Articles about "FCC"

ProPublica asks for help posting TV political ad spending reports online

ProPublica | PEJ’s State of the Media
ProPublica has waded into the debate between the FCC and local TV stations about whether they should be required to put their political ad spending reports online. “We tend to like the idea of public data being online,” writes ProPublica Social Media Editor Daniel Victor. “Since TV stations won’t put it online themselves, we decided to do it ourselves — and we want your help.” He enlisted students at Medill to visit five stations in the Chicago area and copy the reports, which ProPublica uploaded to its site.

As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, less than a day after asking for help to do this at more stations, 48 people in 35 television markets had volunteered. (There are about 210 markets in the country.) Victor told me it’s too early to say if ProPublica will use the reports to create a tool tracking political ad spending across the country. Read more

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FCC study: Cross-ownership may increase some local news

Broadcasting & Cable | FCC
New studies commissioned by the Federal Communications Commission suggest media consolidation has not harmed local news; in some cases, cross-ownership may help. The studies are part of the FCC’s mandate to review media ownership rules. There will be a total of 10 studies, seven of which have now been released. One of the newest studies finds:

“Individual television stations that are cross-owned with newspapers air more local news than comparable stations in the market. However, the television markets that contain these cross-ownership relationships do not air any more (or perhaps air even less) local news programming than comparable markets (presumably due to a reduction in news from the non-cross-owned stations).”

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FCC commissioner: Report lacks bold recommendations needed to support journalism

Federal Communications Commission
FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps criticizes the agency’s “The Information Needs of Communities” report released Thursday, saying it isn’t the “bold response” needed to address the lack of accountability reporting and diversity in local media. “Instead of calling for stepped-up Commission action, it tinkers around the edges,” he writes. His thoughts on the report’s recommendations after the jump. Read more

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FCC media report shows how interest in government subsidies for local journalism fizzled

There is a lot to like in the Federal Communication Commission’s exhaustive, 478-page study of shortfalls and potential solutions in media.

I’m particularly glad Steve Waldman, who oversaw the report, and his collaborators rejected an assortment of false dichotomies. Old vs. new media, professional or citizen reporters, commercial or nonprofit? “Obviously we need both,” the report says.

In a similar spirit, Waldman concludes that the proliferation of digital news outlets “masks a shortage of reporting …This illusion of bounty risks making us passive.”

Good enough. But when Waldman and company get to what the FCC or Congress can do about deteriorating local accountability reporting, they pretty much punt. Better broadband access, favorable tax treatment of news nonprofits, better digital disclosure of government data and regulatory filings — most of it is familiar stuff.

There are a couple of provocative ideas, such as redirecting to local media the massive, $1-billion-a-year federal ad spend for such things as legal notices and military recruiting. But it is not so clear who could make that happen.

Maybe this outcome could have been foretold. In pulling together some background material, I realized it had been. When Waldman posted FCC’s announcement of the project and his appointment to lead it on his blog in October 2009, the first commenter, Charles Cosimano, wrote:

“Good luck playing hopscotch in the bureaucratic minefield that is the FCC. If you look at what they are really saying, it is, ‘We are faced with media that we cannot hope to regulate and we have to find creative ways to explain to various pressure groups that they are wasting their time trying to get us to do the impossible.’”

Over the 18 months since, the notion that the FCC would adopt the report faded, and it was simply presented as an informational study, not necessarily the agency’s view. The title was changed from “The Future of Media” to “The Information Needs of Communities” (echoing an earlier Knight Commission report).

In speeches and a visit to Poynter, Waldman suggested that the FCC’s regulatory power was mainly in broadcast and that the report would tilt that way.

In fact, though, the report gives equal attention to the losses in newspapers’ reporting capacity. And as my colleague Al Tompkins’ account of Thursday’s FCC meeting makes clear, the recommendations for television and radio are small steps forward, too, such as requiring better disclosure of pay-to-play coverage.

How we got here

The federal interest in weakened journalism and its impact on democracy started in May 2009 with a Senate hearing sponsored by John Kerry (D-Mass.) and a smaller event in the House put together by Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). At the time, newspaper advertising was in free fall. The Rocky Mountain News had closed and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had ceased printing, and it seemed quite possible that The Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle would fail.

When the Federal Trade Commission held its initial workshop in December 2009, the backpedaling had already begun. As both a participant and an observer, I was struck by remarks of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who artfully framed the problem but by no means promised government help.

As Leibowitz concisely put it, there remains “an open question whether the changes to newsgathering amount to ‘creative destruction’ or just plain destruction.”

Waxman, personally open to some subsidy to boost local news efforts, complained that there was no consensus within the media community about whether government help would be in the public interest.

That effectively took off the table a proposal, first voiced by Leonard Downie and Michael Schudson in a study for Columbia’s School of Journalism, that a pool of money be set aside and distributed state-by-state as grants to support quality, local reporting.

The discussion had deteriorated further at a subsequent FTC workshop six months later. In the spring of 2010, FTC staff had prepared a draft paper cataloging various recommendations it had heard, including several for direct subsidies. Critics jumped on that, reporting the subsidy idea as the FTC’s own recommendation. The FTC issued a press release complaining of “misinformation” from critics, and one of the FTC commissioners kicked off the workshop by defensively repeating the point.

A year later, the FTC report remains unfinished, release date to be determined.

At those two workshops, several executives of public radio and television argued that if federal money for local reporting would be forthcoming, they should get it because they have an existing infrastructure.

Since then, public broadcasting has come under attack by the Republican-led House and has scrambled to hold on to existing levels of support.

Early on, the Newspaper Association of America said thanks-but-no-thanks to any government funding, citing First Amendment concerns. I, however, didn’t think that an arms-length fund for reporting was ridiculous on its face. Much of the federal support for scientific research is distributed on that model, and vigorously democratic countries like France and Sweden underwrite newspaper circulation.

Yet I have come to believe that for now, the newspaper industry and other legacy media need to chart their own path to stability, and that market forces will help identify winners in the new media space. Foundations, other philanthropists and citizen donors assess rigorously and quickly what is worth continued support.

Bigger governmental initiatives may make sense, but later — if the shortfall in local reporting gets markedly worse and a constructive intervention opportunity becomes more evident. Perhaps a well-documented and wide-ranging report on problems and possibilities is the best the two agencies can do for now.

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FCC report: Local TV ‘more important than ever,’ but thin on accountability reporting

After a year of study, a Federal Communications Commission special report, “The Information Needs of Communities,” says there is a lot of journalism out there, just not much “accountability reporting” of local and state government. Rather than leveling criticism on media companies for giving up their watchdog roles, the report offers observations without judgment.

The report notes the important role of television news but also describes how cutbacks have resulted in newsrooms without deep, beat-oriented expertise. It also says that news stations need to do a better job disclosing paid programming and how they serve the public interest.

The study, based on interviews with 600 journalists, scholars and industry leaders, found that newsrooms are scaling back their coverage of important institutions such as local and state government.

It says there should be state versions of C-SPAN (called STATE-SPAN) to provide coverage of local government. Twenty-three states have such programming now, but in only four cases do cable operators fund the channels (as with C-SPAN); in the others the state funds coverage of itself. Steven Waldman, who led the study, suggested in an FCC meeting Thursday that Congress consider incentives to help cable providers launch such channels.

The FCC report says that newspapers and TV news networks have half the staff that they had in the 1980s and that newsrooms now stand at pre-Watergate employment levels. As a result, local news coverage is in trouble. Courts, schools, legal affairs, environment, state government and education once were priority beats. Now they lack reporters to cover them. The number of newspapers with bureaus in Washington has declined. Local news coverage of religion “is all but gone,” Waldman said.

The FCC team that wrote the report coined the term “hamsterization” (based on a CJR story) to describe the way that reporters now have to scurry to cover story after story without having the time to “turn over the rocks” to find out what is really going on. “The waste of taxpayer dollars, corruption, coverage of schools” all get less coverage, according to Waldman.

“Reporters write from press releases more and don’t have time to dig,” he said.

The role of radio and TV

In some ways, Waldman said, national radio is covering news quite well. But the story on the local level is grim. Only one-third of the U.S. population now has access to an all-news radio station. In the 1980s it was half. From 2004 to 2009 the number of public radio stations “doing news” grew.

Regarding TV news, Waldman said:

“Local TV news is more productive than it has been, perhaps ever. The number of hours of local TV is up, TV stations are using mobile applications and multiple digital channels. They are still the number one source of news. They are increasingly an important source of online news and the newspaper contraction creates an opportunity for broadcast stations. In many ways local TV news is more important than ever.”

Problems with local broadcast news

Of broadcast news, Waldman said, “‘If it it bleeds it leads’ is still true, maybe even worse now. Most stations have no beat system,” which leads to a lack of expertise.

Waldman told the Commission that “pay-for-play” is still a big problem, especially when hospitals, for example, pay for airtime and dictate who can appear on a program. The report urges the Commission to require clearer disclosure of paid content. “The station discloses it quickly” and “you really have to be an attentive viewer” to recognize that the material you just saw or are about to see was bought and paid for. The report recommends that these disclosure be easier to understand and be posted online.

Even as stations increased local programming by 35 percent, they cut staff. “One-man bands,” in which one person shoots video and reports, are more common. Stations changed from the old two-person crews to solo crews, sometimes promising to cover more news by putting more people on the street. “But this just has not happened,” Waldman said. They just use fewer journalists.

Despite the abundance of local media outlets, Waldman said, there is “a shortage of media reporting.” In Baltimore, for example, there are 53 news outlets, but a Pew study  said most of the content came from one TV station and The Baltimore Sun. “So far the news media is not filling this key need” to report news and not just repeat what others have reported, Waldman said. About 15,000 reporters have left newsrooms in the last decade in America, he said.

One-third of local TV stations “do no local news or programming,” Waldman told the Commission.

As for print, “regional newspapers used to be very important players in overseas coverage but they basically have packed up,” Waldman said. However NPR, cable networks and Bloomberg have all increased international coverage, and consumers now have more international coverage at their fingertips than a newsroom editor had not long ago.

The Fairness Doctrine and FCC regulations

The reports recommends against re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine. “We concluded as I think all of you have, that the Fairness Doctrine would undermine free speech,” Waldman said.

The doctrine, which became FCC policy in 1949, required broadcast stations to provide balanced and fair coverage of controversial issues. But to institute the doctrine now would threaten information sources such as talk radio, which often is one-sided.

The Fairness Doctrine has been all but dead since the Reagan administration discarded many FCC rules. This week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he is removing the doctrine from the FCC’s rulebook.

The report’s strongest criticism of the FCC’s current enforcement came when Waldman said his report finds that stations must provide little proof that they are serving the public’s needs — a requirement of keeping their licenses. In the last 75 years, only four stations have lost their licenses because they failed to fulfill their public service obligations. Not one station has lost a license for that reason in the last 30 years.

Waldman said one station, in its public file, said its coverage of the casting call for “America’s Next Top Model” in its town was an example of public service. Others, however, logged significant public service. “The public-interest obligation system at the FCC currently is broken,” Waldman said.

I take that to mean the FCC should more clearly define what “serving the public interest” means and then enforce those requirements. The report says it should be easier for the public to inspect a station’s “public file” by requiring stations to post the contents of that file online.

Related:Broadcasters see positives in FCC proposals,” TVNewsCheck Read more


Broadcasters prepare to battle mobile phone companies for airwaves

The New York Times
To accommodate growing mobile voice and data traffic, the FCC wants to take spectrum from “inefficient” users (meaning broadcasters) and auction it off. “Broadcasters have long been under siege, their audiences slipping away to cable television, their advertisers defecting to the Internet. Although giving up spectrum would go unnoticed by most viewers, the fight to hold onto a chunk of the airwaves could be the industry’s biggest battle in years.” Read more


Verizon-Google proposal raises net neutrality alarms

USA Today
Net neutrality advocates from Facebook to argued Tuesday that a plan to allow preferred access to mobile Internet data would “kill Internet freedom” by allowing corporations to buy faster or more reliable access to deliver their content on mobile devices.

Byron Acohido writes that a proposal from Verizon and Google calls for “a new, enforceable prohibition against discriminatory practices” in the transmission of data over the Internet. However, the companies suggested that mobile devices should be excluded from those prohibitions and called for the Federal Communications Commission to be barred from regulating the Internet.

The FCC has been a fervent supporter of net neutrality on both desktop and wireless platforms and earlier this year called for a reallocation of wireless broadcast frequencies to support greater access to mobile data services.

Usage of Internet-connected mobile devices is predicted to surpass fixed desktop connections within five years. So a policy of preferred access for mobile devices is aimed directly at that expected majority of online consumers.

As publishers move toward mobile-first strategies, they need to question the impact on their own advertising, multimedia and interactive content if a company such as Google is able to guarantee that its content will be delivered more quickly and reliably to mobile audiences.

> Google and Verizon exclude mobile from net neutrality safeguards (GSMA Mobile Business Briefing)
> Google And Verizon Miss the Point About The Mobile Internet (Deliberately?) (GLG News)
> A Review of Verizon and Google’s Net Neutrality Proposal (Electronic Frontier Foundation) Read more


How the FCC Boosted the Internet at Broadcasting’s Expense

In a little-covered speech a couple of weeks ago, Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, told an audience that the FCC delayed the transition to HDTV, stole potential income from phone companies and created policies to favor broadband over broadcasters.

Hundt said it was an attempt to make the Internet the “common medium” of the United States, just as the government had done for broadcast years earlier.

It is a fairly amazing video, and it’s one of those things that all of us who work in the communications world should take some time to try to understand. I have made it easy for you by time-coding some key areas below. For anybody who believes the government’s policies should not favor one medium over another, you will find this speech enlightening and disturbing.

You can watch the video here.

The key sound bites start at 12:57.

At 16:46, he admits that the FCC delayed HDTV.

At 17:06, he talks about how the government nurtured broadcasting after World War II.

At 21:24, he says that the FCC saw the Internet as a means for the “global propagation of American values and American technology.”

At 28:00, he says you cannot stop a government from choosing a “common medium.”

So much for free competition.

At 29:03, Hundt says the government took similar steps on behalf of broadcast by slowing cable.

At 30:04, he says the government should never have paid to help broadcast through the HDTV transition by paying for people to get HD boxes. He says those people should have gotten broadband instead of HDTV.

At 31:14, he admits the government is contracting the spectrum allocated to broadcast and cable in favor of expanding it for broadband.

It makes broadband more valuable and makes people more willing to pay for it.

At 32:26, Hundt predicts an end of the “must carry” rule for cable companies, which means broadcast will lose more footing. Under “must carry,” cable is obligated to carry broadcast stations in the market.

At 33:00, he says news will be primarily accessed on broadband.

At 34:40: Hunt outlines the future as the FCC is shaping it.

In a TVNewsCheck piece, Harry A. Jessell does a good job of explaining why this speech matters:

” ‘We decided … that the Internet ought to be the common medium in the United States and that broadcast should not be,’ he says. The ‘we’ includes Blair Levin — who is the principal author of the National Broadband Plan and who was Hundt’s chief of staff — as well as Genachowski, who was a top aide and thinker.

“Hundt said the decision was made even though TV broadcasting had ably served the country as the common medium since the year he was born, 1948.

“And then he gave several reasons why.

“The Internet was ‘going to be the pathway for the global promulgation of American values and American technology, he said. ‘A nation that doesn’t believe … that its values are values that ought to be shared and sold, if you will, to other countries, that’s not the United States.’

‘”Second, [the Internet] was fundamentally a richer medium — text and pictures — and that therefore it was going to be an easier and better way for people to have access to information. …

“He also believed the Internet was ‘certain to be diverse in every conceivable respect and not by dint of regulation — diverse, meaning it would be in every language and every race would be welcome and the content would be … generated by people who … would choose any points of view; and any kind of ownership of the content would be admissible and any form of the content would be possible.’

“His embrace of the Internet was also prompted by ‘an anti-elite impulse.’ At its heart, he said, the Internet is a ‘disintermediating medium as oppose to broadcast that created intermediaries.’ “ Read more


Consumers, Local Stations Have a Stake in Cable Retransmission Dispute

The New Year’s Eve game of “chicken” between the Fox television network and Bright House cable was a foreshadowing of a battle that will play out again and again around the country, and it could not be more important to broadcasters.

The Associated Press reported:

“The Fox television network and Time Warner Cable reached a programming deal in principle on Friday, after leaving millions of people in the lurch about whether they’d be able to see an anticipated college football bowl game and other shows on cable TV.

“Fox had threatened to force Time Warner Cable and another cable TV provider, Bright House Networks, to drop the Fox broadcast signal from 14 of its TV stations and half a dozen of its cable channels as a contract expired at midnight Thursday.

“But signals were extended into Friday as talks continued, allowing more than 6 million cable subscribers in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Fla., and other markets to tune into the Sugar Bowl and other programming.”

What is this about?

TV stations have two main revenue streams, advertising and cable retransmission fees. Some have side deals in which they produce newscasts for other stations. Some make a little money on production. But mainly, commercials pay the bills.

Stations want the retransmission fees to become a more significant source of income as advertising becomes a less reliable breadwinner.

Fox has been asking Bright House for a dollar per cable subscriber per month, and it threatened to pull the signal from the cable systems if it didn’t get paid. (By way of comparison, ESPN makes about $4 per subscriber.) Keep in mind, there are more than 100 million cable subscribers in the United States. Bright House is the nation’s second-largest cable provider, so any deals it makes will color future deals with other companies. explained:

“Currently, most local broadcast TV stations receive 25 to 50 cents per subscriber from cable companies for retransmission rights.

“Even more common are arrangements where broadcast networks allow cable systems to retransmit their programming in exchange for paying for several of their cable-only channels — for example, NBC lets cable systems carry their broadcast network at no charge if they also pay for MSNBC, CNBC and The Weather Channel.”

Networks have been saying recently that they may start leaning on local stations to give the network part of any retransmission fee the local owners negotiate. Forbes explains that according to estimates from SNL Kagan, which conducts media and communications intelligence, this is a battle worth fighting:

“In 2008, broadcast stations garnered slightly more than $500 million in retransmission cash from cable, satellite and telecommunications operators; SNL Kagan expects those fees to rise to $1.2 billion by 2011.

“But broadcasters aren’t stopping there. They’re also asking their affiliates (the independently owned stations throughout the country with which they’ve struck deals to carry their fare for a significant portion of the day) to pony up a portion of their retransmission fees. The networks’ argument: They deserve the lion’s share of any compensation because they’re the ones supplying the sort of must-watch fare (think ‘NCIS,’ ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Sunday Night Football’) that draws eyeballs and big fees.

” ‘Any way you look at it, there should be a sharing,’ CBS Chief Leslie Moonves said at an investor conference” in December.”

Bright House said that when it pays more for retransmission, it will charge more for cable. Customers will foot the bill.

Broadcasters have argued that cable companies have cashed in on free signals for a long time. The Los Angeles Times’ Company Town blog reported that the Walt Disney Co. offered its support for Fox in its battle with Time Warner Cable:

“The parent of cable networks ESPN and Disney Channel as well as broadcast network ABC said in a statement to Company Town that ‘cable operators pay only about 25 dollars a month for all of the programming on the basic and expanded basic tiers, and they sell this to consumers for some $60 to $70.’ “

Local stations have not always received cash for retransmission. A decade ago, cable companies were willing to give stations a better channel position on cable or even offer stations or station groups extra channels in exchange for retransmission. On, media executive Joseph Patrick Hannan explained how retransmission deals once worked:

“In the past, it may have had a monetary component to it, but more often provided the broadcaster better or additional channel positions and other promotional consideration for the right to redistribute their signals.
“Both create a no-lose situation for local broadcasters in expanding their reach beyond the over the air signal, but retransmission consent heavily rewards broadcasters who invest in quality news operations, syndicated programming and network affiliations that consumers desire.

“Rupert Murdoch was known to use retransmission consent to his fullest advantage in the 1990′s. News Corp. capitalized heavily on the strength of the Fox Network and its owned and operated television stations to secure national carriage for many of the then fledgling cable networks that are now highly profitable franchises for that company. EW Scripps Co. is another company that used this strategy to create lucrative national cable networks on the backs of its television station group.

“Others, such as Belo Corp. used the negotiating leverage of their station groups to launch local and regional news networks on cable systems. Cable operators were willing to provide additional channel capacity then as they wanted to ensure they continued to offer such things as local news and sporting events, but did not want to pay-out rights fees to do so.

“In addition, capacity was not as constrained or as valuable as it would become, hence the concessions were made. However, cable positions did eventually [become] much more in-demand with the proliferation of niche cable networks on both the analog and digital tiers of their systems, and cable operators significantly curtailed this practice. The introduction of satellite television as a formidable competitor forced the cable companies to revisit their stance on retransmission consent, though.

“The likes of Dish and DirecTV began aggressively seeking new ways to offer differentiated content, and broadcasters eventually persuaded regulators to mandate certain retransmission rights on satellite as well. This put many broadcasters in an enviable position, and finally gave them significant leverage to demand cash payments from the cable companies in the retransmission consent process.”


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Congress’ CALM Act Aims to Quiet TV Commercials

If commercials seem louder than the TV programs that surround them, it may not be your imagination. The FCC, Congress and a nonprofit group made up of broadcasters and cable operators are all working on ways to even out the highs and lows of program sound and commercial volume.

Within the next month, a group called The Advanced Television Systems Committee may reach an agreement on technical standards for what broadcasters call the “audio loudness differential.”

Congress, meanwhile is considering the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, known as CALM. The act states that:

    (1) “advertisements accompanying such video programming shall not be excessively noisy or strident;”CommentsClose CommentsPermalink

    (2) “such advertisements shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany;”CommentsClose CommentsPermalink

    (3) “the average maximum loudness of such advertisements shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.”CommentsClose CommentsPermalink pointed out that the FCC has regulatory interest in this matter

If you don’t want to wait for Congress or others to fix the problem, you can try a new gadget called TruVolume, which anticipates when a loud commercial is about to air and tones it down. This YouTube video shows how the technology works.

The Orange County Register ran a story last week explaining how TruVolume differs from other volume levelers:

“Yes, yes, you’ve probably heard about volume levelers before. There’s Dolby Volume in Toshiba TVs, Sony TVs offer ‘SteadySound,’ to name a few.

“But here’s why SRS says its TruVolume is different.

“The competition lowers the volume so commercials don’t blast viewers’ ears. But that also lowers the volume of explosions in movies and shrieks during a touchdown in a football game.

“SRS, instead, takes all audible signals, ignores the extreme lows and highs and focuses on the middle range volumes. Loud bursts in this middle range are typically TV commercials. Its technology can distinguish between talking levels of the announcer to the sudden crowd cheers in the game to the obnoxiously loud TV commercial. SRS offers a more detailed explanation about what’s really happening in its ‘Leveling the Volume’ white paper, a PDF file.” Read more