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Capital Watch - Broadcasting & Cable

Capital Watch

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Beneficial Backlash

The indecency backlash could pay off for minorities and women who want to break into the broadcasting business. FCC threats to revoke TV and radio licenses from egregious offenders of anti-indecency rules would give a few more stations to those often locked out of station ownership. An FCC-sponsored panel of industry execs and activists urged the government to preserve, and perhaps expand, its dormant "distress sale" policy. It allows station operators to sell out to minority buyers, rather than be stripped of the license for major-league rule violations. Distress sales permitted a handful of minority owners to acquire stations in the 1980s.

Data Crunch

When it comes to media companies, the FCC is supposed to decide out how big is too big. To know where to draw that line, the agency each year asks companies to count their subscribers and what services they buy. Now the FCC wants more data to evaluate "horizontal" concentration: for instance, Comcast's share of cable subscribers. It also wants data on "vertical" integration: the extent to which News Corp. can dominate the business by combining the reach of its TV stations, DBS business, and cable networks. Media companies are now being asked to detail their cross-ownership holdings. Also being examined: the prospects for new owners to get into the business, factors that help or hurt competition, and the effect of competition on industry groups and consumers. Providing data is voluntary, and results have been spotty. But the FCC is considering making participation mandatory. The toughened stance pleases FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, who complain that the FCC has insufficient information to judge the impact of industry trends on prices and availability of programming. Says Copps: "Our analysis can only be as good as the data going into it,"

Green TV

Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., wants to give tax breaks to TV and computer makers that set up recycling programs for old sets and monitors. Why? The switch to DTV threatens to overload landfills with lead-lined screens and other hazards. Cunningham says he prefers tax incentives rather than the government fees on screen purchases that some lawmakers have suggested: "Manufacturers will respond to the incentives immediately by investing in production facilities for more efficient products."

(Non)-Scream Machine

Former presidential hopeful Howard Dean surprised broadcasters last week with this amazing revelation: The scream that ended his campaign "never happened." More than 900 airings of his wild Iowa caucus concession speech on TV convinced many Americans he suffered a manic meltdown. But Dean insists he was merely shouting over his raucous supporters. Noise-canceling mikes removed crowd noise from the video, making his shout-out seem nutty to those who weren't in the room. Dean lamented to a National Association of Broadcasters confab that the networks did not capture the true spirit of the speech. None of the pool reporters who actually heard the speech mentioned the scream initially, he noted. Only when editors saw it the next day did "the scream become a story." He blames "Murdochized" cable news networks for the snafu. Fox News Channel head Roger Ailes "is so incredibly good at what he does" that CNN and other news outlets simply "copy what Fox does." Even though broadcasters carried the speech, too, Dean politely suggested they were playing catch-up and urged local stations to set their own agendas.

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