Briefly Noted

May 6, 2002  •  Post A Comment

FTC and Justice chiefs must answer to Hollings
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Tim Muris and Justice Department Antitrust Division Chief Charles James will soon face tough questioning from Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and his Senate Commerce panel. The lawmaker will hold a hearing on a controversial agreement between the agencies that stripped the FTC of its media merger review authority, consolidating the responsibility under Justice. Mr. Muris and Mr. James will be the main witnesses, with some watchdogs also slated to testify. The senator initially set the hearing for Tuesday but postponed it due to a scheduling conflict. A new date had not been chosen at deadline.
McCain chastises broadcasters over digital TV
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, had strong words last week for the 1,000-plus commercial broadcasters who missed the May 1 deadline to begin broadcasting in digital. “The transition to digital television has been a grave disappointment for American consumers-but not surprising to this member,” he said. “If significant progress is not made in the DTV transition, then I will introduce legislation that will not be voluntary.”
But House Commerce head Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., was more optimistic. “There’s a lot of equipment in the pipeline. A lot of orders for the transmission equipment. A lot of contracts out to install it. I think very shortly, within another 90 days, that number is going to be reduced dramatically,” he said. Nevertheless, he urged regulators to keep the pressure on broadcasters to make the digital transition on time.
Nachman becomes MSNBC editor in chief
Jerry Nachman, a veteran of radio, TV and print journalism, has been named editor in chief of MSNBC. He’ll report directly to Erik Sorenson, president and general manager of the news outlet that recently nicknamed itself “America’s News Channel.” Mr. Nachman, whose start date is May 13, also will host an afternoon hour of analysis weekdays on MSNBC. Mr. Nachman has run news departments for CBS- and NBC-owned stations, was editor of the New York Post and was a writer and executive producer on “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.”
AT&T launches SVOD trial in L.A. market
AT&T Broadband last week began a market trial of subscription video-on-demand services in the Southern California communities of Westchester and Culver City, featuring content from Showtime and Starz! The launch represents AT&T Broadband’s first foray into premium subscription VOD and is the first deployment of Showtime on Demand and Starz on Demand in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The trial is expected to last up to six months. AT&T Broadband launched VOD in these communities last summer.
FCC channel auction delayed
The Federal Communication Commission’s planned June 19 auction of analog television Channels 52 to 59 and 60 to 69 is looking less certain. That’s because the House Commerce Committee last Thursday passed legislation that indefinitely postpones the auction, intended to free the spectrum for use by advanced wireless services and public safety groups. The legislation’s backers-including panel Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.-think the auction would be premature because it’s unclear when broadcasters will vacate the channels as part of the digital transition. Also uncertain is how wireless companies plan to use the spectrum. Rep. Tauzin has asked FCC Chairman Michael Powell to delay the auction a year, so the bill, slated for a floor vote this week, has time to pass. The Senate is expected to consider a counterpart. Meanwhile, Rep. Tauzin will spearhead a spectrum reform plan that will locate frequencies for new services and dissuade the government from holding auctions strictly for budgetary purposes.
Markey wants spectrum revenue for trust fund
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation late last week that creates a trust fund from revenue generated by spectrum auctions to finance a bevy of public-interest communications initiatives, including the transition of public television and radio stations to digital. Also last week, he slammed the Federal Communications Commission for requiring upstart video and Internet provider Northpoint Technology to bid on frequencies it needs to launch a nationwide wireless programming service. The service would compete head-on with cable and satellite. The congressman said it’s “unjust” for the agency to require Northpoint to participate in auctions when it’s been a technology trailblazer.
Short takes
“Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer signed a new deal that may have more than doubled his salary for three more years, according to TV Guide. Mr. Lauer had been presumed to be earning about $4 million a year under his current contract. … Dan Rather will remain at CBS through at least 2006 under a contract extension that is about to be signed. Mr. Rather’s contract is not up until next year, but a source familiar with his habits said Mr. Rather prefers to wrap up his contracts early.