Monday, June 02, 2003
So. (try to imagine a dramatic pause) Today, as reported on the Washington Post website, the very unheralded Powell Rules went into effect as:
An ideologically fractured Federal Communications Commission voted 3 to 2 along party lines today to relax or eliminate some key media ownership rules, allowing a newspaper to own a television station in the same city and broadcast networks to buy more stations at the national and local levels. FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell joined fellow Republican commissioners Kathleen Q. Abernathy and Kevin J. Martin in approving the changes, while Democrats Jonathan S. Adelstein and Michael J. Copps voted against the changes.
FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, whom I consider the prettiest house slave on the whole Bush Plantation if a tad on the chubby side, has insisted in his Buddha-like appearances that he frets over the fate of “innocents” like Mel Karmazin out in the tough competitive marketplace.
If any of you saw Mr. Karmazin testify before Congress you might agree with me that Viacom President Mel Karmazin looks, to use the vernacular, rough, resembling a cleaned-up member of a tony crime syndicate. He seemed, like the other innocent from Australia, highly capable of negotiating market dangers with perhaps the “assistance” of a few of his own henchmen without the capitulation of a Federal Agency.
I was a television director for 30 years. I directed a wide range of programs for foreign and domestic broadcasting companies and governments. In my last years (mid to late 90’s) I directed the main daily newscasts for a large top 10 market station. This station, at that time, netted $40 million annually after taxes.
For 14 years of my 17 years at the station my newscasts were, through the efforts of many many talented people, tops in the marketplace ratings. Today, after years of brutal cost cutting and cutthroat union negotiating, the station is populated with young low-paid non-union part-timers. Everything still looks fine, with “looks” the operative word, because the corporate boys never bat an eye at $300K news sets and still pay their curmudgeonly bloviating windbag of an anchor man $20K+, pre-tax, every bi-weekly pay period to front their video press release-filled local newscasts.
This station would annually win 20 to 25 Emmy statues for spot news, investigative reports and superb feature reporting produced by as diverse a group of people as could be imagined. No more. In a recent Emmy ceremony this station, nominated for only two minor awards, went home embarrassingly empty-handed.
Of course the ratings have tumbled from the Golden Days when cable and mergers still loomed in a distant future. In a six station market with four doing daily newscasts this station regularly has broadcasts trailing stations offering cartoons and sitcom reruns. One assumes their ad rates have fallen but in this crazy “make any number talk” marketing environment that is not necessarily a safe bet.
None of this possible loss of revenue through declining ad rates happened because of marketplace difficulties. As USA Interactive CEO Barry Diller said, "The only way you can lose money in broadcasting is if somebody steals it from you." Any loss of revenue came directly through the actions of the corporation. Now, thanks to the sneaky efforts of Mr. Powell, this same corporation can now own one newspaper and two television stations in the same town. And, with the cost cutting needed to pay for those acquisitions, television viewers across the US will soon witness an orgy of mergers and an absence of meaningful non-violent non-sexually objectifying content in a very happy news environment.
Photo: Rick Bowmer, Associated Press