Programming

MAP Proposes New Station-License Category

Media Access Project’s S Class would apply to existing TV stations' digital-multicast channels. 7/29/2008 06:55:00 AM Eastern

Media Access Project is looking to make the S Class an affordable vehicle for diversifying the broadcast business.

No, MAP is not pitching Mercedes-Benz. This S Class would be a new category of station license that would apply to existing TV stations' digital-multicast channels.

The license could be obtained by minorities and others if a station agreed to give up the excess digital spectrum for licensing. The station would be compensated via a baseball-style auction for "use of the main licensee's facilities" to deliver the channel,

MAP president Andrew J. Schwartzman will pitch the plan at a Federal Communications Commission field hearing in New York Tuesday dealing with diversifying media ownership. Schwartzman wants the FCC to separately license each of those digital channels (it does not currently do so) for broadcasters willing to volunteer their spectrum. Those licenses could then go to minorities, women and others underrepresented in media-ownership circles.

The stations would have must-carry rights -- cable operators would have to carry them -- and public-interest obligations.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has proposed allowing small and distressed businesses (which could include women and minorities) to lease digital spectrum and program the channels, which would also get must-carry rights.

Schwartzman said the key difference is that the MAP plan (similar to one it offered up in 1995) requires the licensing of the digital subchannels, with the caveat that the S Class license holder would have to lease back spectrum to the main station if it needed the capacity to broadcast HD content, up to six hours per day.

Another condition would be that no more than 50% of the broadcast day on the S Class station could be devoted to "commercial matter."

Whether that is an economic model that would attract financing -- another goal of the FCC's field hearing in New York -- remains to be seen.

Martin's plan was slammed by Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Rainbow/PUSH Coalition founder the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a form of "media sharecropping" since minorities would only get to lease the spectrum. Schwartzman said this is different since "it gives them an asset that is finite and in their control."

The FCC last December adopted a number of measures to try to boost the participation of women and minorities. Because of concerns about affirmative-action policies struck down by the court, the commission adopted a broad definition of "designated entity" that applies to all small business.

It is a definition FCC critics said is too broad and does not ensure that the help gets to those who need it -- women and minorities. Democratic commissioner Michael Copps opined that "the real beneficiaries will be small businesses owned by white men."

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