Is the release of the long-awaited Future of Media Report at hand? Since January 2010, the FCC has been studying the Future of Media, a study conducted by a Special Advisor to the FCC Chairman who was appointed in November 2009. The study was to provide important research and analysis of how broadcasting and other
On February 8, 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. While the Act had significant impact throughout the communications industry, the impact on broadcasters was profound, and is still being debated. The Act made changes for broadcasters in several major areas:
- Lengthened license renewals to 8 years for both radio and TV, and eliminated the "comparative renewal"
- For radio, eliminated all national caps on the number of radio stations in which one party could have an attributable interest and increased to 8 stations the number one party could own in the largest radio markets
- For television, raised national ownership caps to having stations that reached no more than 35% of the national audience, with no limits on the number of stations that could be owned as long as their reach was under that cap.
- Allocated spectrum that resulted in the DTV transition
Obviously, the DTV spectrum began the profound changes in the way television is broadcast, and led to the current debate as to whether over-the-air television should be further cut back in order to promote wireless broadband (see our recent post on the FCC’s current proceeding on this issue). While the other changes have now been in effect for 15 years, the debate over these provisions continue. Some argue that the renewal and ownership modifications have created too much consolidation in the broadcast media and lessened the broadcaster’s commitment to serving the public interest. Others argue that, in the current media world, these changes don’t go far enough. Broadcasters are under attack from many directions, as new competitors fight for local audiences (often with minimally regulated multi-channel platforms, such as those delivered over the Internet) and others attack broadcasters principal financial support – their advertising revenue. Even local advertising dollars, traditionally fought over by broadcasters and newspapers (with some competition from billboards, direct mail and local cable), is now under assault from services such as Groupon and Living Social, and from other new media competitors of all sorts. With the debated continuing on these issues in the current day, it might be worth a few looking back at the 1996 changes for broadcasters, and their impact on the current broadcast policy debate.
What will be the issues that broadcasters need to be concerned about in next year’s Media Ownership proceeding? To get a clue, broadcasters should watch and listen to the second day of the FCC workshop on multiple ownership, featuring members of various public interest groups in Washington the week before last (watch it on the FCC website, here). These workshops, as we wrote here, were held to start the process on the Commission’s upcoming Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules. The representatives who testified on this panel discussed the issues that they thought should be reviewed, and facts that they thought should be collected, in order for the Commission to successfully complete the ownership review required by Congress. As these Washington "insiders" are sure to be the ones filing comments in the proceeding and lobbying the Commission on the issues, the agenda of these organizations are likely to set the grounds for debate in the upcoming proceeding. From watching this hearing, there are bound to be a number of contentious issues that will come up.
The panel was made up of representatives of five different Washington public interest groups – four that tend to favor more regulation and less consolidation. The representative of the fifth organization, suggesting just the opposite – that in the new media world, little or no media ownership regulation is necessary. While much of the discussion was process-oriented, there was discussion of specific issues that might come up in the review. Both the process – which included extensive discussion of the need for detailed industry information for informed regulation to take place – and the substance could cause problems for broadcasters. Substantive issues discussed included the need for more scrutiny of shared services agreements in the television world (as some saw these as a way of evading the FCC ownership regulations), and for ways to insure that there is more local programming as part of the process. One representative also mentioned the need to review noncommercial broadcasting as part of the ownership proceeding – which is usually restricted to a review of commercial operations.
The FCC, after taking two years off, is looking to finish their field hearings on Localism by scheduling a hearing in Portland, Maine on June 29. This hearing is not one of the six hearings to discuss possible new multiple ownership rules, but instead a continuation of the hearings started by Chairman Powell after public controversy over the 2003 multiple ownership rules. In an ironic twist of fate, this public notice was released on the Friday before the National Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation hosts their Service to America Awards Dinner to honor broadcasters and the public service commitment that they have to their communities. Thus, while the FCC is looking in the hinterlands for evidence of the responsiveness of the broadcast industry to the needs of their listeners, some of the best evidence of that service was on display some 12 blocks from the FCC’s headquarters.
The Localism hearings were part of a larger proceeding begun in response to the controversy after the 2003 multiple ownership rules. When the Democratic Commissioners, Congressional legislators from both parties, and a variety of citizen’s groups from across the political spectrum complained about how the public’s input was not sought before the rules were adopted, the FCC tried to respond to some of those complaints by putting out a Notice of Inquiry on Localism. The proceeding was to assess how well broadcasters were serving their communities, and the Notice asked for public comment on a grab bag of issues including the following:
- whether a broadcaster’s public interest obligations should be quantified (bringing back obligations abolished in the 1980s that required specific amounts of the programming of broadcast stations to be devoted to news and public affairs programming),
- should broadcasters be required to play specific amounts of local music,
- is payola a major issue,
- whether more programming should be devoted to political campaigns,
- whether the voices of minorities were being heard on the airwaves.
- if the FCC should authorize more LPFM stations and take other steps to make airtime available to new entrants