Washington Notes

Mar 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Armey fighting McCain’s proposal
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain’s latest proposal on free airtime for politicians is already facing heavy artillery on Capitol Hill. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told Electronic Media last week that he opposes the idea and will seek to block any similar bill that emerges on the House side. “I’m going to try to kill it,” he said following a speech at the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership conference, noting that he’s not sure where the rest of the House Republican leadership stands. “Why not make the sign makers give us free signs too?” he added rhetorically. Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., is drafting legislation that requires broadcasters to pay spectrum fees to underwrite candidates’ television ads.
Corzine seeks cheaper political ads
Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J., is considering legislation that would make sure politicians pay only the so-called lowest unit rates for political ads. Under existing law, broadcasters must offer politicians their lowest rates for political ads. But stations can pre-empt political ads for entities willing to pay more for the time slots as long as the political ads air sometime that day, even if it’s in the wee hours of the morning. That can force politicians to pay higher rates if they want to guarantee their ads reach key audiences, such as prime-time viewers. Mr. Corzine experienced this problem during his expensive Senate race in New Jersey. He’ll decide this week if he’ll proceed with legislation and whether he’ll attach it to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.
Lawmakers target interactive TV laws
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., wants Congress or the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that competing interactive TV services do not face discrimination in the marketplace. He envisions a new law or regulations that will guarantee such services have access to any “transport platforms,” he said in an interview last week. Meanwhile, he and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., plan to offer legislation mandating open access for competing Internet services on cable broadband systems. Rep. Boucher also wants to add a new category to the Communications Act to cover regulation of “converged services,” such as companies that offer voice, video and data.
Public stations seek $699M for DTV
Public broadcasters are seeking $699 million from Congress over a five-year period to assist with their transition to digital, about half what the industry says it needs to meet a government mandate that its stations convert no later than 2003. Of that total, they’ve requested $256 million in fiscal year 2002 for their transition needs and $183 million in fiscal year 2003.
Few TV station Web sites profitable
Most Web sites run by TV and radio stations operate in the red or break even, according to just-released data from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Ball State University. Of the 830 TV stations in the country that offer local news on their telecasts, 91 percent operate Web sites. But only 7 percent of the sites are profitable, with 20 percent breaking even and 32 percent operating at a loss. Curiously, 42 percent of the TV stations surveyed don’t know if their sites turn a profit. In the radio world, only 4 percent of Web sites operate in the black. Eighteen percent break even or take a loss.
Meanwhile, 78 percent of the radio stations surveyed don’t know if their sites are profitable. The data, part of a broader, annual survey of broadcast outlets, will be published by the RTNDA in May. Local weather and news are the top two subjects that computer users check on the sites. Another finding is that these sites drive audiences from TV to the Web but rarely the other way around. Ball State professor Bob Papper said at a March 14 forum in Washington that the sites succeed when a lot of resources are put into them. “If a station looks at it as a promotional tool, it’s never going to go anywhere.”