No Matter How You Slice It, Pai Is Right

[Commentary] As one of two Republican commissioners who voted to end the Federal Communications Commission's ban on television-newspaper crossownership only to come up short, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai summed up his — and the industry's — frustration: "We end[ed] up keeping a rule on the books that almost no one at the FCC actually believes make sense any longer. This is a shame because our regulations should always be shaped only by the facts and law — not crass political considerations."

Papers: A Medium You Don’t Want to Follow

[Commentary] In the minds of many folks, newspapers and over-the-air TV broadcasting are "old media" that will suffer the same fate: an ever-increasing slide to extinction. However, there is evidence, that their paths are diverging and broadcasting is in much better shape. And with ATSC 3.0 on the horizon, the prospects for stations to compete successfully with digital media grow even brighter.

FCC Chairman Wheeler Proves To Be No Cable Shill

[Commentary] When Tom Wheeler took the reins at the Federal Communications Commission, the thought was that he would side with the cable operators he used to represent. Well, Chairman Wheeler didn't on retransmission, opting not to put in place regulations that would have hobbled broadcasters' ability to negotiate for fees. Yes, Chairman Wheeler was chief spokesman for cable in the 1980s, but he has proven to be no cable guy.

Next-Gen TV Tops New NAB Tech's Agenda

A Q&A with Sam Matheny, new executive vice president and chief technology officer of National Association of Broadcasters.

Matheny said he’s trying to identify the major trends and threats so broadcasters can stay competitive. Among items on his plate: working with ATSC and broadcasters on the development of a next-generation TV that has to be robust enough -- and flexible enough -- to serve the needs of any broadcast business plan.

“Part of my job is really going to work with all broadcasters and have them feed into the NAB TV technology committee as well as the ATSC so that we can move together as an entire industry, not just parts and pieces,” Matheny said.

Rainbow PUSH Seeks Allbritton Sale Review

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition has asked the Federal Communications Commission to review its July decision approving Sinclair Broadcast Group's $985 million purchase of eight ABC affiliates in seven markets from Allbritton Communications.

Rainbow PUSH said the FCC’s Media Bureau erred in rejecting a coalition request that an FCC hearing be held to look into allegations that Sinclair’s use of sidecar companies flouted FCC station ownership limits.

NAB Challenges FCC'S Auction Order

The National Association of Broadcasters filed a petition for review with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging certain elements of the Federal Communications Commission’s May 2014 broadcast spectrum incentive auction order.

The NAB challenged, among other things, the FCC decision to change the methodology used to predict local television coverage areas and population served, which could result in significant loss of viewership of broadcast TV stations after the FCC "repacks" TV stations into a shrunken TV band.

The petition also states that the FCC failed to take steps to preserve licensees' coverage areas in repacking, and that the FCC erred in failing to ensure proper protections for broadcast translators, transmitters that help boost the coverage of broadcast TV programming to more rural and remove viewers.

Local Choice Sure Isn't the Logical Choice

[Commentary] The latest retransmission reform plan advocating an a la carte system of payment by cable subscribers for broadcast channels – Local Choice -- would harm broadcasters and I'm not sure it benefits anybody other than some small cable operators.

A better solution is for Congress to pass a law saying that if pay TV operators and broadcasters cannot agree on a retransmission fee, the matter would be settled by so-called pendulum arbitration -- just like in baseball.

Stations Going Mobile For Election

Forget about the candidates -- the big winner on Election Night this November figures to be mobile media. That’s according to some local TV news pros who say the time has finally arrived for so-called “second screens” -- mobile phones and tablets -- to become “first screens” on Nov 4 as news consumers rely increasingly on their mobile devices for Election Night returns.

The challenge, local TV executives say, is in creating second-screen experiences that complement, enhance or otherwise drive viewership to what they’re doing on the air -- and vice versa. Whether stations have a handle on the new media and how to apply it to their Election Night coverage plans, in the final analysis, it’s the substance of what a station is providing -- on whatever platform -- that matters most, says Sinclair’s vice president Scott Livingston.

Local Choice Retrans: Look Before You Leap

[Commentary] Does the “Local Choice” retransmission reform proposed by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-VA,) and ranking minority member Sen John Thune (R-SD) sound like a “win-win”? I’m not so sure.

Let’s look at it from several perspectives:

For consumers: The reduction in multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) rates, even if one occurs, will probably not be significant for most consumers, and the price they will pay is losing access to the programs they most watch.

For MVPDs and Cable Program Suppliers: The Local Choice plan would require that broadcasters set one price for all MVPDs. It would prevent broadcasters from exempting those very small operators, and require those systems to develop more complicated billing and collection systems.

For Broadcasters: While there might be some benefits to stations from the Local Choice proposal -- setting their own retransmission rates, eliminating the growth of new cable programming channels if à la carte spreads to non-broadcast channels -- there could be costs as well. The Local Choice plan does not seem to contemplate any negotiation between broadcast stations and MVPDs.

For Policymakers: If a subscriber chooses not to take local stations, that subscriber may not receive crucial emergency information, or local news, or information about local elections from both news programming and ads placed by candidates.

[Goodman practices communications law in Washington]

Stations Ramping Up For Campaign Coverage

For a growing number of TV station newsrooms, election season will be more than election night with fancy voting graphics, talking heads and remotes from hotel ballrooms, say local TV news executives and observers.

Debates, roundtables, aggressive campaign beat reporting and political fact-checking will be more prevalent on-air between Labor Day and Election Day than they have in the past, they say.

Local broadcasters say the nature of their political coverage this season will be markedly different, too, as they heighten their commitment to probing candidates’ claims versus being an outlet for press conferences and talking points -- and hopefully hook viewers by doing so.

“The role of journalists in terms of sorting truth from half-truth or lack of truth is becoming more critical,” says Hearst Television’s VP of News Candy Altman. “There is so much out there now, that trying to find trusted sources for reality is really important.”