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Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

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FCC Disconnect at the NAB Show

FCC Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein took shots at big media during last week's NAB show. And both endorsed the Public Interest, Public Initiative coalition, a collection of anti-consolidation groups that believe big owners are stifling platforms for diverse opinions. The organization wants the FCC to force broadcasters to air at least three hours a week of "civic or educational affairs" programming.

Copps slammed stations, charging that local coverage of elections is "just plain pathetic." Adelstein seconded that opinion but called coverage "pitiful."

The FCC is currently mulling what additional obligations should be tied to digital broadcasting, if any. On that issue, Copps said the FCC has a "bad case of lockjaw."

All the FCC commissioners, though, weren't on the same page on digital must-carry and public-interest requirements. Sorting out privileges and obligations for broadcasters in the digital age is a "chicken-and-egg" question, FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said at the show. Public-interest obligations "are very different if [broadcasters] get must-carry rights," she told a gathering. "It's hard to separate the two issues."

But Commissioner Kevin Martin argued that deciding the must-carry issue—not public-interest fine points—is the real deal.

Swan Song for Preston

After 18 years, Frances Preston, one of the greats of the broadcasting business, will leave her post as president of Broadcast Music Inc. in August, replaced by Del Bryant. John Cody will continue as chief operating officer of BMI, which represents some 300,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers and negotiates music rights with various media outlets.

And Then...

In Washington last week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association complained that the National Association of Broadcasters' proposed plan for speeding the digital transition is just a "recycled version of persistent efforts to impose dual multicast carriage requirements on cable operators." Central to that plan is getting the FCC to require cable to carry any and all digital services it will broadcast.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, NAB President Eddie Fritts called out Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and the "cable cartel" for not agreeing to carry broadcasters' full DTV signal. "Tear down that wall! Stop blocking consumer access to the best TV pictures the world has ever seen," he said.

Viacom Upside

Viacom reported zesty first-quarter numbers and repeated predictions of a strong 2004 upfront season. For the quarter, the media giant logged revenues of $6.77 billion, up 12% from a year ago. Net income was $710.5 million, up substantially from $443.1 million at the same time a year ago. Those results were helped by a tax-audit benefit that added $141 million. Among divisions, the big winner was the TV unit, with operating income up 38% to $335.7 million; cable was up 24% to $535.5 million.

Corrections

Hispanics make up a 24% share of San Diego's population, while Asians account for only 5%. A chart on the Feb. 23 Market Focus had the two numbers reversed.

Omneon servers will be installed at every PBS station that wants them. In the April 19 issue, the Technology Leadership profile of Larry Kaplan suggested that all PBS stations would be required to get them.

The April 5 Two Cents excerpted a "column" by Salon.com and New York Observer writer Joe Conason. He informs us that was a Salon.com April Fools' Day parody written by someone else. Fooled us!

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