to stop President Obama from tapping his long-time ally appears to have failed: He’s preparing to nominate Core Capital Partners Managing Director Tom Wheeler to replace Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing “two people familiar with the matter.” Four years ago Wheeler ran Obama’s transition effort for science, technology, space and arts agencies. He also lobbied for the cable industry from 1979-1984 when he was president of the National Cable Television Association, and then represented wireless phone companies as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Wheeler’s status as an early favorite for the FCC job seemed to fade this month when Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller launched an effort to elevate Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — formerly the committee’s Senior Communications Counsel. Rockefeller and 36 other senators told Obama in a letter last month that Rosenworcel “understands and respects the relationship between the FCC and Congress.” Rockefeller also has been critical of Wheeler’s background. “A lobbyist is a lobbyist,” the senator told reporters. But an odd-bedfellows coalition of public interest advocates and business people rallied behind Wheeler. Public Knowledge CEO Gigi Sohn says that he “will not allow the FCC to become irrelevant as broadband becomes the dominant mode of communication in this country.” Another activist group, Free Press, is less confident. Wheeler does not appear to be willing to use the … Read More »
UPDATE, 7:32 AM: I misread the Murdoch family voting plan and want to clarify. The group will participate — but only up to 39.4% of the total after factoring out the disqualified ballots from non-U.S. citizens. The cap was spelled out in the company’s proxy last September.
PREVIOUS, 5:51 AM: The meeting will take place in NYC’s Citi Auditorium and News Corp shareholders of record as of April 19 will be able to vote, the company says this morning in SEC filings. The process may be a little complicated, though. The decision to split into two companies — one with mostly entertainment assets and the other focused on publishing — involves the transfer of 29 U.S. television station licenses. “Under U.S. federal law, no broadcast station licensee may be owned by a corporation if more than 25% of that corporation’s stock is owned or voted by non-U.S. stockholders if the Federal Communications Commission finds that the public interest will be served by the refusal or revocation of the license,” News Corp says. It has asked the FCC to let non-U.S. shareholders vote on all of the bylaw changes regarding the split but hasn’t received a response yet. If there’s no ruling by the voting date, or the FCC rejects News Corp’s request, then the company will suspend the votes of non-U.S. shareholders. Australia-born CEO Rupert Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in 1985. He and … Read More »
Normally an expletive uttered on live television would trigger FCC scrutiny and potential fines. But in the wake of the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt FCC chairman Julius Genachowski made a rare exception. Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz slipped an f-bomb into an speech broadcast live before Saturday’s home game against the Kansas City Royals. “This is our f—ing city, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedom”, he said. Genachowski later Tweeted from the verified FCC account: @FCC: David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston – Julius.
The unusual, high-level campaigning to sway President Obama’s choice for a new FCC chairman just intensified with the release of a letter from an odd-bedfellow collection of advocates in support of Core Capital Partners Managing Director Tom Wheeler. “We know Tom well,” says the letter signed by 11 policy specialists including Susan Crawford, a former Obama policy adviser who recently wrote a book highly critical of Comcast, and Decker Anstrom, a former member of the Comcast board. “We have seen up close his strength of will. He will have an open mind and an intelligent take on the challenges that will confront the new Chairman.” The letter would have seemed like overkill a few weeks ago: Wheeler — who ran Obama’s transition effort for science, technology, space and arts agencies –seemed to have the inside track for the job as Julius Genachowski prepares to move on. But Wheeler’s prospects seemed to fade a few weeks ago when Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller launched an effort to elevate Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — formerly the committee’s Senior Communications Counsel. Rockefeller and 36 other senators told Obama in a letter last month that Rosenworcel “understands and respects the relationship between the FCC and Congress.” Rockefeller also has been critical of Wheeler’s background running the National Cable Television Association and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). “A lobbyist is a lobbyist,” the senator told reporters this week. Many believe that it’s time for the … Read More »
Sinclair continues its TV station buying spree today by snapping up Fisher, a TV and radio power in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Sinclair’s stock is up 5.8% this morning to the highest levels investors have seen in more than a decade after it agreed to pay $373.3M, or $41 a share, for Fisher. That’s a 44% premium to Fisher’s trading price before January 10 when it said it would explore “strategic alternatives,” effectively putting itself on the block. Fisher shares are up 4.6% this morning, and more than 50% since the beginning of 2013. Fisher’s 20 TV stations, which reach 3.9% of the country, include ABC affiliates in Seattle and Portland, OR; CBS stations in Spokane, Boise, and Eugene; the NBC outlet in Eugene; and Fox, Univision, and CW affiliates. “We are excited to acquire Fisher and expand our coverage westward, especially in the two key markets of Seattle and Portland,” Sinclair CEO David Smith says. Read More »
Charles Furness Stars In BBC’s ‘The Whale’
Charles Furness stars as Nantucket seafarer Thomas Nickerson and Jonas Armstrong plays first mate Owen Chase in The Whale, based on a tale that inspired Herman Melville’s 1851 classic Moby Dick. The BBC One and Discovery drama will be told through the eyes of cabin boy Nickerson who, at 14, was the youngest member of the crew after his ship was sunk by a whale in 1820. The Whale is executive produced by Eamon Hardy and Ruth Caleb and Mike Dormer and John Chapman are producing. Filming begins this week in Malta. Read More »
BREAKING…This would be a nuclear option for News Corp, which owns 27 TV stations and serves dozens of affiliates. But the company COO’s threat to take Fox off the public airwaves — made today at the NAB annual confab in Las Vegas — suggests how deeply concerned broadcast moguls are about the possibility that they might lose their legal battle against Aereo, and how much that could undermine their ability to extract retransmission consent fees from cable and satellite providers. Aereo uses tiny antennas to capture broadcasters’ over-the-air signals which it then streams to local subscribers. It does so without TV stations’ permission, and without paying them a dime. Broadcasters say that violates their copyrights. But last week a U.S. Appeals Court rejected the industry’s plea to shutter Aereo during the trial over that claim. What’s more, it seemed to favor Aereo’s counterargument that it simply rents antennas, enabling customers to watch transmissions already available to them for free.
If Aereo prevails — and cable and satellite companies decide that they, too, can retransmit broadcast signals for free — then Carey says “We have no choice but to develop business solutions that ensure we continue to remain in the driver’s seat of our own destiny. One option could be converting the Fox broadcast network to a pay channel, which we would do in collaboration with both our content partners and affiliates.” News Corp-owned stations collected about $308M in retransmission consent fees last year, SNL Kagan estimates. That’s up 20% vs 2011 and accounted for about 19% of their total revenues. Read More »
The FCC is revisiting its broadcast indecency policies to determine if changes are needed or if the rules should remain as is. In a notice posted today on the regulatory agency’s website, the FCC said it wants to ensure that its enforcement of indecency rules is “fully consistent with vital First Amendment principles” following last year’s Supreme Court ruling that its enforcement of indecency rules was too vague. The FCC is seeking comments on whether it should shift the focus of its enforcement to egregious cases such as a deliberate and repetitive use of expletives and whether isolated flashes of nudity should be treated the same as or differently than isolated expletives. The FCC also said it has reduced the backlog of indecency complaints by 70%, down by more than 1 million, since last September. Many of the complaints, the agency said, were beyond the statute of limitations or too stale to pursue.
Related: FCC Chief Resignation Prompts Succession Speculation
Listen to (and share) episode 28 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media With David Lieberman as our Executive Editor and host David Bloom look at changes at the top of the Federal Communications Commission and what it means for the business of cable TV, broadband and wireless; a new No. 2 in the global film business and how that may change the film business; whether Hollywood is making enough family-friendly fare for the exhibition business; and if Angry Birds can disrupt with media business with an online cartoon.
Deadline Big Media, Episode 28 (MP3 format)
Deadline Big Media, Episode 28 (MP4A format) Read More »
Julius Genachowski just officially confirmed reports that he will leave “in the coming weeks.” That has those who follow FCC matters wondering who President Obama will name as a successor — and whether that person will share Genachowski’s belief that the Internet should be cultivated as the nation’s chief communications medium. The smart money is betting on Tom Wheeler, who’s Managing Director of Core Capital Partners and is close to the president. Four years ago he ran Obama’s transition effort for science, technology, space and arts agencies. Wheeler lobbied for the cable industry from 1979 to 1984 when he was president of the National Cable Television Association, and then represented wireless phone companies as CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Close behind in the speculation is Larry Strickling, who’s Administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and helped to manage the Recovery Act’s broadband grants. Another possibility: Karen Kornbluh, who’s Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Read More »
Robert McDowell announced yesterday that he would be leaving the five-member commission and now it appears the other shoe is about to drop. Republican McDowell’s announcement was widely believed to be a precursor to an announcement that Chairman Julius Genachowski also would be stepping down and now The Wall St. Journal, citing an FCC and industry official, reports that Genachowski is set to announce tomorrow that he is exiting as well. Genachowski’s office declined to comment. Genachowski’s departure would still leave the Democrats retaining the majority with two seats (Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel). Genachowski was appointed to the commission in 2009 by President Barack Obama. Both replacements require Senate confirmation.
The GOP commissioner made the announcement at today’s open meeting, but didn’t say what he’ll do after he departs. The development is consistent with the widespread belief that his departure, after seven years on the commission, is a precursor to an announcement that Chairman Julius Genachowski also will move on. Once McDowell is out, the thinking goes, Genachowski’s departure would still leave the Democrats retaining the majority with two seats (Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel) vs. one (Ajit Pai). McDowell often opposed Genachowski’s initiatives including ones to establish net neutrality regulations, and favored moves to relax ownership rules on broadcasters. Yet Genachowski today lauded McDowell as “essential to major FCC achievements like the landmark reform of universal service and intercarrier compensation, and many steps to unleash spectrum.” National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith praised “his ardent support for fair media ownership rules and full-throated support for a vibrant First Amendment.” But activist group Free Press, which often was at odds with McDowell’s views, urged him to “reject the revolving door” and asked President Obama to nominate a Republican “who is not simply another cheerleader for the biggest businesses and media monopolists.”
Sinclair Broadcast Group‘s shares are up about 1.6% in after-market trading after it announced its second major station deal this week — part of an effort to boost its presence in small markets — and a side pact to sell stations to a new firm owned by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams. The latest acquisition includes 18 stations owned by Barrington Broadcasting, with an additional agreement to either operate or provide services to six other stations. The 24 stations reach 3.4% of the country and include affiliates for all of the major networks including NBC outlets in Flint, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; and Syracuse, NY. Sinclair says it expects the deal to close in Q2, following FCC and antitrust approval. It will take out bank loans or access capital markets to pay for the stations. On Tuesday, Sinclair agreed to pay $95M for four outlets owned by Cox Media. Read More »
Free Press CEO Craig Aaron is ringing alarm bells today after the broadcast and newspaper power — which just emerged from bankruptcy — hired a new general counsel: Edward Lazarus, who was FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s chief of staff, overseeing policy development and implementation, strategic planning, and agency management. “He may be just the latest to take a spin through the revolving door, but that doesn’t make his move any less nauseating,” Aaron says. Public interest advocates are souring on the FCC chief as he leads efforts to relax media ownership rules — including one that Tribune wants that would make it easier for a company to own a TV station and major newspaper in the same community. A proposal Genachowski circulated would put the burden on the FCC to show why it should block a cross-ownership arrangement in the 20 largest markets. That appears to be tailor-made for Rupert Murdoch who has kicked the tires at The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune — two cities where Fox also owns TV stations. Tribune CEO Peter Liguori says that Lazarus “has an incredibly sharp mind, broad legal experience, and he played an important role at the FCC,” adding that he’s “the perfect fit as our general counsel.” Prior to working at the FCC, the Yale Law School grad clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, and chaired the national litigation steering committee for Akin Gump Strauss … Read More »
A coalition of broadcasters, wireless providers, and chip makers Thursday urged the FCC to adopt guidelines to minimize potential conflict between broadcasters and wireless companies as the agency strives to cope with rising stress on bandwidth. Because of ever-increasing demand for mobile devices, the FCC proposed in September that broadcasters voluntarily give up some of their allotted bandwidth in exchange for a share of the proceeds when that bandwidth is auctioned to wireless broadband providers. The National Association of Broadcasters initially worried that broadcasters in smaller markets would be more likely to give up spectrum than those in urban markets. But it has turned out that a number of broadcasters in larger markets are willing to sell spectrum rights. Coalition goals cover a range of technical issues that are intended to protect TV and wireless signals against interference from each other and for minimum and maximum size specifications for individual segments of spectrum. The coalition also specifically calls for the FCC to expedite spectrum coordination with Canada and Mexico. In addition to NAB coalition members include Intel, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Qualcomm. You can read a copy of the coalition letter here.