Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

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On Your Mark…

The FCC's new broadcast-ownership rules will take effect Sept. 4 if the Federal Register
sticks with its plan to publish the text of changes in its Aug. 5 edition. The Register provides official public notice of agencies' rule changes. The rules become effective 30 days after appearing in the publication.

Powell Takes Times To Make Case

FCC Chairman Michael Powell defended his agency's relaxation of broadcast-ownership limits in an opinion piece in The New York Times
last week. He took specific aim at congressional efforts to reinstate the 35% cap on one company's national TV-household reach, which his agency upped to 45%. "It is difficult to see exactly how setting a lower cap will improve television," he wrote. "Already, most top sports programming has fled to cable and satellite. Quality prime-time viewing, long the strong suit of free television, has begun to erode, as demonstrated by HBO's 109 Emmy nominations this year.

"Indeed, for the first time ever, cable surpassed free TV in prime-time viewing share last year. If [broadcasters] can reach more of the market, they will be able to better compete with cable and satellite."

Powell dismissed worries that five big media companies have 80% of the TV viewing audience. "Popularity is not synonymous with monopoly. A competitive media marketplace must be our fundamental goal, but do we really want government to regulate what is popular?"

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), sponsor of a bill to reverse the FCC's new rules, called Powell's argument an "absurd" proposition: "I wonder what he had for breakfast?"

Minority Wins Texas Stick

Minority Media TV 38's final bid of $6.8 million was enough to win rights to build a new TV station on ch. 38 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The bid was part of an auction conducted by the FCC that ended Monday. Minority Media is led by John Warren, who owns no other broadcast properties. Warren, who is Hispanic, used a 35% bidding credit that brought his actual bill down to $4.42 million.

Martin Aide Joins White House

Daniel Gonzalez will take on media legal advisory and press duties for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin after special adviser Emily Willeford was tapped to be special assistant to senior White House advisor Karl Rove. Gonzalez, who is also Martin's common-carrier aide, is tackling multiple duties because of Willeford's departure and the maternity leave of media aide Catherine Bohigian. If not for Washington's traditional August siesta, things might be getting hectic in Martin's office, which is also seeking a replacement for former confidential assistant Ginger Clark.

Roberts Wins OK For Two TVs

The FCC Wednesday announced it is ready to grant construction permits for two TV stations auctioned in February 2002. Roberts Broadcasting, which bid $2.5 million for ch. 47 Columbia, S.C., and $1.9 million for ch. 34 Jackson, Miss., has until Aug. 13 to make final payments. Shortly after the auction, Knoxville Channel 25 charged that Roberts owner Michael Roberts failed to disclose that he is a director of Acme Communications, which holds an interest in nine TV stations. Roberts countered that he had resigned the seat before the auction. The FCC found no wrongdoing.

Tauzin Stays Put

Talk that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) might leave to head the Recording Industry Association of America has been put to rest. Mitch Bainwol, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), has been named chairman and chief executive of the group, replacing Hilary Rosen. Now the talk is that Tauzin may leave the House to head the Motion Picture Association of America should Jack Valenti step down.

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