Jessell At Large

What To Expect From A Tom Wheeler FCC

First, there will be little or no change in the incentive auction policy. Look for Wheeler to push the auction with all the zeal of the outgoing Genachowski. What's near impossible to divine is where Wheeler will go on two issues that should be of more immediate concern to broadcasters: ownership and retransmission consent.
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I was surprised that the president actually took the time to announce personally his pick to succeed FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday. It's usually done simply by press release.

Why Tom Wheeler rated the special treatment, I don't know. Maybe it was all the money Wheeler raised for Obama's campaigns. Maybe he just likes Wheeler. Or maybe he was indulging in a little show politics.

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Some say the real star of the brief ceremony at the White House was Mel Watt, who shared the moment and dais with Wheeler. The president had selected the North Carolina congressman to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

You see, Obama has been taking some heat for not appointing enough minorities and women to key jobs, and Watt is black. His presence may also have been meant to offset the fact that in appointing Wheeler to the FCC, Obama had to pass over two women (FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn) and one minority (also Clyburn).

Obama may have partially assuaged Clyburn's feelings by appointing her interim chairperson while Wheeler goes through the nomination and Senate confirmation process. Clyburn has been "an incredible asset to the FCC for the last few years," the president remarked after singling her out at the event.

So, Clyburn does become the first woman FCC chair, if only for a few months.

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Obama may have to do something nice for Rosenworcel, too. She is a protégé of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). In dissing Rosenworcel, Obama dissed Rockefeller, who controls the FCC confirmation process.  

Rosenworcel campaigned hard for the job, at one point amassing the signatures of Rockefeller and 36 others on a letter of support to Obama. Why she thought that was a good idea, I can't imagine. Clinton made the mistake of turning over the selection of regular FCC commissioners to Hill leaders in the 1990s. Obama wasn't about to give up a patronage plum like the FCC chairmanship, too. The letter put Obama in the position of having to say no to a bunch of Senate allies.

This is a lot of inside baseball, isn't it? What you really want to know is how a Wheeler chairmanship would affect the broadcasting business. So, let's get down to that.

One thing I can say is to expect little or no change in the incentive auction policy. Look for Wheeler to push the auction with all the zeal of the outgoing Genachowski. What emerges from Wheeler's prolific blogging is a belief that much of the broadcast spectrum is being wasted and that it would be put to better use in wireless broadband.

“When only 10% of households rely exclusively on over-the-air signals [for TV reception] and digital technology can cram most markets' existing signals into a single license allocation, the question gets asked whether there might be a higher and better use for those airwaves,” Wheeler asks rhetorically in a 2009 blog.

So, when broadcasters think of Wheeler and spectrum, they should think status quo.

What's near impossible to divine is where Wheeler will go on two issues that should be of more immediate concern to broadcasters: ownership and retransmission consent.

As the news this week that Allbritton is selling WJLA Washington and six other ABC affiliates attests, the consolidation of the broadcasting is accelerating once again. I expect to see more deals involving stations in the top 25 markets in the year ahead — real action with more established players like Allbritton calling it quits.

The FCC could slow down this consolidation if the chairman decides that it would be a good idea, and there will be pressure from liberal groups on Wheeler to do so. Already pending at the FCC is a proposal to ban the certain duopolies that consolidators like Sinclair and Nexstar have been building their businesses on. Of course, Clyburn could deal with that issue before Wheeler takes over.

I don't believe broadcasters appreciate enough that Genachowski steadfastly avoided meddling in retransmission consent, despite considerable pressure from satellite and cable interests to do so. Genachowski was comfortable that the marketplace was working just fine in retrans negotiations.

Wheeler is the veteran of the broadcasting-cable wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s when he worked at NCTA, the last five years as its president. No doubt, part of him still thinks like a cable guy and I'm sure he still has many friends in cable. So, he may be less resistant to cable execs and lobbyists kvetching over rising retrans fees. But let's hope not.

As I wrote here in March, Wheeler is not the ideal chairman from the broadcasters' perspective (there will never be another Jim Quello). But he'll do. He is a sharp, pragmatic guy who is widely respected in the small world of communications policymaking. And he has had a long and distinguished career running businesses, investing in businesses and representing businesses in Washington. In other words, he is pro-business.

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Comments (6) -

PhillyPhlash Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Look for a deluge of mainstream media news stories about "Tom Wheeler and The campaign to kill free TV." With more and more young people cutting the cable, relying on internet streaming AND free over the air high definition TV to satisty their viewing needs. resistance is mounting to the notion that over the air full service broadcast television is expendable. Indeed, I would not be surprised if members of Congress demand a pledge from Wheeler that he will not work to dismantle full service broadcast TV in exchange for their approval of his nomination. If he does not make such a pledge, Congress should vote down this appointment.
Roger Thornhill Nickname posted over 3 years ago
In giving Mignon Clyburn the job of interim chairman, Obama is basically throwing a bone to women and minorities. Now that he is in his second term and no longer campaigning, there is no real need for Obama to appease any special interest group--and he won't. I think with Ms. Rosenworcel's "fairness to all stakeholders" policy he saw weakness. Wheeler won't be interested in fairness but in carrying out his old buddy's wishes which is to bulldoze broadcast TV and make way for a broadband-only (or possibly a broadband/MVPD-only) world. The only sticking point, and its a clever one, is getting the nomination past Sen. Rockefeller, who has openly endorsed Rosenworcel, and his committee. This could derail the appointment. Plus, many representatives on Capitol Hill have shown great concern for the future of OTA TV, including LPTV and translators, and I'm sure we'll see some kind of legislation introduced that will offer more protection for the service. 2014 will be an interesting year (for that matter so will the latter half on '13).
dawg78 Nickname posted over 3 years ago
What doe we (broadcasters) expect from a Wheeler FCC? The shaft--just like we got for his predecessor's FCC.
dawg78 Nickname posted over 3 years ago
What do broadcasters expect from a Tom Wheeler FCC? The shaft--just like we got from his predecessor's FCC.
Roger Thornhill Nickname posted over 3 years ago
And as far as retransmission consent is concerned, we know Tom Wheeler will do the right thing......for cable.
RustbeltAlumnus2 Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Elections have consequences. If you liked Obama, you'll have to like Wheeler.
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 26, 2016
  • 1.
    4.4/12
  • 2.
    2.8/8
  • 3.
    2.5/7
  • 4.
    1.5/4
  • 5.
    0.8/2
  • 6.
    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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