Why TV Broadcast Regulations Don’t Work

Federal TV Broadcast regulations designed to protect the public aren’t working.

That’s the word from three broadcast experts who addressed a standing room only crowd of Congressional staffers and media representatives at the Rayburn House Office building in Washington, DC today.

The experts were University Professors who say their studies show a considerable disconnect between what the Federal rules were intended to do, and what they actually do in the real world.

Prof. Thomas Hazlett, of George Mason University, maintains that 1950’s era regulations setting aside huge chunks of broadcast spectrum for over the air broadcasters, are outdated. He says they are unnecessary in light of the fact that over 90% of Americans watch TV via alternative transmission such as cable, satellite, and online.

Hazlett who is the former chief economist for the Federal Communications Commission, contends that those regulations were originally put in place as protectionist barriers against competition from cable networks, and are now just an outmoded legacy that is impeding the development of newer technologies such as mobile.

“Protecting broadcast TV in a world where “broadcast TV” is already an anachronism, and video programs are themselves fleeing to new media is not a good way for the government to support the emerging markets of the 21st-century,” Hazlett says.

Prof. Philip M Napoli, of the Fordham Business School, says that strengthening local television broadcasting– particularly local news and public affairs programming–was a key reason for federal regulations that require cable and other video providers to pay for the right to retransmit broadcast television programming.

However, he says, despite the fact that the amount of money broadcasters are making on such retransmission fees has skyrocketed since the provisions were put in place back in 1992; there is little evidence that that money is being used by broadcasters to enhance their provision of local news and public affairs programming.

“There are strong indications that broadcasters have demonstrated relatively little commitment to serving the local news and informational needs of their audiences”, Napoli says.

Dr. Danilo Yanich, who heads the Center for Community Research and Service at the University of Delaware, also found that the commitment to local broadcast news programming has decreased, but his studies were focused on markets where individual stations have entered into shared services (SSA) agreements, local marketing/management (LMA) agreements, or local news sharing (LNS) agreements.

What he found was that while those agreements did in fact allow broadcasters to save money by streamlining operations, reducing duplication, and laying off news personnel; the broadcasters did not use the money they saved to expand local news coverage.

In fact, he says his study showed that in markets such as Honolulu, Hawaii, where stations in different locations shared news content; 90% of the time the scripts used were exactly the same, and 85% of the time the same video was used as well. The only thing that changed on a consistent basis were the ads shown during the newscasts, he says.

The panel discussion on Capitol Hill today was sponsored by the American Television Alliance (ATV),  which describes itself as “an unprecedented coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers to raise awareness about the risk viewers face as broadcasters increasingly threaten service disruptions that would deny viewers access to the programs they and their families enjoy”.

For more information, click on the following links:

Panel Members:

Thomas W. Hazlett

Professor of Law and Economics, George Mason University

Columnist, The Financial Times’ New Economy Policy Forum

Former Chief Economist, Federal Communications Commission

“If a TV Station Broadcasts in a Forest”

Philip M. Napoli

Professor, Fordham Business School

Director, Donald McGannon Communications Research Center, Fordham University

“Retransmission Consent and Broadcaster Commitment to Localism”

Danilo Yanich

Director, Graduate Program in Urban Affairs and Public Policy, University of Delaware

Associate Professor of Urban Affairs & Public Policy

“Local TV News & Service Agreements: A Critical Look”


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