Three FCC commissioners shared the stage for the panel Raining 3s: A Q&A with FCC commissioners O'Rielly, Carr and Starks. Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, introduced commissioners Michael O’Rielly, Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks, describing the panel as “unusually important.”
Rick Kaplan, NAB executive VP of legal and regulatory affairs, moderated the panel. He brought up ownership of TV stations, and Carr emphasized the importance of getting out and about to see how ownership groups operate. He said ownership rules were scripted when the morning paper and evening newscast represented the extent of local news voices. “The market you all compete in today is vastly different,” he said, singling out Pandora, Spotify and the “Silicon Valley giants” as prominent competitors to local TV. “We’re mindful of the tremendous competition you are facing.”
Without singling out any groups, Starks mentioned massive local broadcast corporations writing news scripts to be shared throughout the group, and the country, and lamented the lack of localism in those cases.
He said that, with over 1,300 TV stations nationwide, 102 are owned by women, 62 by Latinos, 12 by African-Americans and 10 by Asians. “Diversity in media ownership is something that’s become critically important to me,” he said, calling it “deeply troubling” when station ownership does not reflect our nation.
Starks cited access to capital as an issue for minority ownership, and access to opportunity as well.
O'Rielly talked up a new program designed to bring more minority owners into radio. “We have an incubator program on the radio side," he pointed out, adding: "How do we do it on the TV side?”
Carr cited the struggles newspaper owners are going through, and how a tweak to newspaper-station ownership rules years back might have aided those players. “It’s really incumbent on us to update our rules, to understand the marketplace,” he said. With Carr's support and vote, the FCC lifted the prohibition on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in November 2017.
TV station sales were lively in 2018, Starks said, noting how they outpaced sales in 2017. “This is still a nice, robust business,” he said.
Kaplan brought up the post-incentive auction TV station repack; O’Rielly said he is “generally pleased with where things are at the moment.” The next phase of that repack is scheduled to be completed next week.
Carr pointed out that he had climbed a broadcast tower in Rowena, S.D., and how he had developed a new appreciation for what the tower teams accomplish.
On to the incentive auction, which Carr said he thought was a success. O’Rielly noted that the demand for mid-band spectrum is “off the charts.”
O’Rielly saluted FCC chairman Ajit Pai for clamping down on pirate radio. He talked about politicians advertising on unlicensed radio, saying “that’s not acceptable behavior.” He also stressed that broadcasters don’t need a government mandate in terms of their Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) efforts. “The vast majority of broadcasters are doing a wonderful job,” he said.
As the panel wound down, each commissioner saluted broadcasters for their efforts when extreme weather and other calamities hit their communities. “In times of crisis, no one stands up bigger than the broadcaster,” said O’Rielly.
Carr noted how ruthlessly stations compete against each other, yet how they work together when it comes to covering these crises. “Hopefully you’ll find the FCC a good partner in those efforts,” he said.