The FCC’s Media Bureau gave Tribune a permanent waiver so it can continue to own a TV station and newspaper in Chicago, and temporary ones so it can ignore the government’s cross-ownership restrictions in New York, Los Angeles, South Florida and Hartford. The decisions “will enable the company to continue moving forward toward emergence from Chapter 11, a process we expect to complete over the course of the next several weeks,” CEO Eddy Hartenstein says. It also could set a precedent if News Corp — which also owns TV stations in LA and Chicago — decides to buy the Los Angeles Times or Chicago Tribune. Tribune owns 23 TV stations and eight newspapers, and would like to sell some assets to stabilize its finances. Rupert Murdoch is intrigued by the possibility of picking up some major newspapers once News Corp splits its publishing operation off into a separate, publicly traded company.
That long-debated question on Wall Street took on new urgency today after Bernstein Research’s Craig Moffett bet that the companies will make a deal, and that it will be approved by the FCC and antitrust officials. This morning he raised his target stock price for each company by $9 (to $72 for DirecTV and $37 for Dish) “to reflect the increased probability of a merger.” Why now? Dish seems to have leverage over the FCC, which wants to promote competition in broadband and telephony more than it wants to block media mergers. Charlie Ergen’s company has been amassing wireless spectrum that “offers the prospect of either a fixed wireless broadband network to compete with cable, or, alternatively, a new competitor for mobile wireless to compete with Verizon and AT&T,” Moffett says. “Either would be a tremendous regulatory (and political) win” for the government. By year-end regulators likely will help their cause, and Ergen’s, by giving Dish permission to use its spectrum for terrestrial services. But the approval will include a timetable requiring Dish to deploy its services quickly. That gives Ergen the opportunity to tell regulators that he’ll proceed — but only if they enable Dish to combine with DirecTV, Cost savings and other benefits could amount to $3.5B a year, which Moffett says is “a staggering sum.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the now-infamous 2002 Billboard Awards where an “f-bomb” in Cher’s acceptance speech triggered a long, drawn-out legal battle between the FCC and the broadcast networks. It reached all the way to the Supreme Court, which rendered a decision in May that didn’t strike down the FCC’s authority to go after so-called fleeting expletives (though it questioned to what extent the agency wants to crack down on racy content on broadcast television.) Will the FCC use its power again after actor Tom Hanks also uttered the f-word on live TV, during a segment this morning on Good Morning America.
In his defense, Hanks was prompted by host Elizabeth Vargas to show off the accent he uses in the sci-fi movie Cloud Atlas he was there to promote and was reluctant, noting that he mostly used the accent for curse words in the film. When Vargas persisted, he did a few lines and sure enough, an f-bomb slipped through, leading to profuse on-air apologies by him and Vargas. ABC News quickly issued a statement on the accident, calling Hanks’ use of expletive “accidental” and noting that “the show was corrected for all subsequent feeds”. With the Internet it’s hard to hide such blunders, though, with a clip featuring the unedited ‘f-bomb’ making the rounds this morning. (Check it out below.)
The FCC voted unanimously to allow cable companies such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to encrypt basic services, Bloomberg reported. Prior to the ruling issued late Friday, cable companies encrypted premium cable programming but were barred from scrambling …
Cable companies are no longer required to sell the cable channels they own to competitors, such as satellite broadcasters, following a decision today by the Federal Communications Commission that allowed program access rules to expire. Until now, cable companies have been required to sell the must-have channels to competitors on reasonable terms. Now, competitors will have to file individual complaints if they feel a cable operator is unfairly denying access. DirecTV, Dish Network, AT&T and Verizon Communications are among those who had urged the FCC to extend the rule, the Wall Street Journal reports. Google agreed, arguing that large cable companies have an incentive to block access to regional sports channels to stifle competition. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other large cable operators disagreed, saying the rules had become obsolete now that the pay-TV market had become more competitive. American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka issued the following statement in response to the decision.
UPDATE, 12:40 PM: NAB chief Gordon Smith warns that the FCC may be disappointed by the number of TV stations that will volunteer to give up their spectrum. “If there’s a stampede coming, we don’t hear any hooves,” he says. And the FCC probably won’t be interested in the rural stations that are most likely to be interested in a payout from an auction. The need for spectrum for wireless broadband “is an urban concern, not a rural concern. Oregon, where I’m from, will never run out of spectrum.” The NAB will cooperate with the FCC as it enters what Smith says is “uncharted territory.” But the trade group will try to ensure that stations aren’t coerced to participate in the auction. “That remains the focus of our concern.” Since the FCC action follows congressional legislation, the process likely will proceed no mater who wins the presidential election in November.
PREVIOUS, 11:30 AM: The plan has been a long time coming, and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says it’s “a big deal” — although it could result in a bruising fight with broadcasters. The commission today unanimously endorsed a notice of proposed rulemaking that would enable broadcasters to voluntarily give up some of the airwave spectrum that they currently use, and share in the
Welcome to the pay TV world, Google. The mighty search company startled a lot of people in cable when it announced its Google Fiber TV and Internet service in Kansas City. The fiber optic service, launched in July, offers consumers broadband speeds of 1 Gb per second, far faster than cable’s typical 5 Mb per second. How could cable and its allies fight that? Google provided a clue today in a letter disclosing what it told several FCC staffers yesterday: They discussed “the importance of being able to provide customers with access to must-have live regional sports programming and the difficulty of obtaining this programming.”
The Obama administration has dropped efforts to collect a $28,000 fine from Fox Television Stations for a 2003 reality TV episode that featured pixilated images of strippers, the Wall Street Journal …
Consumer advocates say that this pretty much ends prospects that cable and phone companies will vigorously compete in wired and wireless broadband. But government officials believe they extracted enough compromises from the companies to resolve antitrust concerns and protect the public interest. The Justice Department filed a consent decree to let Verizon pay close to $4B to a consortium of cable companies led by Comcast for some airwave spectrum they control, as the erstwhile competitors also strike a series of agreements to develop products and cross-market each other’s services. The FCC also is teed up to endorse the deal; Chairman Julius Genachowski said he will circulate an order based on the consent decree to be approved by the full commission.
A minor victory this afternoon for those who’d like to see television stations disclose on the Web the same information about political ad sales that they already have to make public on paper. The U.S. Court of …