The FCC chairman has changed the direction of his spin lately.
He’s saying that we must lift the limits on how many stations a single company can own so that we can save free television.
To survive, free TV must improve its competitive position against pay television and find a way to innovate and offer personalized television experiences that today’s viewers have come to enjoy and expect. The future of free television is, at best, uncertain and, at worst, in peril.
The shift to pay television and the value it has brought to the television viewer over the course of the last 20 years begs a question — do we even need free television? From a public policy perspective, I believe the answer is yes — we absolutely need to maintain a viable free television service for the welfare of our citizens. Free broadcast television remains an important service for those citizens that cannot afford pay television. Additionally, free television continues to play a vital role in informing the public during national and local emergencies and in serving the interests of their local communities.
That’s why this past June, the FCC passed a new set of broadcast ownership limits, modernizing a regulatory regime that was made for the bygone era of the big three to reflect today’s dynamic media marketplace. Those rule modifications were made, in part, to strengthen free television to give it a chance to remain viable for our citizens to enjoy for decades to come. For example, by setting a slightly revised national television ownership limit, the FCC will help the networks attract and maintain quality programming, from the World Series and Olympics to the next great TV series like “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “The West Wing.” Other rule changes, such as allowing cross-ownership or the ownership of more than one local television broadcast outlet in some markets, will bring consumers more and better quality local news coverage and will help fund the transition to high definition digital television , potentially giving free television the ability to provide new innovate services to the public well into the 21st century.
These changes have been under attack from some in Congress. A rush headlong into re-regulating free television is afoot, and if successful, would prove disastrous . Bringing free television into a more hostile regulatory environment will continue to drive investment to pay television and drive more sports and creative programs to pay television. It may just drive free television to pay television altogether, as Bob Wright, CEO of NBC, once suggested that he might shut down NBC and simply move it to cable.
While I’m certain that Michael Powell wants to ensure we can see “The West Wing”, this may not be the best use of the spectrum.
There are multiple free-market answers to the question “What should we do with this spectrum?” It’s far from clear that the best solution is to give that spectrum to networks who also control the cable channels and the producers. That sounds like flouting the public interest.
Why not let local programmers and spectrum licensees decide how much network product to deliver to their communities, instead of leaving that decision to network employees?
As far as I know, it’s not the FCC’s mandate to assure our access to “Everybody Loves Raymond”.