Tongue-in-Cheek Take on Telecom 2004


The 2004 actions of media companies and personalities provided plenty of fodder for comic comment. At least that's the take of Blair Levin, Washington media and telecommunications analyst for Legg Mason, who capitalized on a rich vein of material in his year-end “awards” for "Inspirational Telecom/Media Values."

For “Person of the Year” Levin passed over President Bush, the earnest choice of Time, for Howard Stern.

The Viacom shock jock announced plans to leave broadcast radio when his contract runs out next year to join the lightly regulated world of satellite radio. The $500 million pay package dangled by Sirius helped remove any lingering doubts about bolting to the fledgling company. Stern, Levin notes, scored a "trifecta" by making hundreds of millions, raising Sirius' value by billions, and escaping FCC regulation.

Some other “winners” were:

The Rolex Award: Comcast, for timing brilliance, after announcing its hostile bid to acquire Disney on Feb. 11, the same day (and in the same city) that the federal appeals court in Philadelphia heard arguments in the legal fight over FCC media consolidation rules.

The Houdini Award: National Association of Broadcasters, which pulled $500 million in Nextel cash out of a hat by convincing the cell phone provider to compensate TV stations' for some special channels they use to send remote news feeds back to their studios. Stations would have been required to give up the channels anyway, but Nextel will pay a sweetener to make sure its phone business gets those frequencies after broadcasters give them up.

The Janus Award (named for the two-faced Roman god): The Super Bowl halftime show and the resulting hysteria over Janet Jackson's breast. "The most complained-about and the most Tivo'ed minute [the "reveal" was actually less than a second] in television history” revealed America's two faces," said Levin and company.

The Janet Jackson/Bono Award. "We'd love to tell you, but FCC rules forbid it. But trust us, it is really, really funny."

The Stolen Honor Award: Sinclair Broadcast Group for ordering its ABC affiliates to preempt a Veteran's Day airing of Saving Private Ryan, "memorializing the day instead with such offerings as “Hoosiers, Father of the Bride 2 and paid advertising."

The Nostradamus Award For Boldest Prediction: President Bush talking about his broadband policy to a rural Texas audience: "There's not a lot of wires out here, but wireless technology is going to change all that."