Many broadcasters, both television and radio, have been running the NAB spots on the Future of Television.  Those spots contain a description of the service available from local television stations and the new technologies that over-the-air television are in the process of deploying, and end with the suggestion that the Future of Broadcast Television lies in "technology not regulation from Washington DC."  Obviously, these ads are geared to address some of the many legislative and administrative issues facing TV broadcasters – including the proposals to take back some of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband uses.  Given that these spots could be arguably be seen as addressing Federal issues, to be safe, they should be identified as issue ads in stations’ public inspection files, and appropriate information about those spots should be placed in the files.

The NAB, in announcing the availability of these spots, suggested this same precaution.  We’ve written before about issue ads, and the need to place notations in the public file about these ads. For instance, when stations ran ads on the broadcast performance royalty, we suggested that same treatment (and proponents of the royalty complained that broadcasters might not be making such notations).  What needs to go in the public file?  As the issues are Federal ones (as opposed to state and local issues that have lesser disclosure obligations), the requirements are similar to those that apply to political candidates. 


Continue Reading Is Your Station Running the NAB Future of Television Spots? Are You Identifying Them As Issue Ads in Your Public File?

Only a day after asking over-the-air television broadcasters to justify their existence and why some or all of their spectrum should not be reclaimed by the FCC to be used for wireless broadband (and giving interested parties only until December 21 to not only justify their existence, but also to come up with technical means by which the spectrum could be more efficiently used, business plans for their future use of the spectrum, and a survey of the competing needs for that spectrum – see more detail below), the FCC issued another request for comments, asking how current video devices could be made more accommodating to Internet video.  These comments, also due on December 21, seemingly bring consumer electronics manufacturers and multi-channel video providers into the FCC’s rapidly-expanding evaluation of the video industry and its future.  As the comments filed in connection with these two requests will no doubt lead to proposals to be included in the FCC’s February report to Congress on strategies for broadband deployment, these quickly prepared filings could help determine the future of the video industry for the foreseeable future.

The new proceeding, looking for a "plug and play" model of consumer video devices that can access conventional television delivery systems and the Internet, starts with the statement that Internet video is "tremendously popular" and a prediction that, as it expands, new applications for such video will be found.  The Commission says that it sees Internet video as one way of spurring broadband adoption.  How to best promote the plug and play model for consumer video devices that can access the Internet is the crux of the comments that the FCC seeks.  The Commission first asks whether there are currently video devices that allow televisions to view not only the programming provided by multichannel video providers (e.g. cable and satellite), but also Internet video that may be available through an Internet service provided by that same MVPD, stating that it was not aware of such devices.  Next, the Commission asks what would be necessary to develop such devices, and what rules the Commission could adopt to possibly require capabilities in set top boxes and other devices to provide this universal access to video programming of all sorts.  The third area of inquiry from the Commission asks about standards that could be adopted to make Internet video and video from other sources interact with all other home audio and video equipment, including DVRs, to bring about the "digital living room."  And finally the Commission asks what stands in the way of plug and play devices that will work with all networks by which video is delivered.


Continue Reading In Less Than 3 Weeks, Let’s Provide Detailed Analysis on Fundamentally Changing the Television Industry – Comments Sought on Encouraging Internet Video in Addition to Repurposing TV Spectrum

The Commission is worried about the future of the broadcast media, and they are trying to figure out what they can do.  The last two weeks have been full of news about actions being taken by the FCC which may or may not lead to a reshaping of broadcasting as we know it.  We wrote about the discussion of re-purposing some or all of the television spectrum for wireless broadband users.  We also told you about the workshops to be held this week as the first step in the Commission’s Quadrennial review of it multiple ownership rules – looking at whether to allow more media consolidation to help broadcasters compete in the new media landscape or, conversely, whether there should be a reexamination of the existing rules to make them more restrictive against big media.  Last week, the Commission announced two more actions – the appointment of a Senior Advisor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to study "the future of media in a changing technological landscape", and a workshop on "Capitalization Strategies for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses."  What is the impact of all of these actions?

The appointment of the Senior Advisor, Steven Waldman, is perhaps the most interesting action.  Mr. Waldman, the founder of the website Belief.net (recently sold to News Corp), is charged with determining how the FCC can assure that the media will serve the public interest in the 21st century, and that "all Americans receive the information, educational content, and news they seek."  He is instructed to work with all Bureaus to determine how best to implement these ambitious goals.  It is interesting that, while one might be inclined to look at this with the assumption that his charge is to look at broadcasting, the public notice announcing his appointment and his charge does not once use the word "broadcast" or "broadcasting."  Instead, it talks almost exclusively about the new media and technology and the potential that they have for serving the public good.


Continue Reading FCC Senior Advisor to Chairman to Study Media Change and a Workshop on Media Financing for Small Business – Looking to Reinvent the Broadcast Industry?

Last week, President-elect Barack Obama delivered his first weekly radio address since he was elected President.  The broadcast made news, not only for its content, but also because it was streamed on the Internet, particularly on You Tube, but also retransmitted on many other websites.  The fact that the Internet makes such transmissions not only possible, but so easy and so widely available demonstrates one of many reasons why all the worry about the return of the Fairness Doctrine is unwarranted.  With access to so many diverse opinions not only on the radio but also through all of the new technologies, why should the government care that one radio station may not cover all sides of a controversial issue?  If one station does not put on a strongly held viewpoint on an important issue, you can bet that someone who holds that viewpoint will find some way to transmit it to others. 

The return of the Fairness Doctrine has been the great invisible monster in the room since the election – with many commentators, particularly conservative ones, worrying that the Democratic Congress will attempt to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine.  Off-hand comments such as those made by Senator Schumer on Fox News, have fueled this speculation, even though the Obama campaign has specifically rejected such a return.  The Fairness Doctrine is one grounded in scarcity of the electronic spectrum – from the fear that if one side of an issue was allowed to dominate one of the few means of communicating with the population of a community, it would effectively be able to stifle the ability of those with contrasting viewpoints to get their message out.   But, to use a phrase that is becoming increasingly popular – that thinking is so 20th Century.


Continue Reading Obama’s Radio Address is Streamed on the Internet – Demonstrating Why There Need Not Be Any Return of the Fairness Doctrine