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  • Dennis Wharton 9:35 am on November 20, 2014 Permalink  

    Dumb Stuff Said in Washington, D.C. 

    Inside the bubble of Washington, DC — which often challenges Hollywood as the true entertainment capital of the world — one hears astonishingly silly proclamations almost daily.

    Last week, however, I heard a whopper that deserves entry into DC’s Hall of Fame of Dumb Stuff Said.

    The comment came during a panel discussion at the National Press Club. The topic: whether Internet-delivered program content will result in a “break-up” of “bundled” cable TV packages. Panelists included Wall Street investment analysts and academics who purportedly are expert pundits in the communications world.

    During the question-and-answer session, an audience member posed a timely question: How does the rise of web-delivered content impact localism? Should the importance of localism be factored into the debate when Congress considers a rewrite of the Communications Act? And is the value of localism worth consideration as the FCC weighs designating “over-the-top” Internet providers MVPD (multichannel video program distributor) status?

    Not to worry, replied one of the panelists. “Localism,” he said with smug certainty, “is a myth.”

    Broadcasters long ago abandoned localism, the panelist continued. The real concern is the loss of local newspapers at the local level, he said.


    But wait, there was more.

    The esteemed panelist suggested that the only reason TV broadcasters still hold spectrum is because of the clout of the TV lobby. The FCC’s upcoming incentive auction will rightly re-direct airwaves that broadcasters are “wasting” to a more efficient use — wireless broadband, claimed the panelist.

    Those of us in broadcasting have heard the “highest and best use of spectrum” narrative many times before.

    It’s a claim that comes courtesy of our competitors — the well-funded pay-TV and wireless lobbies who bankroll “retransmission consent reform” efforts — along with “research” crafted with a pre-determined outcome that dismisses the value of free and local broadcasting.

    It’s been apparent for years that there is a concerted effort by broadcasting’s primary competitors to eliminate local TV as a competitive threat to their nirvana world — a world where “free” is eliminated from the telecommunications lexicon and programming content is only made available to those who will pay for it. In their world, the highest and best use of spectrum is used only by those who charge a fee for delivering content.

    But only of late have we been confronted with the bald-faced falsehood that “localism is a myth.”


    So let’s drill deeper into the fundamental question: Is localism a myth? Have broadcasters stopped doing local programming?

    The answer, resoundingly, is no.

    Every day, across America, broadcasters are delivering local content on multiple platforms that keeps communities informed, educated, and safe in an emergency. Local news is a trusted source of information, and is viewed by the public as a far more credible source of information than what’s on cable, satellite or the Internet.

    In fact, local news still commands a huge audience, and more broadcasters are delivering local news at a nearly all-time high.

    In many cities, such as Indianapolis, Grand Rapids and Charlotte, broadcasters have begun offering local news as early as 4 a.m. to meet the growing needs of a commuter-driven workforce.

    Even cable news networks like CNN – when there is a breaking emergency situation in Anytown, USA – are carrying live coverage from LOCAL TV STATIONS. So much for the “myth” of localism.

    And guess where Americans turn for election coverage? You got it – the local broadcaster. Even C-SPAN, the cable network that gets wide praise for even-handed political coverage, gets much of its election programming in the form of live debate feeds from local TV stations.

    Indeed, it was a banner year for election coverage, courtesy of local radio and TV stations who offered more free time for candidate profiles, debates, and hard news reporting than in any mid-term election in history.

    Earlier this year, the Pew Foundation found that local TV news viewing is up throughout the day. Nearly three out of four adult Americans tune in regularly to local news, compared to just 38% who watch cable news, according to Pew.

    Investigative journalism at local television stations has replaced the daily newspaper as the government watchdog. Don’t take my word for it; just look at the number of broadcast TV stations who are Peabody and Edward R. Murrow award winners for quality investigative journalism. From Gannett to E.W. Scripps to Hearst to Dispatch Broadcasting to Cox to Raycom to LIN (and many others), local broadcasters are dedicating huge resources to investigative journalism, holding public officials accountable, and offering tough consumer reporting that is second to none.


    Nowhere is the value of broadcast localism more apparent than in times of emergency. We’ve seen time and again the remarkable, boots-on-the-ground reporting by local broadcast reporters during tornadoes and hurricanes. At great personal risk, broadcasters have waded into harm’s way during tornado outbreaks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri, in Moore, Oklahoma, and in the path of Hurricane Sandy.

    And there is no question that local TV weathercasters in Tornado Alley have been responsible for saving countless lives.

    Broadcast station personnel cover wildfires in the west, flooding in the Dakotas, and record cold temperatures throughout the country.

    When cellphones and the Internet crash because of overcapacity, it is the local broadcaster that is always on, always there.

    And unquestionably, it is the local broadcaster that galvanizes relief efforts once a crisis or natural disaster is over. Not because the government demands it — but because community service is just part of the makeup of a local broadcaster.


    Why don’t we ask Craig Fugate if he agrees with the claim that “localism is a myth”? Fugate oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is responsible for keeping Americans safe when disaster strikes. Here’s what Fugate told CNN as Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the Eastern seaboard three years ago:

    “Those local broadcasters are going to be giving you the best information, real time, from those local officials out of those press conferences. So make sure you got your radio and television…and again cell phones get congested, but we did have some success with people text messaging or using social media…but remember cell phones themselves in heavy congestion may not be able to get through. And stay off the phones if it is not an emergency, because other people may be trying to call 911. Use text messaging, use land lines, but again local TV and radio are going to probably be one of the best sources of information from those local officials during the crunch time of evacuation.”

    Need more proof that local broadcasting remains the trusted resource for emergency information? Well how about this:

    In one of the most prominent acts of domestic terrorism in American history — during the Boston Marathon bombing — President Obama abandoned cable news for the reliable, authoritative reporting from Boston’s LOCAL TV stations. Just as America knows that broadcasters are always on in times of emergency, so too does the leader of the free world.

    No wonder that 68% of Bostonians watched local TV news — NOT cable and NOT the Internet — during the search for the terrorist attackers. And no wonder that the Columbia Journalism Review reported the following:

    “Local Boston TV news has reported the whole thing, and done an absolutely heroic and tremendous job of it, proving that, even though local TV news is often maligned, it can serve a huge need in times of crisis — and can rise to the occasion when other, national outlets do not.”

    Bottom line: When the leader of the free world and the administrator of FEMA say “Trust your local broadcaster,” perhaps it’s time for Ivory Tower academics to acknowledge that free and local broadcasting remains an indispensable resource for every American.

    Broadcasters are not perfect, and nor are broadcasting’s critics. Our challenges are many as we move our programming to a multi-platform, multi-screen world.

    But as the original wireless technology, broadcasting is reinventing itself before our eyes and will remain available to every American in every community, free of charge.

    And yes: localism is alive, well and thriving.

  • Dennis Wharton 11:19 am on January 22, 2014 Permalink

    Spectrum Sophistry 

    Thank you, Jeffrey Eisenach.

    Thank you for driving a stake deep in the heart of one of the Beltway’s biggest whoppers – namely, that broadcasters are the boondoggle beneficiaries of “free spectrum.”

    For my 31 years living in “This Town,” it’s been presented as gospel that TV stations “got the airwaves for nothing.” It started as “the $60 billion giveaway,” morphed into $80 billion, and if memory serves me correct, eventually became a “$600 billion giveaway”. (Do I hear $600 trillion gazillion, anyone?)

    “The Largest Corporate Welfare Program in History” read one headline. “The Best Bargain Since Manhattan” screamed another.

    Which brings me to the aforementioned Jeffrey Eisenach. A few months back, this well-respected economist was asked to review the validity of claims of a “TV spectrum giveaway”.

    After an intensive review of FCC filings, the compilation of data from media research firms and an analysis of communications law and history, here’s what Eisenach found:

    Ninety-two percent of all existing full-power television broadcasters PAID MARKET RATES for spectrum licenses on the secondary market. Today, fewer than one in ten full power TV licenses is held by an original licensee, and collectively, broadcasters have shelled out $50 billion dollars for their TV licenses (which, coincidentally, just happens to be just about exactly the amount of money that the FCC has raised in spectrum auctions).

    Translation: Suggestions of broadcasters being the recipients of a “billion dollar giveaway” are – in a word – bogus.

    But wait, this gets better. Eisenach also exposed the hypocrisy of those who bemoan the government’s “broadcast spectrum giveaway.”

    As Eisenach makes clear – long before the FCC’s first spectrum auction — wireless carriers and satellite TV providers DISH and DIRECTV were the recipients of FREE spectrum themselves. Those “free” airwaves remain in the hands of the original licensees or the companies that gobbled them up.

    Moreover, these wireless and satellite TV providers who continue to operate on government-granted free spectrum have NONE of the public interest obligations of local TV stations. They have NO program decency standards, NO ownership limits, NO online political advertising requirements, and NO children’s educational programming regulations.

    Yet, is anyone calling out cellular companies for receiving spectrum “for free”? Is anyone objecting to DISH and DIRECTV’s bonanza of “free spectrum”? I didn’t think so.

    And let’s not forget: None of broadcasting’s competitors embrace the localism mandate that broadcasters embrace. None of them have the network redundancy that is built into broadcasting which allows us to remain “always on” in times of crisis. Cellphone and broadband networks were rendered inoperable by events like Hurricane Sandy in New York, killer tornadoes in Oklahoma City, Tuscaloosa, and Joplin, Mo. and by the derecho in Washington, DC. When it mattered most, broadcasting was the indispensable medium because of its “one-to-everyone” architecture.

    Harping on the false claim that broadcasters received spectrum “for free” ignores the tremendous investment local stations have made to utilize airwaves for its highest and best use. It also ignores the $15 billion broadcasters spent on the DTV transition, with no guarantee that a dime of that would be recouped.

    Every day, local television stations and our network partners invest in quality news, weather, sports and entertainment that remains the most-watched programming on TV. More than 90 of the 100 top programs every week are on broadcast TV, and are available free of charge to anyone who installs a $50 antenna. Broadcast TV is growing because of the cord-cutting phenomenon, and today there are 59.7 million people who rely exclusively on over-the-air broadcast television.

    There will always be distortions and half-truths served up by those who would love to eliminate free and local broadcasting as a competitive, innovative force in communications. Thanks to Jeffrey Eisenach, we can finally put to rest the phony claim of a “broadcast spectrum giveaway.”

  • Dennis Wharton 4:12 pm on June 19, 2013 Permalink  

    Who Are They Kidding? 

    Time Warner Cable executives would have you believe they’ve become terribly concerned about rising cable rates. So much so that the company is bankrolling a “pro-consumer” group called the American Television Alliance, an organization that is urging “reform” of retransmission consent laws enacted to allow local broadcasters to be fairly compensated for the most popular programming on television.

    Time Warner Cable wants you to think that broadcasters are the cause of rising cable rates. Never mind that broadcaster retrans fees amount to a paltry 2 cents on every cable dollar. Never mind that retransmission consent fees allow broadcasters to fund local news, emergency weather warnings, and lifesaving coverage of natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy and the Oklahoma tornadoes.

    And never mind that the FCC has noted that the annual percentage increase in cable rates has actually slowed since the mid-2000s, when broadcasters began realizing modest retrans compensation from cable systems who built monopoly-priced businesses on the backs of local TV signals.

    Two items surfaced today that are noteworthy when considering whether to accept the notion of a warm and fuzzy “pro-consumer” Time Warner Cable. Broadband DSL reports the company cares so much about consumers that it is has jacked up its monthly modem rental fee by 20%. Moreover, Time Warner Cable is socking first-time modem users with a $20 fee just for the privilege of becoming a customer.

    And Deadline reports that a group of Southern California consumers has sued Time Warner Cable in LA Superior Court over the company’s plan to bilk customers as much as $5 per subscriber per month to help pay for its $8 billion programming rights deal with the LA Dodgers.

    Bottom line: As the Broadband DSL Reports story and LA consumer group lawsuit suggest, it is a fairy tale to think of Time Warner Cable as anything more than a business swimming in cash and desperate to hold onto mammoth profit margins.

    Time Warner Cable is a lot of things, but “pro-consumer” is not one.

  • Dennis Wharton 2:28 pm on November 2, 2011 Permalink  

    CTIA Diminishes Broadcast Diversity. Really? 

    Sometimes statements get made inside the Beltway that are so shockingly arrogant that one has to step back and ask: Really?

    That moment came after yesterday’s NAB news conference to highlight the launch of The Future of TV Coalition — a coalition formed to promote the use of digital television spectrum to help spur program diversity on free, over-the-air television. The event featured former United Nations Ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who has co-founded with Martin Luther King III, a majority-owned African-American broadcast network – targeting African-American viewers – called Bounce TV.

    Bounce — which is now available to half of all America and 65 percent of African-American homes — will be launching on Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. by Jan. 1. It is just one example of the creative ways that broadcasters are using digital TV spectrum to serve diverse audiences. Also at the news conference was Carmen DiRienzo of Vme Media, a network devoted to serving Hispanic TV viewers with quality programming on public TV, and representatives of companies that are using DTV-2 “multicast” channels to deliver multi-cultural and multi-lingual programming to the melting pot of viewers that are today’s America.

    The members of the coalition, who reach African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, senior, rural, young and new Americans, believe that it’s critical that they reach their audiences using authentic voices from the communities they represent. And digital broadcasting is the vehicle to do just that.

    For example, many of the multicasting channels in the top 25 U.S. markets are foreign language. In Los Angeles, there are 48 DTV2 channels, and 18 are foreign language offerings, broadcasting in Spanish, Chinese, Armenian, Korean, and Vietnamese. In Washington, D.C., foreign-language and ethnic channels include broadcasts in Russian, French, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

    But apparently CTIA – The Wireless Association has a problem with that.

    After the NAB news conference, CTIA released a statement that reads: “When you have to form a coalition to talk about your future, perhaps it suggests you don’t have one.”

    Ponder that for a moment.

    The successful DTV transition paved the way for a new generation of broadcasters to innovate and serve a new, diverse generation of viewers. And participants in yesterday’s NAB event clearly demonstrated that the future of TV is one where young Americans have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. This is an America where traditionally underserved communities have opportunity to invest, innovate, and expand their voices and reach within their own communities. These networks and programs will reach a new pool of viewers, advertisers, investors – and ultimately will create more economic opportunity and jobs across the U.S.

    It’s regrettable that CTIA – on the heels of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial – would presume to diminish the importance of start-up networks designed to serve previously underserved audiences.

    NAB sees Bounce as the embodiment of the bright future of television, and we will continue to support the creation and growth of broadcast businesses that serve minority viewers.

  • Dennis Wharton 11:30 am on March 23, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , Satellite, ,   

    Verbatim Quotes are Stubborn Things 

    It’s been said by cynics that the only real gaffe committed inside the Beltway is when someone actually tells the truth. That’s why we’ve gotten a chuckle out of the overheated protestations from our friends in the wireless industry after NAB submitted evidence from two top telecommunications industry executives suggesting that “Heck yes, we’re warehousing spectrum. So what?”

    Let’s review the bidding: Dish Network CEO Charlie Ergen recently told investment analysts that his company made a speculative investment in spectrum because spectrum “has value, ‘just as an asset.'”

    That’s not new verbiage from Mr. Ergen. Indeed, on a November 2010 earnings call, the Dish CEO said that his company bought spectrum 700 MHz from broadcasters “as a building block…a pretty good inflation hedge, and they’re not making any more of that spectrum. If we’re not able to strategically do something with that spectrum, there’s probably other people who are able to do that.”

    According to the must read publication Communications Daily, Mr. Ergen elaborated on his investment: “I think one of the better things we did was that we resisted the temptation to go out and try to build it out and spend more money on the buildout for it without really knowing where we want to go…. I don’t know whether our timing’s right or not on 700MHz. At some point, that will be a valuable spectrum to somebody. And if we can figure out a way to use it, that’s good. If we can’t then somebody else will own it,” said Ergen.

    Dish Network apparently isn’t alone in its desire to squat on valuable airwaves. Communications Daily reported on Jan. 28 that Time Warner Cable has no plans to deploy recently acquired spectrum. Paraphrasing recent remarks on an analyst call from Time Warner Cable Chief Operating Officer Rob Marcus, respected Communications Daily reporter Josh Wein wrote that the company “has no plans to sell, lease or use its AWS spectrum licenses. … The recent AT&T acquisition of Qualcomm’s MediaFLO spectrum bodes well for the value of the cable operator’s spectrum holdings.”

    So there you have it: two massive telecom companies candidly admitting that they are in the business of sitting on valuable spectrum.

    When NAB pointed out these obviously newsworthy and noteworthy comments, spin doctors at both Time Warner Cable and Dish Network circled the wagons. Predictably, this strategy of denial was embraced by other telecom companies and trade associations who are apoplectic over the possibility of a serious unbiased spectrum inventory. God forbid there would be a serious and thorough review of whether companies that were given or bought spectrum are actually following through on timetables and promises to deploy it. After all, that would not fit into their neat little “spectrum crisis” tale that they’re foisting on Congress.

    The tap dancing of the telecom giants and their enablers brings to mind a famous scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes the fact that Oz has — in fact — no magical powers.

    In the movie, Dororthy and the Scarecrow were asked to “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — just like America is expected to pay no attention to verbatim spectrum hoarding admissions from Time Warner Cable and Dish Network.

  • Dennis Wharton 11:00 am on October 4, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: 1992 Cable Act, broadcast ratings, , cable rates, Cablevision, EchoStar, , SNL Kagan, Time Warner, Verizon FiOS   

    Eight unassailable facts regarding retransmission consent 

    With the pay-TV industry’s continued effort to have Congress or the Federal Communications Commission change the retransmission consent process, here is a quick refresher with eight unassailable facts regarding the carriage negotiation process.

    (More …)

  • Dennis Wharton 1:57 pm on August 25, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: cell phones, fm chips, , ,   

    A fact-based response to the critics of radio-capable cell phones 

    The response from critics to NAB’s support for the inclusion of radio receivers on mobile phone devices sold in the U.S has been predictable and follows a customary Washington tactic: Arguments against this pro-consumer feature have been long on exaggeration, rhetoric and factual inaccuracies.

    It’s time to set the record straight.

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  • Dennis Wharton 3:59 pm on June 17, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: Comcast, , Free Press, Ivan Seidenberg, , , Verizon   

    The overlooked spectrum squatters 

    SNL Kagan media reporter Tim Doyle uncovered an interesting factoid this week when he reported that SpectrumCo, a cable-backed consortium, is sitting on $2.4 billion worth of spectrum that the company purchased in 2006. The airwaves are unused, and according to Doyle’s report, “It does not seem as if that will change soon, either.”

    With intense focus from the FCC on broadcast TV spectrum as a “solution” to the nation’s alleged “looming spectrum crisis,” cable has been largely overlooked, a fact that has drawn jeers from both sides of an almost always disagreeable duo: Verizon and the consumer group Free Press.

    (More …)

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