Tom Wheeler Interview: FCC Chairman Says Rolling Back Agenda Will Be ‘Easier Said Than Done’

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, who will depart the week of Jan 16, said that if the incoming Republican majority on the commission seeks to rollback his agenda, it will be “easier said than done.” In an interview with Variety, hours after he gave a speech at the Aspen Institute defending the FCC’s network neutrality rules, Chairman Wheeler said that moves to undo some of the actions taken in recent years will face public scrutiny. “The idea of taking things away that American consumers and American companies enjoy today is not the easiest thing in the world,” Chairman Wheeler said. “And there are processes in the Administrative Procedure Act that they have to follow in order to do this, and they have to withstand court scrutiny. That is easier said than done.”

Having come from industry, Chairman Wheeler said that as chairman he came to a realization that, in meeting with lobbying and other groups, “everyone comes in here and talks about how their self-interest is synonymous with the public interest.” He added, “And you know, I used to do the same thing. My ‘aha’ moment was that the public interest was a pretty malleable concept. The public interest is determined by the old adage, ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit.’ And so, what I have tried to do is say, ‘OK, we need another standard.’ And I kept saying to myself, ‘What is it that is in the common good, as differentiated from the public interest?’ Because the common good is how you can serve the good of the most people the best way.”

Vague Email Controversy Brings Out the Worst in TV News Media

If you have stood within earshot of a television, peeked at a social media stream, or scanned the front page of a newspaper, you may have noticed that e-mails are once again the subject of commentator frenzy. And yet there is little consensus on what, in fact, the news actually is. Oct 28, in an alarmingly vague letter to Congress, FBI director James Comey wrote that the investigation into whether or not Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had endangered national security by using a private e-mail server was once again, possibly, relevant. Reporting since then has indicated that the FBI investigation into disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who may have sexted a 15-year-old, surfaced e-mails that were stored on the server — probably because Weiner’s now-estranged wife, Huma Abedin, is a top Clinton aide, and the two shared devices. Even in Comey’s initial letter, the possible involvement of Hillary Clinton is either tangential or speculative — the e-mails may have been on this controversial private server, but they may also have already been in the possession of the FBI, albeit on a different device. They may implicate Clinton or Weiner; they may also do no such thing. It is explicitly unknown, and Comey confirmed that in a leaked internal memo.

That has not stopped media organizations, in the full flush of pre-election coverage, to make this some kind of “October surprise” for the Clinton campaign, seizing on it as a turning point in the narrative of election 2016. And due to the confluence of Comey’s inept attempt at transparency and the media’s appetite for inflated controversy, Comey’s letter has had the effect of lighter fluid on the finally cooling embers of a house fire. This election has been defined by the breakdown of our best intentions in the Byzantine political-media complex, where time must be filled, takes must be filed, and we as a nation have struggled to wholly apprehend what we have become.

Layer3 TV to Launch in Chicago Soon, Backed by Altice and John Paulson

Secretive cable TV upstart Layer3 TV is getting ready to launch in Chicago (IL) in the coming weeks. Some of the money used to finance the launch comes from two previously unannounced investors: French telecommunication company Altice, through newly acquired US subsidiary Suddenlink, and Paulson Co., the investment company of famed hedge fund investor John Paulson.

A Layer3 spokesperson declined to comment on unannounced investors, but confirmed plans to launch in Chicago soon. “After an oversubscribed trial run in Texas, we look forward to making the Second City first in cable,” he said. Layer3 TV wants to compete with traditional cable companies by offering consumers a modern, 4K-ready set-top box, a DVR that records up to eight shows at the same time and no long-term contract obligations. The company launched a beta test under the Umio brand in late 2015 in Texas, and is now getting ready to enter a second market with its debut in Chicago. Layer3 TV has started to hire sales representatives and other necessary staffers to prepare for its roll-out in the city, and targeted local consumers with banner ads.

SAG-AFTRA Reaches Deal on New Movie-TV Contract

The Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has reached a tentative deal with production companies for a three-year master contract covering movie and primetime TV work.

The performers union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have reached the agreement following nearly two months of negotiations -- and three 24-hour extensions of the contract expiration.

There were no details provided other than the disclosures that the new contract will replace the separate SAG and AFTRA contracts which have remained in effect since the 2012 merger.

SAG-AFTRA’s board will meet July 12 to vote on whether to send the new deal to members for ratification. The two sides had announced -- less than an hour before the union contracts expired at midnight -- that they achieved progress in the talks and had agreed to extend the expiration for 24 hours. The current SAG and AFTRA deals cover about 165,000 members.

Supreme Court Declines to Review Case Over Ads on Public TV

A law restricting advertising on public television will remain in place after the Supreme Court refused to review a case in which a San Francisco station challenged its Federal Communications Commission fine for airing messages from a bevy of commercial sponsors.

Minority Television Project, the license holder for public television station KMTP-TV in San Francisco, sought to overturn lower court rulings that upheld a 1981 law that restricts public stations from airing ads for commercial products or political candidates.

The station also said that the court should reconsider a 1969 Supreme Court decision that allowed the government to place some restrictions on broadcast content, arguing that the media landscape had changed so much in the last 45 years. It contended that it didn’t make sense that stations had limits on First Amendment protections while other media do not.

Why the Evening-News Anchor Is No Longer the Most Important Person on TV

Hosting the evening newscast turned Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw into luminaries and national statesmen. ABC News has now declared that the person who leads that national institution no longer has to be the most important face on the screen.

This was a different decade, when the evening newscast was, along with something called a daily newspaper, a commanding source of the important news of the day. In this era of breaking tweets and smartphone alerts, however, the evening newscast has been weakened. A good chunk of people watch it, but another good chunk can’t even get home from work in time to tune it in.

These days, the best-known on-air personalities must instead be freed up to pursue original reporting and scoops that the network can “own” and blast across all of its shows, as well as digital properties.

onsider “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley’s recent trip to Jordan to cover refugees in Iraq and Syria -- a story that is likely to garner more attention and secure broader interest than his daily recital of the day’s headlines on the flagship show. In a memo to staffers about the shake-up, James Goldston, president of the ABC news division, took pains to look at the enterprise work done by both David Muir and Diane Sawyer. The importance of such efforts seems likely to increase.

NBC Upfront: Peacock Secures $2.3B for Primetime Entertainment

NBC is wrapping its upfront in a different way than its broadcast-network brethren, securing more -- not fewer -- advance advertising commitments for its fall schedule.

The NBCUniversal-owned outlet expects to notch approximately 15% more in ad commitments for its primetime entertainment programming than it did in 2013 according to a person familiar with the situation. That could mean NBC secured around $2.3 billion from advertisers for its 2014 schedule, which excludes sales around “Sunday Night Football” and the Olympics. When adding sports and the rest of the broadcast-network schedule to the mix, the person familiar with the network suggested NBC had notched approximately $2.5 billion in advance ad commitments for the fall.

The company notched about $6 billion in commitments for its entire media portfolio, the person said, encompassing broadcast, digital and cable. CBS and ABC have both largely completed their upfront sales process, with media-buying executives estimating both networks lost volume for 2014.

Time Warner’s Turner Seeks Upfront Price Hikes In Line With NBC’s

Now that broadcast networks have begun to write business in TV’s annual “upfront” market, cable players are preparing to join the fray. Executives at Time Warner’s Turner suite of cable networks believe there’s an opportunity for volume gains in the 2014 upfront market, when US TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season.

The company, which operates TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network and other outlets, senses advertisers holding back dollars in negotiations with broadcast networks, according to a person familiar with the situation, and feels only a portion of those dollars can go to digital outlets. Turner’s operating premise in the marketplace, this person suggested, is that marketers still want video advertising and won’t be able to tuck dollars away in their corporate pockets.

As such, the company is likely to seek price increases in line with the top of the broadcast market, this person said. NBC, which has seen a recent surge in the audiences between 18 and 49 that advertisers seek, has been pressing for increases of around 8% in the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, according to media buyers and other people familiar with negotiations.

NBC Seeks Record $4.5M For Super Bowl Ads

NBC is seeking around $4.5 million for a 30-second spot in Super Bowl XLIX, according to ad-buying executives, a whopping sum that could represent a new record for pricing in the gridiron classic, as well as a 12.5% uptick over prices sought for Fox’s 2014 broadcast of the event. NBC has also been asking potential Super Bowl sponsors to pay a similar amount for a package of ad inventory in other NBCUniveral-owned sports properties, according to ad buyers familiar with the pace of negotiations, including English Premier League matches on NBCSN and sports broadcasts on Telemundo and sister cable outlet mun2. Ad buyers suggested the Peacock’s initial efforts might meet with some resistance. “It’s $9 million to get a Super Bowl spot, which is a lot,” said one ad-buying executive. “They are testing the market. If enough people don’t do it, it’s only June and it’s not broadcast until February. You could adjust your price in October if you need to. It’s all about testing the market and maximizing the revenue.”

Consumers Received 1.3 Million ‘Copyright Alerts’ in 2013 as Part of Anti-Piracy Initiative

An anti-piracy program launched in 2013 by movie studios, record companies and Internet providers sent out 1.3 million alerts to consumers that they were accessing infringing content.

The figures for the first 10 months of the program were the first official numbers released by the Center for Copyright Information, the group set up to implement the voluntary industry agreement designed to curb online copyright infringement.

The Copyright Alerts are sent to consumers in a “tiered system,” in which the initial notices are designed to inform or even educate users about the presence of infringing material. But if a consumer continues to access pirated movies, TV shows or music, ignoring the alerts, they may face penalties after the fifth or sixth warning that includes having their service slowed.

The center said that less than 3% of alerts were sent out to give those final warnings -- what the organization called the “final mitigation stage.” Some 70% of alerts were for the “initial education stages.”