(Online definition of moment: “a very brief period of time.” The italics are mine.)
September’s blog numbers were high with more than a thousand views, despite the fact I only published four posts. (I know. I have to do better on that. And I can’t complain about the time, but each takes many hours to get – hopefully – just right!)
Amazon claims the median salary for a full-time employee in the U.S. is $34,123, and not the $28,446 figure Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claimed when he proposed a bill that
“would impose a 100 percent tax on government benefits received by workers at companies with 500 or more employees. For example, if an Amazon employee receives $300 in food stamps, Amazon would be taxed $300.”
That’s a win for Amazon’s lowest-paid workers, but there’s a loss for Warner Wolf (not that he works at Amazon).
“Let’s go to the verdict!”
I’ve said many times I don’t want to live in Florida and that was even when I lived there. I think the Sunshine State has nothing to offer except a short time to thaw out at the beach in the winter. Oh, and low taxes and some family.
“In a ruling released last week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James d’Auguste wrote that the 80-year-old Wolf’s residence in the premier state for retirees means the suit fails on jurisdictional grounds.
“‘Due to the fact that Wolf is a Florida resident that worked in Florida, he lacks any viable claims…since the impact of any alleged discriminatory conduct would have been in Florida,’ d’Auguste wrote.”
The judge also noted Imus lives in Texas and at 78, he’s in the same age category.
From radio and TV, to your computer and smartphone.
Sunday was a big day and not just for football fans. This involves every single one of you who uses the Internet.
Last December, the Federal Communications Commission under President Trump’s appointed chairman Ajit Pai repealed many net neutrality rules passed in 2015 during the Obama administration. Those rules prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking content, or charging for access to certain sites. Consider it Internet freedom and equal access. You pay for a month and should be able to use it as you like.
But later Sunday, the Justice Department sued to prevent the law from taking effect. It argued broadband communications are interstate commerce and that’s regulated by the federal government, not the states.
The FCC wants to deregulate the industry and its repeal actually, specifically forbids states from passing their own net neutrality rules. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer (think Fios), claims net neutrality stifles investment and burdens ISPs with regulation.
The feds’ net neutrality rules are set to take effect in January for the rest of us.
Unfortunately, this post isn’t ending as happily as it started.
I’ve watched and studied politics for decades, and written about it many times here. But lately, I’ve come to hate the subject. Any wonder why?
TV news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) probably had a similar feeling in the 1976 movie Network.
We may even be at the point where he screamed,
“We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy!”
(Let me know in the comments section below.)
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
became so popular, it ranked number 19 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema, released June 21, 2005, for the organization’s 100th anniversary. Network itself came in number 66 in the movie category. (The number 1 quote was Clark Gable as Rhett Butler saying
And thanks, Todd, for having me watch this years ago. New readers will come to learn I’m not the best with movies. Last month, I finally watched another 1976 movie classic, shot right across the street.
Rocky became the highest-grossing film of the year (spawning six sequels) and went on to win three Oscars, including Best Picture. As for the AFI, it’s movie number 78, number 2 in sports after Raging Bull (click here for genres) and quote number 80.
And the scene there last week, if you follow me on Twitter, or just look at the feed on right side of this page (below on mobile):
Now, what you can do (rather than sticking your head out the window in the rain):
The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 midterm elections – just 35 days away – is a week from today (Oct. 9) in Pennsylvania, two weeks from today (Oct. 16) in New Jersey, next Saturday (Oct. 13) in Delaware, next Friday (Oct. 12) in New York, and next Thursday (Oct. 11) in Florida (and I meant what I said). That should cover most of you. (Click here if it doesn’t.) Make sure you’re registered, learn about your candidates, and take a moment to note Tuesday, Nov. 6, on your calendar right now. (You may even get a sticker!)
Again, please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennycohen
There’s something to be said for waiting before starting to write. That’s not my nature. I want to get things out first. I type very well but nobody can do it as quickly as my brain, so I often dictate into a phone and email myself. Then, I make any corrections and additions, and create the graphics and email preferences.
But this saga of Sinclair Broadcast Group trying to buy Tribune Media that has been going on for more than a year and suddenly failing last week – supposedly failing – is full of interesting details.
I wrote about a lot of them, Tuesday night. That was mostly background. You know how little I admire Sinclair and the people who run it. Tonight, you’ll see exactly what went wrong for the deal and what I think should be done. Let’s just say what went wrong could’ve been a lot of what I wrote Tuesday night!
But first, the latest, and that’s Cox Media Group – one of the best corporations owning TV stations out there, and a private one – is exploring putting itself up for sale.
Yesterday, FTVLlive’s Scott Jones got a secret copy of the talking points Cox managers are supposed to use while talking to employees. Let’s face it, “talking points” is another phrase meaning public relations. In other words, they’re trying to convince the workers to keep working extra hard because everything is going to be great! (I hope you used your best Tony the Tiger when you read that.)
Of course, that’s not how employees are feeling. When your company suddenly sets itself up to be bought, there is lots of uncertainty. You know spending will go down and jobs will not be filled, so the company’s financials look more attractive. And being bought by another major established company could lead to layoffs. But you know that’s not in the talking points which you can see below in this six-page slideshow.
Cox’s 14 TV stations are pretty good and most are highly-rated ones. From left to right, by row, they’re the ABC affiliate in Atlanta; ABC and independent in Orlando; Fox in Boston; CBS in Seattle; NBC in Pittsburgh; ABC and independent in Charlotte; Fox and CBS in Jacksonville; Fox in Memphis; CBS in Dayton, Ohio; Fox in Tulsa, Okla.; and also a “supply-side platform that brings automation and data-driven targeting to the buying and selling of television advertising” called Videa.
There are also 61 radio stations, 4 daily newspapers, 11 non-daily papers, 16 digital brands, and one local cable channel.
FTVLive’s Scott Jones also got a market analyst report from Wells Fargo about how much Cox Media may be worth. The answer it gives is $2.65 billion, but consider many factors including the number of willing buyers, whether the stations get split up, and whether Tribune goes back on the market.
See Tuesday’s post for a lot more links to, and details on, the rest of Atlanta-based Cox.
So FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was arguably putting himself on the line while supporting the Sinclair-Tribune merger when surprisingly, last week, he said in a statement:
“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair-Tribune transaction. … The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. … When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues.”
Pai embraced the merger so much, he’s under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general for allegedly greasing the wheels by bringing back the UHF discount rule weeks before the deal was announced. That way, the new, larger company could still meet the FCC ownership limit of 39 percent of U.S. households, rather than vastly exceeding them.
— UPDATE: The FCC inspector general cleared Chairman Ajit Pai of being unfairly biased in favor of the Sinclair Broadcast Group–Tribune Media merger. —
Then yesterday – at an awkward moment for Pai, Sinclair and Tribune – a Washington-based U.S. Appeals Court rejected a challenge to the FCC reinstating the UHF discount that could’ve and could still pave the way for the merger. The three-judge panel was comprised of two President Barack Obama nominees and one President Trump nominee. They dismissed the case on technical grounds without considering its merits, ruling the activist groups that filed suit hadn’t shown they’d be injured by the consolidation at the heart of their case. What this really means is Tribune could be worth more if it pulls out of the deal, because other potential suitors will have more flexibility to make offers. Tribune can leave Sinclair at the alter/chuppah on Aug. 8.
The UHF discount, started in 1985, let companies with UHF (channels 14+) stations only count half the coverage area towards the ownership limit. But that was when there was a big difference between watching channels 2 to 13, and channels 14+. With today’s technology – and cable, satellite and computers added to the mix, and broadcast signals digital rather than analog – the quality looks the same. The rule was ended in 2016, just before the end of President Obama’s administration.
So why bring back the rule last year? For big corporations, up against the ownership limit, urging Pai to reinstate it so they could buy more stations – exactly what Sinclair needed to merge with Tribune.
“She showed a chart from Bloomberg showing how major station groups benefit from the discount. The largest, ION Media, reaches 33.7% of the country with the discount, but 65.2% without. Univision reaches 23.6% with the discount, but 44.8% without. When the discount was repealed last summer, station groups were allowed to retain their existing holdings, but they would be forced to divest assets in the event of a merger or corporate takeover.”
But Pai argued the FCC would start examining the media ownership cap and reinstating the UHF discount would give the FCC a “blank slate.” The examination started in December.
According to Variety, Judge Gregory Katsas noted to the FCC’s attorney, James Carr, that while the FCC
“might want to raise the cap,” there was “no reason for thinking at that the end of the day, part of the solution will be keeping the discount.”
“I think that is probably fair, your honor,” Carr replied. He argued that the UHF discount shouldn’t be eliminated without considering its implications to the 39% cap.
Meanwhile, CEO Chris Ruddy of conservative TV news network Newsmax said, “The judges on the D.C. Circuit reviewing the FCC’s UHF discount were left scratching their heads wondering why the rule was re-instated when everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — agree that the discount is an analog relic and makes no sense in a digital world.
“The FCC should avoid the appearance of impropriety and proceed with a transparent national ownership cap proceeding to set a level playing field before approving any merger that benefits just one company, namely Sinclair.”
He also said he told President Trump strict limits on national TV ownership are needed not only to keep a lid on Sinclair, but also on the ‘liberal’ broadcast networks.
“Sinclair has been a frequent target for Democrats and liberal groups disturbed by reports that it favors President Donald Trump in its coverage via ‘must-run’ segments pumped to its network of stations.”
“gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign” while airing negative stories on Hillary Clinton, and Politico reported “on a boast by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that the president’s campaign had struck a deal with the broadcast group for better media coverage. Sinclair disputed the characterization, saying it was an arrangement for extended sit-down interviews that was offered to both candidates.”
Also, it was Trump who nominated Pai for the agency’s top post, so most experts felt the merger would eventually get the go-ahead due to President Trump’s public comments praising the media company, which boasts a conservative-leaning, anti-mainstream media news operation.
My last post mentioned many different cases of using shell companies under Sinclair’s control to still broadcast on more stations than allowed. Those so-called sidecar arrangements let Sinclair keep a stake in the revenue and programming of the spun-off stations.
I even asked, “Why was the FCC the last to find out? Or did it know and ignore the facts for political reasons?”
Today, I found a new example of a virtual triopoly (three stations in a market), when the FCC only allows duopolies (two stations in a market) and only under certain conditions.
“The WGN services agreement would have kept Sinclair in charge of everything from programming to ad sales while giving it an option to buy back the station for the same price, subject to adjustments, within eight years.”
Sinclair was also supposed to sell WPIX-New York, the nation’s largest TV market by far, for a measly $15 million to that same Cunningham Broadcasting, a company with close ties to the Smith family. That caused Pai to say he was concerned Sinclair’s proposed sales in Chicago and New York may have attempted to deceive the government.
Adweek said also troubling
“were the deals to sell stations in Dallas and Houston to Cunningham Broadcasting.”
The Tribune reported,
“The proposal also included an option to buy the stations back.”
“Separate filings with the FCC last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative news outlet Newsmax Media” … raised “questions about whether Sinclair would continue to control some of the stations it proposes to divest.”
So Politico said,
“Pai announced an administrative law judge would review the station spinoff issues. The FCC takes that step when companies fail to persuade it that a transaction, even with conditions, would be in the public interest.”
“Among these applications were three that, rather than transfer broadcast television licenses in Chicago, Dallas, and Houston directly to Sinclair, proposed to transfer these licenses to other entities. The record raises significant questions as to whether those proposed divestitures were in fact “sham” transactions. By way of example, one application proposed to transfer WGN-TV in Chicago to an individual (Steven Fader) with no prior experience in broadcasting who currently serves as CEO of a company in which Sinclair’s executive chairman has a controlling interest. Moreover, Sinclair would have owned most of WGN-TV’s assets, and pursuant to a number of agreements, would have been responsible for many aspects of the station’s operation. Finally, Fader would have purchased WGN-TV at a price that appeared to be significantly below market value, and Sinclair would have had an option to buy back the station in the future. Such facts raise questions about whether Sinclair was the real party in interest under Commission rules and precedents and attempted to skirt the Commission’s broadcast ownership rules. Although these three applications were withdrawn today, material questions remain because the real party-in-interest issue in this case includes a potential element of misrepresentation or lack of candor that may suggest granting other, related applications by the same party would not be in the public interest.”
This keeps getting better!
Politico said an administrative law judge was called in 2015 with the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal. The companies later abandoned it, rather than go through the hearing process. AT&T ended up with Time Warner, at least for now, after a federal judge allowed it without conditions, but the Justice Department is appealing.
“to ‘expedite’ the transaction after the FCC suggested the company would still control the stations,” and “two FCC officials who did not wish to be identified said Wednesday they believe the merger will not be able to proceed.”
Instead, Sinclair itself will acquire WGN-Chicago, and put KDAF-Dallas and KIAH-Houston into a divestiture trust and sold by an independent trustee (if the acquisition is finalized).
The Justice Department is also still reviewing the deal and the FCC may have even more concerns.
Sinclair denied any effort to mislead the FCC and issued this long statement:
“While neither Sinclair or Tribune have seen the draft HDO, Chairman Pai’s comments and press reports indicate the FCC is questioning the proposed divestitures in Dallas, Houston and Chicago. Accordingly, in order to address such concerns and to expedite the Tribune transaction, Sinclair has withdrawn the pending divestitures of stations in Dallas (KDAF) and Houston (KIAH) to Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and Tribune has withdrawn the pending divestiture of WGN in Chicago to WGN-TV LLC. Sinclair intends to request permission from the FCC to put the Dallas and Houston stations into a divestiture trust to be operated and sold by an independent trustee following the closing of the Tribune acquisition. Sinclair expects to have identified and entered into a purchase agreement with a third party buyer or buyers for the Dallas and Houston stations prior to closing. As a result of the withdrawal of the application relating to WGN, Sinclair will simply acquire that station as part of the Tribune acquisition, which is, and has always been, fully permissible under the national ownership cap.
“Throughout the FCC review process of the Tribune merger and divestitures, Sinclair has had numerous meetings and discussions with the FCC’s Media Bureau to make sure that they were fully aware of the transaction’s structure and basis for complying with FCC rules and meeting public interest obligations. During these discussions and in our filings with the FCC, we have been completely transparent about every aspect of the proposed transaction. We have fully identified who the buyers are and the terms under which stations would be sold to such buyer, including any ongoing relationship we would have with any such stations after the sales. All relevant agreements documenting such terms as required by FCC rules have been filed. While we understand that certain parties, which oppose the transaction object to certain of the buyers based on such buyers’ relationships with Sinclair, at no time have we withheld information or misled the FCC in any manner whatsoever with respect to the relationships or the structure of those relationships proposed as part of the Tribune acquisition. Any suggestion to the contrary is unfounded and without factual basis.
“While the structures put forth to the FCC throughout the process have all been in compliance with law and consistent with structures that Sinclair and many other broadcasters have utilized for many years with the full approval of the FCC, we have consistently modified the structure in order to address any concerns raised by the FCC. As a result and in light of the ongoing and constructive dialogue we had with the FCC during the past year, we were shocked that concerns are now being raised. Nonetheless, we have decided to move forward with these additional changes to satisfy the FCC’s concerns.
“There can be no question regarding misrepresentation or character given that Sinclair has fully disclosed all terms of all aspects of the transactions it has proposed. The FCC’s reported concerns with sales to certain parties have been eliminated in light of the withdrawals of the applications relating to Dallas, Houston and Chicago. Accordingly, we call upon the FCC to approve the modified Tribune acquisition in order to bring closure to this extraordinarily drawn-out process and to provide certainty to the thousands of Tribune employees who are looking for closure.”
So what’s next for Tribune? Will it stick by the deal as it said it intends? We don’t know for sure yet, but it has until Aug. 8 and I already mentioned reasons to separate from Sinclair.
This video was made before Cox threw its assets into the ring.
“Fox threatened to pull its affiliates from Sinclair and switch the stations to an independent broadcaster. Eventually, in order to satisfy regulators, Sinclair agreed to sell some Tribune stations to Fox, which, in turn, said it would renew Sinclair’s affiliation with more than two dozen stations.”
Now, Fox may be able to buy even more stations.
And “Sinclair may soon compete with Fox News for right-leaning TV viewers” may not come to pass. It has reportedly been talking about hiring former Fox News stars to create a block of conservative programming using WGN America, which it would acquire, or The Tennis Channel, which it already owns. Former Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn and former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson already work for Sinclair. Politico reported Sinclair has even approached current and former Fox talent such as Jeanine Pirro, and Greta Van Susteren and Eric Bolling. I already wrote Talks with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly fell apart. Sinclair won’t admit to any of that.
Also, the Justice Department appealed the ruling that let AT&T buy Time Warner. That’s good for Fox at the moment because it involves Fox News Channel rival CNN, and may have kept Comcast/NBC from buying most of Fox, as it downsizes to become “New Fox.” Murdoch prefers Disney/ABC buying the assets, which the government already approved, and “the Murdoch family would see more tax benefits in that deal.”
So what’s President Trump’s beef? You already read about his relationship with Sinclair.
So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune. This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!
Tuesday night, he tweeted it was “sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” but Republicans control the FCC, he appointed Ajit Pai as chairman, and Pai has been accused of being too cozy with Sinclair. But except for appointments, the FCC is independent from the White House.
The only Democratic FCC commissioner at the moment tweeted her response to the president with just one word: disagree.
But Trump’s friend Rupert Murdoch – who also owns TV stations and the pro-Trump Fox News Channel – is said to be against the merger. That would be especially so if Sinclair starts putting conservative news on cable through WGN America and The Tennis Channel. Trump is so chummy with Murdoch, he called in December to congratulate him on the Disney-21st Century Fox deal.
I wrote another friend, NewsMax chief Chris Ruddy, is definitely against Sinclair-Tribune, as well.
Furthermore, the president compared Sinclair-Tribune to letting “Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast (get) approved” which happened under the Obama administration and FCC. Trump criticized it as being too big.
He didn’t mention it’s on the level of AT&T-Time Warner, which a federal judge recently allowed but the Justice Department is appealing.
The difference between Sinclair-Tribune and Disney-Fox – and NBC-Comcast and AT&T-Time Warner – is that the first pair involve companies that make content but don’t distribute it. In the second pair, NBC and Time-Warner make content, but Comcast and AT&T actually distribute it — Comcast through cable and AT&T by DirecTV satellite, both of which are paid subscription services.
The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The “Fakers” at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!
That was at 6:34am. Keep in mind, a great number of Sinclair’s stations are affiliated with the networks.
Then, at 6:58, Trump took on CNN…
Check out the fact that you can’t get a job at ratings challenged @CNN unless you state that you are totally anti-Trump? Little Jeff Zuker, whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately. They should clean up and strengthen CNN and get back to honest reporting!
Once again, false. The personal political beliefs of CNN's employees are of no interest to us. Their pursuit of the truth is our only concern. Also, Jeff's last name is spelled Z-U-C-K-E-R. Those are the facts. #FactsFirst🍎
CNN reports some Sinclair journalists said they were unhappy with President Trump’s portrayal of the company as “conservative” because they want to be recognized for their straight-forward, nonpartisan work. Despite their stations being forced to air pro-Trump commentaries and stories, most journalists at local stations don’t want to be labeled by the president or anyone else.
As for Sinclair’s claim of more localism if the deal goes through, FTVLive’s Scott Jones found Sinclair station WSYX-Columbus, Ohio, doing a series of reports called “Gator Week” (as opposed to Shark Week, that has been on the Discovery Channel since 1988). Still, Jones thought it was “odd” considering “you don’t see many alligators in Ohio.” Then, he found out about other Sinclair stations doing the same thing, “including WGXA (Macon, Ga.), WPMI (Mobile, Ala.), WPEC (West Palm Beach) and others.” He joked he wasn’t sure it was a must-run.
I, myself, found Shark Week on a retweet from the Cunningham Broadcasting station in mid-Michigan. Maybe WBSF was allowed to go a different route.
WBSF’s “About” section says it’s “owned and operated by Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” So there are three terms/phrases: owned, operated, and “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” Maybe that’s because just above, it says to send all press releases to firstname.lastname@example.org. So maybe “certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group” includes press releases.
Below, there are nbc25news email addresses for comments, webmaster (the Sinclair owned, operated, and apparently “affiliated” websites all look similar), contests and weather.
And below that are Sinclair (sbgi.net) email addresses for corporate, two for national advertising, and the secondary person for closed-captioning concerns.
So maybe those are all the “certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”
That’s all very interesting since I knew Sinclair controlled two other stations in the same location!
NBC affiliate WEYI has on its “about” section (with the same look) that it’s “owned and operated by Howard Stirk Holdings, LLC and receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair Broadcast Group.” That entire phrase is merely a substitution for Armstrong Williams’ company and we established in my last post that WEYI is one of a few Howard Stirk stations run by Sinclair. They also use the nbc25news email, but it’s more appropriate here.
Then there’s Fox affiliate WSMH that has on its “about” section (with the same look, of course) that it’s – wait for this! – actually “owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group.” The email addresses are all wsmh.com. The “receives certain services” phrase is not there.
I did notice after the paragraph with the name of the owner, etc., and ties to Sinclair, is another called “Community Involvement.”
What’s funny is that all three stations start with “The owner and Sinclair Broadcast Group, LLC. continue to broaden its recruiting outreach…”
That means “the owner” can be whichever company actually holds the station license and it’s not named here, just referred to as “the owner,” out of laziness.
But what’s especially funny here is saying “The owner and Sinclair Broadcast Group” when Sinclair is really the owner!
“An entity is permitted to own up to two TV stations in the same Designated Market Area if either:
“The service areas – known as the digital noise limited service contour – of the stations do not overlap
“At least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four stations in the DMA (based on audience share), and at least eight independently owned TV stations would remain in the market after the proposed combination”
That’s the summary in its entirety! The stations cover the same area. An old website reports “eight full-power television stations in the Flint-Saginaw-Bay City market,” the others being CBS and ABC affiliates, two PBS affiliates and a religious broadcaster.
And the NBC, Fox and CW stations are controlled by the same company, for all intents and purposes. I’d bet the CW station is not in the top four rated, but the rules are for an entity “to own up to two TV stations” – just two!
“Its mishandling of its merger application has badly stained its permanent FCC record in a way that could greatly complicate its future regulatory dealings. … And a liar is what the FCC has accused Sinclair of being by obfuscating the fact it would continue to control three major market stations that it told the FCC it would spin off to other broadcasters to comply with ownership limits.
“You see, the FCC acts on the honor system. It presumes that you are obeying all the rules and expects you to confess any infractions. It’s the principal way the FCC polices those it regulates. That’s why lying – the ever-polite FCC calls it “misrepresentation” or “lack of candor” – is taken seriously and is the FCC equivalent of a capital crime. … As the lawyers pointed out to me this week, once indicted for misrepresentation as Sinclair has now been, it sticks because it goes to the broadcaster’s basic character qualifications to be a licensee. It cannot buy or sell a station or even renew a license until it resolves the character question. Sinclair’s best move now is to walk away from the merger and promise, no, swear on a stack of Bibles, that it will never, ever mislead the FCC again.
“Sinclair has no one but itself to blame for this fiasco. It pushed too hard to keep as many of the Tribune stations as it could and somewhere along the line lost sight of the larger goal – get the transfer through the FCC and get to closing. … (David Smith) kept going back to the FCC (and the Justice Department) demanding more and more. Ironically, he will likely end up with nothing, except maybe a new set of regulatory hassles.”
“never seen such ‘harsh’ language from the FCC about an applicant for a merger. The ‘vitriolic’ tone of the FCC statement makes it dubious that Sinclair and Tribune will be able to come back with divestitures that will satisfy the FCC.”
Bottom line: Anyone who knows me knows I can be tough, especially on myself. The people who run and invest in the nation’s largest media company have been breaking rules all over the place for many years. It’s time the FCC gets extremely serious so it’s taken seriously when protecting the public interest from those using the public airwaves.
Does anyone remember the RKO situation? Have a seat and look for similarities. (I wrote this with information from several Wikipedia listings.)
RKO General was the main holding company through 1991 for the non-core businesses of the General Tire and Rubber Company.
It had been in broadcasting since 1943, and General Tire bought the RKO Radio Pictures movie studio in 1955, but dissolved it in 1959. From then until 1991, it operated six TV stations and more than a dozen radio stations. It also holds the record for the longest licensing dispute in television history.
The trouble began in 1965. RKO General applied for license renewal of KHJ-TV in Los Angeles (now KCAL-Channel 9). A local group, Fidelity Television, challenged it, charging RKO with second-rate programming, and later and more seriously, that General Tire conditioned its dealings with certain vendors on the basis they’d buy advertising time on RKO General stations. These “reciprocal trade practices” are considered anti-competitive. RKO and General Tire executives testified before the FCC and rejected the accusations. Four years later, in 1969, the commission issued an initial finding that Fidelity’s claims were correct.
That same year, RKO faced a license challenge for WNAC-TV in Boston (now WHDH-Channel 7, not to be confused with the old WHDH-Channel 5), again charged with reciprocal trade practices.
Four years later, in 1973, the FCC ruled in favor of RKO in the Los Angeles case, pending findings in the still-ongoing Boston investigation. The next year, in 1974, when RKO applied for license renewal of WOR-TV in New York (now WWOR-Channel 9, technically Secaucus, NJ), the FCC conditioned the renewal on the Boston case as well.
SIDEBAR: Another Boston FCC case lasted 15 years – not the record, but from sign-on to sign-off – and involved the former WHDH-Channel 5. The DuMont Television Network applied for a construction permit for the channel, but shut down its network before getting it. The Boston Herald Traveler Corporation got the license, signed on in 1957, and shortly after, the FCC started investigating allegations of impropriety in the granting of the television license. (Allegedly, the controversy was over luncheon meetings the newspaper’s chief executive had with an FCC commissioner during the original licensing process.) So the old channel 5 (WHDH) never had a license longer than six months at a time while the standard was three years.
ABC-TV’s Video ID w/WCVB-TV Boston Byline – Late 1977
Eventually, the FCC ordered comparative hearings and in 1969, a local group called Boston Broadcasters was granted a construction permit for a new station on channel 5 called WCVB after it promised to air more local programming than any other station in America at the time. That’s even though the old channel 5 (WHDH) often broadcast more local programming than any other commercial TV station in Boston. Herald-Traveler Corporation lost its court case in 1972 and WCVB went on the air in its place. Luckily, everyone on the old channel 5 moved to the new channel 5 which still broadcasts from the suburb of Needham, since the old WHDH-TV refused to sell its studios, transmitter and tower to the new WCVB, which is now owned by Hearst.
NOW BACK TO THE STORY: In June, 1974, an administrative law judge renewed the WNAC-Channel 7 Boston license even after finding General Tire and RKO General had engaged in reciprocal trade practices. In December, 1975, a company competing for the license called Community Broadcasting asked the FCC to revisit the case. It alleged General Tire bribed foreign officials, maintained a slush fund for U.S. political campaign contributions, and misappropriated revenue from overseas operations. RKO denied all the allegations during a year-and-a-half series of proceedings. Then, in July, 1977, General Tire admitted to an eye-popping litany of corporate misconduct, including the bribery and slush fund charges, in order to settle an action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. But the TV situation wasn’t over yet. Still, the RKO proceedings dragged on!
Finally, in 1980, after a half-decade of hearings and investigations, the FCC stripped RKO of WNAC’s license. It found RKO “lacked the requisite character” to be the station’s licensee and gave as examples, the reciprocal trade practices of the 1960s, false financial filings by RKO, and General Tire’s gross misconduct in non-broadcast fields.
But the worst was RKO’s dishonesty before the FCC. During hearings, RKO withheld evidence of General Tire’s misconduct, including the fact the SEC had been investigating the company in 1976. RKO also denied it had improperly reported exchanges of broadcast time for various services, despite indications to the contrary in General Tire’s 1976 annual report. So the FCC found RKO had displayed a “persistent lack of candor” over its own and General Tire’s misdeeds, which threatened “the integrity of the Commission’s processes.” That FCC ruling meant RKO lost the KHJ-TV Los Angeles and WOR-TV New York licenses as well.
RKO appealed to the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld the revocation solely on the basis of RKO’s lack of candor. It wrote in its opinion, “[t]he record presented to this court shows irrefutably that the licensee was playing the dodger to serious charges involving it and its parent company.” But the court interpreted the candor issue so narrowly that it applied only to WNAC-TV, and ordered rehearings for WOR and KHJ. RKO General appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1982, SCOTUS refused to review the license revocation, and it was over. RKO General sold WNAC’s assets to New England Television (NETV), a new company from the merger of Community Broadcasting and another competitor for the license, the Dudley Station Corporation. The FCC granted a full license to NETV on channel 7, which it renamed WNEV-TV. Since then, the station changed its call letters to WHDH-TV, had low ratings, and was sold to Ed Ansin’s Sunbeam Television Corporation. (This WHDH has no relation to the old WHDH-Channel 5.)
It could’ve been worse. In 1983, the FCC began taking competing applications for all of RKO’s broadcasting licenses, but Congress passed a law sponsored by Sen. Bill Bradley requiring the commission to automatically renew the license of any commercial VHF-TV station relocating to a state without one, meaning New Jersey and Delaware. Two months later, RKO General officially changed WOR’s city of license from New York to Secaucus, NJ, where it remains on paper. The FCC made the station move its main studio there and step up coverage of events in the Garden State. Still, WOR maintained its identity as a New York station. (It’s now owned by Fox, which also owns WNYW-Channel 5, and got rid of channel 9’s newscasts.)
In 1984, RKO sold its Radio Networks operation to United Stations. In 1986, under pressure, RKO put WOR up for sale. MCA/Universal won the bidding war and the FCC approved the purchase. In 1987, MCA changed the call letters to WWOR. (Remember the slogan Universal 9, about 15 years before NBCUniversal was formed?)
RKO was lucky it sold WOR. In 1987, an FCC administrative law judge found it unfit to be a broadcast licensee due to a long history of deceptive practices he called the worst case of dishonesty in FCC history, and ordered RKO to surrender the licenses for its two remaining two TV stations and 12 remaining radio stations. RKO declared all of the employees responsible for the misconduct had been fired and appealed, claiming the ruling was deeply flawed. But the FCC made it clear it would probably reject any appeals and strip the licenses, and urged RKO to sell everything before that became necessary.
In 1988, under an FCC-supervised deal, the license of KHJ-Los Angeles was granted to Fidelity, the company that had originally challenged RKO General. Fidelity then transferred it to Disney, before it bought ABC, for $324 million. RKO got about two-thirds and Fidelity got the rest. By 1991, everything was sold. (Fort Lauderdale-Miami’s WAXY-FM 105.9 – which labeled itself “an RKO radio station” before giving its call letters, near the end – was sold in 1990. That was 28 years ago! Unbelievable!)
“When people are making comparisons between your station group and RKO General, you know you have screwed up.”
I think there are too many changes going on in the industry right now as technology improves so quickly. Jessell mentioned certain former FCC commissioners would’ve gone the RKO route with Sinclair. I agree because now more than ever, broadcasters use the public airwaves and must pay us back with public service under tougher rules than its competitors. And the FCC needs complete and total honesty, with so much on its hands.
Sinclair needs to be brought down similarly for all it has done, with the same family as owners and no concern for anything but profit over the decades. The stations should be separated. Local broadcasters or broadcasting groups with no other industry interests should be given first shot at the stations. Then, they can hire experienced people with original ideas, and decisions would be made right there in the studio building.
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In fact, the opposite has been happening over the past few days and it’ll likely lead to less children’s programming – and less attention when you complain about your TV, phone company or internet service provider.
“interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.”
But the amount of regulation looks to be receding faster than cars in a race.
Do you have kids, or know anyone who puts their kids in front of the TV?
Axios reports the FCC is starting to loosen broadcasters’ requirements for children’s TV programming. You know, those stations that are licensed by the government to use the public airwaves for the public interest.
You probably watched Saturday morning cartoons. They weren’t just fun but also carried a message or lesson. Even breaks in programming like ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! were educational. I’d go as far as to credit NBC’s The More You Know.
Cartoons were on all three networks when there were only three commercial broadcast networks, plus Fox may have even gotten into the act before the end. The new kid on the block did carry weekday afternoon cartoons, early on, when it had weaker stations that didn’t carry news.
News. That’s the magic word. It’s cheaper to produce and stations can pretty much put as many commercials in as they want.
NBC was first with Weekend Today. Then CBS and ABC came up with weekend editions of their weekday morning shows. (CBS did have Sunday Morning before the Saturday cartoon era ended.) And eventually, local stations followed. The news looked a lot like the previous night’s 11:00 news, just with different people!
It wasn’t like there was much going on most of the time.
But the new newscasts didn’t have to be good back then. It was the same when TV stations started putting local news on, weekday mornings. The TV station just had to let viewers know the world hadn’t ended, we weren’t at war and what the weather would be like.
Now, the FCC says the old rules aren’t needed because kids these days have apps and streaming services just for them! (Do they all have access? Really?)
Axios reports Nielsen data says the prime target of the rules — kids between 2 and 11 – are watching about 22 percent less regular TV between 2014 and 2017. Any wonder, when there’s nothing on for them? Put the youngsters in front of Fox News Channel and Days of Our Lives.
Instead, they’re using “apps like YouTube Kids, 24/7 kid-friendly cable channels like Nickelodeon and Disney Junior, on-demand shows like Sesame Street on HBO, and over-the-top kids programming on Netflix.”
FCC commissioners who want to lessen the kid rules refer to them as among the many “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome” ones on the books, according to Deadline magazine.
They say TV broadcasters have too many rules to follow, while tech companies don’t have any, so this would just make things fairer. But I say that’s because tech companiesdon’t use the public’s airwaves!
What are those rules and how burdensome are they?
“In 1990, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, which requires broadcasters to air three hours of educational programming per week (with limited advertising) in order to maintain their license. Children’s programming must also meet certain ‘Kid Vid’ requirements with respect to educational purpose, length and the time of day it is aired.”
My heart goes out to them.
Nobody is saying the three hours of educational programming per week has to be original. The networks, or syndication companies, or companies that own more than 100 TV stations can come up with it!
On the other hand, back in the day, it seemed every TV station had its own locally-produced children’s programming with live studio audiences, and I’m not referring to Captain Kangaroo which aired on CBS. Of course, back then, they also took news seriously, too!
Coming up next (using a TV phrase), it’s up to us – the public – to comment on the proposal. Then, the FCC will vote on final changes, later this year. If they succeed, Deadline says
“broadcasters could be able to satisfy government requirements that they produce appropriate children’s far by ‘relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts.’”
Speaking of the public telling the FCC what we think, that federal agency will probably soon start forcing us to pay $225 to file – and for them to review – a formal complaint against a telecom company! That means broadband, TV, and phone companies.
Yes, it’s hard to believe. No, I’m not making this up. This is America, 2018.
The fifth seat – to be held by a Democrat – has not been filled since Mignon Clyburn resigned last month. (As if that vote would’ve changed things!)
You’d still have to pay the $225 even if your internet service provider, which you pay every month, doesn’t respond to your informal complaint.
What would cause the FCC to make this move? I was wondering the same thing.
Turns out, Ars Technica reports the biggest change will be “the text of the FCC’s rule about informal complaints.”
In other words, this is how things have been!
“Nothing is substantively changing in the way that the FCC handles informal complaints,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We’re simply codifying the practices that have been in place since 1986.”
That’s when Ronald Reagan was president.
But the commission’s only Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, remembered things differently.
Ars Technica reports she said the FCC has reviewed informal complaints in the past.
“This is bonkers,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “No one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job. No one should see this agency close its doors to everyday consumers looking for assistance in a marketplace that can be bewildering to navigate. There are so many people who think Washington is not listening to them and that the rules at agencies like this one are rigged against them – and today’s decision only proves that point.”
Rosenworcel said the FCC gets 25,000 to 30,000 informal complaints a month.
“After they are filed, the agency studies the complaint, determines what happened, and then works with providers to fix consumer problems,” Rosenworcel said. “For decades, this has been the longstanding practice of this agency. But for reasons I do not understand, today’s order cuts the FCC out of the process. Instead of working to fix problems, the agency reduces itself to merely a conduit for the exchange of letters between consumers and their carriers. Then, following the exchange of letters, consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a $225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest.”
On top of the formal complaint process being expensive, it’s also complicated.
“Parties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC’s procedural rules,”
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I DECIDED TO STAY WITH COMCAST. Yes, you read correctly. I made the decision yesterday after coming ‘thisclose’ to switching to Verizon.
This is the reason and in no way do I take back anything I said previously (below) about Comcast. I simply used my head instead of my heart, and took the better deal.
Everyone’s decision is different – I’ll share my parents’ – but I live in a Philadelphia high-rise. Comcast is by far the easiest company to use in my building. I’ve asked the management to ask the board to look into competition and a group deal. (More on the group deal in just a moment.) Fios isn’t offered here and satellite dishes have been ruled legal, but I face the north side and am closer to the bottom of the building than the top.
I was able to overcome both of those obstacles back in South Beach and loved having DirecTV. Then at Riverwood, also in Miami, the condo management had negotiated deals with Comcast for basic cable that were part of our maintenance fees. Anybody could pay more for extras. I wish we had a similar system here for hundreds of units (twice the number there) that would also include basic internet.
I really looked into Verizon, which I use for my cell phone, and had a nice online chat about a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Buying the device would clear up the need for the internet – however, I went to the store and they were honest. The device would use data. The amount of data would depend on how much I use it, and I have the perfect amount for right now. I come very close to the limit but don’t exceed it. On the chat, I was told I could pay $20 more every month for unlimited data, but found out that wasn’t true when they checked at the store. Instead, they’d have to start the bill from scratch and I’d pay $40 more every month. Also, the speed would be much less than Comcast’s offer.
Comcast started as usual, a pain in the ass.
You’ll remember, or see just below, on Thursday, I threatened them and told them to look at this blog post that the world can see.
On Friday, I tried to call but they had their outage. After not getting through twice, I talked to a computer that told me my wait should be less than five minutes. I hung up after listening to oldies for an hour-and-a-half.
I would not do frustrating work with Comcast over the weekend, knowing my point was made on the blog, out there and even updated from the original.
Monday, we had a l-o-n-g series of Twitter direct messages.
They asked for my name and phone number. Then they told me the phone number “provided pulls up more than one account” and asked for my address. I gave it to them and told them to lose the two former addresses where I used Comcast, because those accounts have been closed for so long.
I’d been told specifically to ask for the loyalty team but got the social media corporate team. I insisted they read the blog because “I’m not repeating anything. I wasted enough time chatting & waiting to talk to Comcast people,” and I was in a rush. They didn’t know part of that rush was to get to the Verizon store, so they’d better be quick.
After a little more back-and-forth, and mentioning a similar increase for my parents, I was at the bookstore.
This is what Comcast offered:
Note the price went down by $20 from the original, but they didn’t give an exact total including taxes and fees. Eventually they did, and it was just $30 more than I was paying, better internet speed, and a DVR that would let me stream programming anywhere (once I learn how that works because I may have had the DVR before and never used it). I haven’t noticed any change in channels.
But I was unfamiliar with the approval form and away from home, using only my phone.
Eventually, I made it from the bookstore to the Verizon store and as I explained, they were honest that they couldn’t offer a better deal without Fios.
I have a digital antenna and can see all the local stations and subchannels for free.
I could’ve bought two more digital antennas since I have three TVs, but would’ve still needed the internet, as I explained. I already had a device that’s supposed to act as a mobile DVR that comes with a place to insert Roku or anything else.
But it’s also summer, when the networks are into reruns and a lot of nonsense, so I figured it would be less expensive and easier to stick with cable instead of making multiple changes I couldn’t be sure about. Potentially losing the news channels didn’t play much of a role, since I can read and stream the news, and I’m not planning on getting back into what so much TV “journalism” has become.
So that’s my story. Yesterday, Comcast ended up being very, very nice – and the better deal.
As for my parents in Florida, they got a similar Comcast increase for cable and the internet, but somehow their new bill was $100 more than mine!
I suggested since they have AT&T for their home phone (but are on my Verizon cell phone plan), they should consider switching to AT&T for the internet, which I had in Florida, and AT&T-owned DirecTV, which I really liked many years back when it was under different ownership.
That would make three different AT&T products for them and probably cost a lot less money. I hope they’ll be tough with Comcast and lucky with AT&T.
ORIGINAL FROM THURSDAY:
I don’t know how many of you still have cable TV or satellite these days. It seems everyone is a cord-cutter.
Looks like I’m about to join the crowd, and would appreciate your experiences and suggestions.
I have basic cable and internet. Nothing special. The fees have been going up, little by little for the past year.
Last month, I paid $131.54. This month’s bill came today and Comcast suddenly wants $185.09!
Mark my words: That will not continue. In fact, if I pay that one time, all the regulators will hear from me. Has anybody ever seen me bluff?
You’ll understand a lot more when you read the “chat” Glenjoe and I spent an hour preparing for you to read!
Then, my plan was that when I was done publishing, I’d call the Comcast Loyalty Team. That way, they could read this, instead of me having to explain everything all over again, so I can eat. But I had to be done by 9! Didn’t happen. Not even close. So tomorrow.
And why should I have to call? Doesn’t Comcast offer phone service?
Plus, how will they react after this story titled “Consumer Reports’ ‘What the Fee’ campaign targets Comcast for its TV, sports fees” in the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted online yesterday afternoon?
Keep reading. This is the transcript. Enjoy the back-and-forth more than I did!
Meanwhile, I’m glad I got a phone number because these two similar promotions of many I’ve gotten and saved over the past few months have different phone numbers. I wonder if they offer different prices.
Then, of course, is the point of the Inky article: the fees. Yes, there are taxes and franchise fees, but I’m going to focus on cable and satellite companies paying retransmission fees to the broadcast TV stations they carry because they’re more my expertise. Those are the stations we could get for free by antenna, if we chose to.
This is that part of my bill Philadelphia customers get.
Notice Comcast charges me $7.50 every month for TV stations and $6.75 as a regional sports fee.
Don’t forget we’re talking about the conglomerate Comcast. They own a lot.
First, I’m very, very angry those broadcast TV fees don’t go directly to the area TV stations for what was negotiated (forced on Comcast so we, the customers, pay for something we could get for free).
Second, Comcast owns WCAU-NBC 10 and WWSI-Telemundo 62 here in Philadelphia. I’d also be very, very angry if those broadcast TV fees are not in line with those TV stations’ ratings. NBC 10 may be a very distant second place to WPVI-6 ABC, so I’d think NBC 10 should get a very distant second amount, compared to 6 ABC. Isn’t that similar to the cost advertisers pay, but advertisers pay by program? And NBC 10 could promote Telemundo 62 all it wants but that doesn’t mean many people watch. Its retransmission fee should be relatively tiny. I’d love to know how much each station makes. They are federally licensed and regulated, so I suppose it’s possible.
One thing is for sure and that’s that Comcast-owned TV stations had better not be making more money than they deserve, compared to the competition. Otherwise, it may be a violation of a condition it agreed to when it bought NBC Universal.
And as far as the regional sports fee goes, is there any other than NBC Sports Philadelphia, formerly Comcast SportsNet? Yes, they pay to show Phillies games, which used to be free, over the air, before retransmission fees had been invented. Apparently that one cable station I hardly ever watch doesn’t get the whole pot of $6.75!
I know because on our bills, and between pages 3 and 4 of the transcript, it says both regional sports and broadcast TV fees only “recovers a portion” of the costs. So what happens to the rest? All customers should be angry!
(And speaking of sports, the NFL Network is not regional, so the April article in the Inky, “Comcast bumps NFL Network up a tier, adding $10 for the network,” is a separate fee for subscribers who want that particular channel.)
Anyway, it’s now well after 10pm. I spent that last 30 minutes with a computer that keeps freezing. I’m hungry, but I can’t wait to talk to somebody in Comcast’s Loyalty Team tomorrow. I’ll have that lucky person read this first.
On the other hand, your best advice on cutting the cord would be very appreciated below in the comments section.
Thanks to you, and of course Philadelphia-based Comcast. Yes, it’s a hometown company!
And please, don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.