Call to action: Help stop Sinclair from taking over Tribune

First, I want to go thank and apologize to everyone who read my last post. It was way too long. Yes, it contained what I think was good information on several subjects. It happened to be on a snow day and I had nothing better to do then let out some of what I was thinking. It took a good ten hours, but I learned how to use gifs to make the radar show the storm in action in the beginning, and the white leaving Philadelphia at the end.

A lot of what takes so long is gathering all the tags and categories. If you saw the old sitemap page on this site, I had to keep a list of new categories, then publish and go through those new categories you see below the post. I had to physically cut and paste them on the sitemap page, in alphabetical order. The links did come along, but I decided since you already get that on the bottom right (if you’re reading on a desktop, and the very bottom, if not), then I can get rid of that page to save time. That was just a duplicate, so that’s what I did.

Also since that last post, I made changes on the right side (again, if you’re reading on a desktop, and below the posts if not). First, I changed some of the headings and got rid of the link to that sitemap page.

category cloudSecond, I added a Category Cloud that WordPress is now offering. It shows the 30 categories I’ve used the most. The more I use a category, the bigger it looks. I can’t say I’m very proud of what I’ve written so far, based on the categories I’ve used, if this Category Cloud is correct.

(There is no list of tags but I can assure you, the search box will find anything that has been used in a post. WordPress’ search capability is much, much better than Lakana’s for both users and behind-the-scenes people. Surprisingly, at WTXF-Fox 29, we’ve had to use Google searches to find articles we, ourselves, wrote!)weather

Third, I really improved weather and it actually updates on its own!

While on the subject of extras on this blog, I also don’t know why the Twitter feed doesn’t appear on tablets, but am looking into it.

I don’t really want to be remembered by writing about a job I had, no matter how good it was. There are other parts of life. Of course, TV news is something that I’d been interested in since I was a child and studied it on my own, from growing up through college and to this day. Then, two years after college, I finally got my first job in the field and spent my career — minus the eight years I took teaching — in news, so it’s natural I will write about that a lot.

That’s a good segue to the headline of today’s post. The Sinclair attempt to buy Tribune has really been bothering me. I don’t know what you think, but I know what you should think. I’ve seen veteran journalists at stations being bought by Sinclair leaving for the competition, stations in other cities, or just retiring so they could keep the benefits they’ve earned at the other company.

Instructions from Corporate (thanks to Esquire):

Please produce the attached scripts exactly as they are written. This copy has been thoroughly tested and speaks to our Journalistic Responsibility as advocates to seek the truth on behalf of the audience.”

Millions of Americans will soon be watching promotions that begin with one or two anchors introducing themselves and saying,

Script:

“I’m [we are] extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that [proper news brand name of local station] produces. But I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.”

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

Then the anchors are supposed to strike a more positive tone and say that their local station pursues the truth.

“We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left or right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.”

CNN reports, “Internal documents call the new initiative an ‘anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message.'”

But some TV news anchors forced to read it at Sinclair’s 173 stations said,
* “At my station, everyone was uncomfortable doing it,”
* “so manipulative” and
* “I felt like a POW recording a message.”

Also according to CNN, “The instructions sent to station news directors say that the 60- and 75-second spots should run frequently ‘to create maximum reach and frequency.'”

It’s apparently the brainchild of Scott Livingston, the company’s senior vice president of news. Last year, he starred in an almost identical one, which you’ll be able to see shortly. This year, the local news anchors get that extra attention.

He wrote in a statement to CNN:

“Promo messages, like the one you are referring to, are very common in our industry. … “This promo addresses the troubling trend of false stories on social media [Livingston’s emphasis], and distinguishes our trusted local stations as news destinations where we are committed to honest and accurate reporting. This promo reminds our viewers of this mission.”

Then CNN reports, “After this story was published, Livingston sent CNN another copy of the script. It had one big difference: The word ‘national’ was missing. Instead, it said ‘some media outlets’ publish ‘fake stories.’

You work so hard on something and then realize there’s something wrong with it.

Wait. It gets worse.

CNN says another document went into great detail about how the promos “should look and sound.”

“Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire. … Avoid total red, blue and purples dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men…females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan, but avoid red, blue or purple.”

CNN concludes its description with,

“At the end of the promo, viewers are encouraged to send in feedback ‘if you believe our coverage is unfair’ and ‘Corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf,’ so ‘In other words, local stations are cut out of the interactions with viewers. Management will handle it instead.'”

This is just indicative of the type of company Sinclair is. I strongly feel TV stations are there to serve the public interest. They use the public airwaves and therefore the rules are different. TV stations should be run by their general managers who live in and are part of the community. And this is exactly the opposite.

map Holmdel
Google Maps: 76.6 miles to Philadelphia, just 45.0 miles to New York (Lower Manhattan)

So should other department heads like news directors. At least one in the Philadelphia market lives in the northern half of Monmouth County, which looks right up at New York. If cities and states can have residency requirements, I think there should be one here, too — not for the financial reasons governments have, but to live among the citizens and serve them better. I wonder whether people in the neighborhood watch New York or Philadelphia TV (if they even get both), and whether they care more about New York or Philadelphia issues and events.

It shouldn’t matter much whether GMs come from the sales side or the news side, as long as they’re serving the public interest. There should be hardly any interference from a major corporation’s headquarters.ABC News Nightline

Sinclair ordered all of its ABC stations not to air April 30, 2004’s episode of Nightline in which Ted Koppel read the names of the more than U.S. troops killed in action in the Iraq war, while their pictures are shown to viewers. According to CNN, ABC News said in a statement:

“We respectfully disagree with Sinclair’s decision to pre-empt ‘Nightline’s’ tribute to America’s fallen soldiers. …The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country.”

Sinclair saw it differently. In the same article, CNN wrote the Sinclair group put a statement online that said the Nightline program

“appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. … Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.”

It also quoted Sinclair general counsel Barry Faber confirming his company told its ABC affiliates not to air the program because, “We find it to be contrary to public interest.”

Of course, those TV stations not airing the program the rest of the country got to see got many complaints from people who could not.

ABC said it aired the names and pictures of all those killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, on the first anniversary.

The CNN article found,

“According to campaign finance records, four of Sinclair’s top executives each have given the maximum campaign contribution of $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. The executives have not given any donations to the campaign of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, the records showed.”

Keep in mind this was more than six months before the election.

Sinclair should not have the right to do what it did. The decision should’ve been made on the local level. It appears Sinclair’s owners are far right-wingers using their assets (and our airwaves) to get what they want politically. That’s not the public interest.

Looking back at that same election, The Seattle Times wrote in 2013,

“Most notoriously, the company ordered its stations to air a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry right before the 2004 election. … After an uproar, the stations ended up airing just a few minutes of the documentary, Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, as well as excerpts from a pro-Kerry documentary and interviews with veterans.”

firedBut Sinclair did not care to learn. It fired Washington bureau chief and reporter Jon Leiberman for publicly questioning the company’s decision to air it! The article continued,

“In 2010, several Sinclair stations aired an infomercial about President Obama intended to sway voters in midterm elections. The 25-minute piece, funded by a Republican political-action group, said Obama “displays tendencies some would call socialist” and claimed the president had accepted campaign donations from Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.

“In 2012, on the Monday before the election, viewers in some swing states found their nightly news or other programs replaced on Sinclair channels by an ‘election special’ produced by Sinclair that was biased against Democrats.”

Pretty sneaky! Like those examples weren’t “to influence public opinion,” as Sinclair said about Nightline way back in 2004?logo strip latest

The Seattle newspaper article, more than eight years after Sinclair was forced to cave in on the Kerry documentary controversy, came as Sinclair was preparing to buy that city’s ABC affiliate, along with Fisher Broadcasting’s other stations.

The article back then added,

“Even without the Fisher stations, Sinclair is the largest independent TV broadcaster in the country, according to its website.”

So who has been running Sinclair the whole time? The article reports, “The company’s top executives are the four sons of Sinclair founder Julian Sinclair Smith.” He died in 1993, but he and his family incorporated Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier, in 1986, and one of his four sons, David, became CEO in 1988.

SIDEBAR: The Baltimore Sun reported David Smith was arrested “and charged with committing a perverted sex act in a company-owned Mercedes” in August, 1996. It happened “in an undercover sting at Read and St. Paul streets, a downtown corner frequented by prostitutes.” Smith and Mary DiPaulo “were charged with committing unnatural and perverted sex act.” Police said “they witnessed the two engage in oral sex while Smith drove north” on Baltimore’s Jones Falls Expressway. Neither Sinclair nor its local flagship station WBFF-45 would comment.

People in the media have lost jobs over less. It looks like Smith used his power and influence to keep most of the media quiet. How do you think Sinclair would have handled another company’s executive in a similar situation?

BACK TO BUSINESS: The Seattle Times article described the four sons.

“They have contributed thousands to the Republican National Committee and conservative candidates, even forming a political-action group more than a decade ago to donate to the campaigns of former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, among others.”

That said, I should note McCain was angry at the company’s 2004 decision forcing its ABC stations to preempt Nightline due to our victims in Iraq. The CNN article reported McCain, a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, wrote in a letter to David Smith:

“Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. … It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.”

There is no more Fairness Doctrine, which from 1949 to 1987 required the broadcast license holders to present controversial issues of public importance, and to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced. Turns out, the FCC ended it because it supposedly violated those owners’ First Amendment rights! In other words, to hell with the public and their airwaves.

Even without the Fairness Doctrine formally, what it stood for should be maintained. Good journalism requires both sides to be heard on an important issue.

(To avoid confusion, the equal-time rule deals only with political candidates and has been around, in one form or another, since 1927.)

These days, you can continue to call Sinclair the king of the “must-runs,” which The New York Times reported this May arrive every day at its TV stations. The paper defined them as

“short video segments that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country are directed to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.”

So much for local control over content! The Times gave these examples:

“Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a ‘Terrorism Alert Desk’ with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing ‘fake news stories.’”

Does this sound rational or unnerving?

Then, the article mentioned that Seattle station the company bought less than five years ago.

“Eight current and former KOMO employees described a newsroom where some have chafed at Sinclair’s programming directives, especially the must-runs, which they view as too politically tilted and occasionally of poor quality. They also cited features like a daily poll, which they believe sometimes asks leading questions.

“The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.

“Those interviewed said that being on the other side of the country from the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore gave them some breathing room. But not always.

“In late 2013, for instance, after The Seattle Times wrote an editorial criticizing Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO, Sinclair ordered KOMO to do a story critical of the newspaper industry, and of The Seattle Times in particular, according to two of the people interviewed.

“KOMO journalists were surprised in January when, at a morning planning meeting, they received what they considered an unusual request. The station’s news director, who normally avoided overtly political stories, instructed his staff to look into an online ad that seemed to be recruiting paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration. Right-leaning media organizations had seized on the ad, which was later revealed as a hoax, as proof of coordinated efforts by the left to subvert Mr. Trump.

“Only after reporters had left the room did they learn the origin of the assignment, two of them said: The order had come down from Sinclair.”

Seattle is a progressive city. Imagine how all this would fly in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago!

Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, told The Times his company isn’t right-wing. Instead,

“We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle. … I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”

I interpret that to mean Sinclair works very hard to be to the right of maybe some other news organizations. And again, refer to what I wrote about local control. (Don’t you think conservatives who insist on local control of children’s schools would also want local control on broadcasting?)

In March, while Sinclair was fighting to take over Tribune, and apparently hoping to sway public opinion, Livingston forced Sinclair stations to run a segment featuring him that blamed everyone else:

Remember, this year, the company is making local news anchors do this work.

mark hyman Mark Hyman, from http://stopthecap.com/2017/05/15/consolidation-sinclair-broadcasting-acquires-42-tribune-tv-stations-3-9-billion-deal/

Sinclair had its former Vice President for Corporate Relations Mark Hyman give “must air” right-wing commentaries for years, and some still run. Variety magazine said “commentary segments on politics and culture from Mark Hyman … typically offer a deeply conservative perspective.”

Boris Epshteyn clip art
Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn, via Microsoft Word clip art

Then, last April, it hired former Trump campaign spokesman and advisor Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst, a month after he left the White House, according to Variety. His last titles were Special Assistant to the President, and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump.

Livingston said having Epshteyn serve as a commentator on Sinclair’s 173 television stations’ political news coverage is part of its efforts to provide “political context that goes beyond the podium” for viewers, and

“We understand the frustration with government and traditional institutions. … Mr. Epshteyn brings a unique perspective to the political conversation and will play a pivotal role in our mission to dissect the stories in the headlines and to better inform and empower our viewers.”

He must’ve liked what he saw in the “Bottom Line with Boris” segments. Just two months later, Variety reported instead of three per week, Sinclair planned to deliver nine Epshteyn commentaries per week to stations.

According to the magazine:

“His segments have so far been a mix of cheerleading and defensive arguments on behalf of the Trump administration’s agenda.”

fox-news-logoThat’s not exactly “fair and balanced” as Fox News used to proclaim to be.

Sinclair does not offer commentaries from the other side, but tells you the news programming their network-affiliated stations air is left-wing liberalism.

Also, a month after the presidential election, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner said Sinclair executives worked with the campaign to spread pro-Trump messages in Sinclair newscasts. Sinclair vehemently denied that and claimed it offered equal amounts of airtime for in-depth interviews to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, and she declined the invitation.

I think most journalists try to be fair and leave their own opinions at home because they tend to be good people who try to do the right thing, unlike a lot of the corporations that only look out for shareholders and in Sinclair’s case, the owners’ political views.

It used to be that a company could not own more than five TV stations. Remember that? But slowly and slowly, the rules were loosened and loosened, more and more.

According to The New York Times,

“Last April, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, led the charge for his agency to approve rules allowing television broadcasters to greatly increase the number of stations they own.”

change channels 1It got the UHF discount rule reinstated, and that’s not a sign of the times. These days, most people have access to about 100 stations. It used to matter if your local TV station was VHF or UHF, due to antennas and how old TV sets were made for the UHF band. UHF stations were not as accessible, so the FCC decided the amount towards the cap should only be half for those stations, compared to VHF stations.

But now, the signals are digital and most people watch their local stations on cable, satellite, or on the internet. It makes no difference, so the UHF discount is unnecessary. And again, unlike the other 90 or so stations available to most people, local TV stations use the public airwaves and are required to serve the local communities’ interest. If the owners of these corporations don’t like that, then they are in the wrong business. Let them work for a cable station.

But concerning the UHF discount being brought back, The Times immediately said,

“A few weeks later, Sinclair Broadcasting announced a blockbuster $3.9 billion deal to buy Tribune Media — a deal those new rules made possible.”

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

Now, Pai is under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general but it takes two to tango. If he’s guilty, then who did he work with? Sinclair? President Trump, due to Sinclair’s good coverage of him?

I wonder. This is what The Times thinks:

“A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

“Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.”

An FCC spokesman representing Mr. Pai countered the allegations of favoritism were “baseless,” and

“For many years, Chairman Pai has called on the F.C.C. to update its media ownership regulations. … The chairman is sticking to his long-held views, and given the strong case for modernizing these rules, it’s not surprising that those who disagree with him would prefer to do whatever they can to distract from the merits of his proposals.”

You decide.

Still, Sinclair would have to sell stations and Variety reported “Sinclair surprised the industry” by proposing to sell two of Tribune’s biggest gems: WPIX in New York and WGN-TV in Chicago.

But can you believe who agreed to buy them, and the prices that will supposedly be paid?

WPIX

WPIX-New York would go to Cunningham Broadcasting Company for a mere $15 million. That’s pennies on the dollar!

And about Cunningham Broadcasting: That company is mostly owned by the family that runs Sinclair, specifically 90 percent by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the late wife of Sinclair founder Julian Sinclair Smith and mother of Sinclair chairman David Smith!

Cunningham has 20 stations, according to its website, but Sinclair is actually the company that runs most of them. That’s a sneaky way to use a shell corporation in order to get around the rules. It’s completely unethical and the FCC should really throw the book at them, but it looks like something similar is about to happen.

WGN-TV

Then, Variety reports “The buyer for WGN-TV is listed as Steven B. Fader, chairman of Baltimore-based Atlantic Capital Group. Fader is a business partner of David Smith in Atlantic Automotive Corp., which owns dozens of car dealerships.”

Again, somebody close to the family. Again, a tiny price. This time, $60 million, which is four times as much as the bigger New York station.

wpwr chicago logoBig city stations don’t get bought and sold so often, but according to Variety, “Back in 2002, Fox paid $425 million to acquire WPWR-TV Chicago, a UHF station that was not nearly as strong in the market as WGN-TV” which is on Channel 9 and much more prominent as the former superstation that carried Bozo the Clown and Chicago Cubs baseball games.

Another station part of the deal is KTLA in Los Angeles, which Tribune bought for a record $510 million way back in 1985. NBC bought WTVJ in Miami for $240 million in 1987.

Do WPIX-New York for $15 million or WGN-TV Chicago for $60 million sound at all reasonable?

I think the FCC should insist Sinclair itemize every TV station it plans to buy from Tribune, tell everyone how much it values each and how it adds up to $3.9 billion.

The New York Times recently reported Sinclair submitted a proposal that

“would put many of the stations in trusts, an arrangement that has raised some concern from consumer groups that the company will try to operate them through partners down the road, because it runs some stations that way now.”

And Sinclair had said WPIX-New York and WGN-TV Chicago would be sold “to third parties that it would partner with later.”

Doesn’t Sinclair running TV stations that are really owned by shell corporations sound familiar, especially for a company that wants to be seen all over the country?

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair now, without Tribune

What Sinclair is willing to accept for WPIX and WGN-TV is outrageous and makes no sense. As Judge Judy says, “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.” And if you believe Judge Judy’s phrase, then the people who run the largest broadcaster in America are liars and therefore unfit.
map Harrisburg Indy Greensboro

Sinclair is also asking for permission to own more than one station out of the top four in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro. It already owns TV stations in those cities. Why should it get special permission to break the rule and own more, after all it has done?

Speaking of violations, in December, the FCC proposed fining Sinclair for – as the company put it –

“apparently airing certain public service segments by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation about cancer prevention, treatments and cures, without certain sponsorship identification. … Any absence of sponsorship identification in these public service segments was unintended and a result of simple human error. … We disagree with the FCC’s action and intend to contest this unwarranted fine.”

The proposed amount of $13.4 million was really “for not identifying paid programming as advertising,” according to USA Today.

It continued,

“The FCC said … Sinclair’s Salt Lake City station produced news story-like programming for local news broadcasts and longer 30-minute TV programs for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The FCC said these spots that weren’t properly identified as ads aired more than 1,700 times in 2016 across 64 Sinclair-owned TV stations and also for 13 other stations not owned by the company. The FCC said Sinclair apparently didn’t tell these stations that it didn’t own that it was providing an ad.”

CNN said,

“The segments looked just like independent news stories, but Sinclair failed to disclose that they were paid for by the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.”

tv news advertisingSo Sinclair doesn’t know the difference between public service segments, done out of generosity, and ads they charge to air? If that’s the case, then they’re dumb, and dumb people should not be overseeing news. (Just wait a paragraph!)

The proposed fine is supposed to be a record. Some say that’s evidence the FCC is being tough on Sinclair. On the other hand, considering the severity and number of times they did it, others including two FCC commissioners said the fine was too low.tv owner population share

Also, you would think the largest broadcaster in America would do news right. It claims it buys new equipment and really helps local stations provide the best local news to their audiences.

What about Pittsburgh? It’s a large city and Sinclair owns a Fox affiliate, WPGH-Channel 53. It used to produce its own newscast but no longer does. Instead, it runs a newscast produced by a competitor. That’s one less local television voice. Doesn’t Pittsburgh deserve a fourth station offering its own local news? Isn’t the city and region big enough?

Then, what about Sinclair pretty much closing up shop in Toledo, Ohio? Its NBC affiliate there has a few people left in news but production is done out of its CBS/Fox stations in South Bend, Indiana. That includes its anchors and weather people. Who knows if they’ve ever been to Toledo, know anything about it, its history, what’s popular there, etc.? How can they do a decent job and how many people were laid off when Sinclair made that decision? FTV Live’s Scott Jones has shown an example after example of technical problems that happened because of Sinclair going cheap.

(The Fox affiliate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market is a little different. It’s not as bad since the station finally stopped outsourcing news to the competition and started doing its own for the first time last year, except with those same South Bend anchors who would have the same questionable knowledge of northeast Pennsylvania.)

But those South Bend anchors can’t do three newscasts at once. Some things we see live everyday would have to be recorded. Does the weather person say the current conditions, or are they simply put on the bottom of the screen. Can you see live-shots during snowstorms, or what it was like an hour ago?news flash

When there is breaking news and very little information, a good news anchor will be able to ad-lib around about the area the news is taking place. That anchor will tell you where it is, what’s nearby, major places to avoid, etc. The weather person will know the nuances and micro-climates of that area.

Sinclair has shown none of that matters.

Furthermore, several states’ attorneys general have spoken out against the sale, ironically including Maryland where Sinclair is based and Illinois where Tribune is based. That says a lot!nancy reagan

For all of these reasons, including less competition, the FCC should deny Sinclair the chance to buy Tribune. As Nancy Reagan said, just say no. Let this awful waste of time (ten months so far) and money become history as quickly as possible.

This is information on the FCC. The party of the president gets three of the five commissioners, and the other party gets just two. Two recent votes — bringing back the UHF discount and getting rid of net neutrality – have gone party line. The Sinclair-Tribune decision should not go the same way, although the Justice Department has to also make a decision.

I suggest you make a case and email each of the five, letting them know the danger that Sinclair poses by its size, its power, and its ethics. A few clear sentences with your name address and phone number will help. You can even copy and paste this post, write a sentence and add this post’s URL (https://cohenconnect.com/2018/03/11/call-to-action-help-stop-sinclair-from-taking-over-tribune/), or look for other sources if you trust them more than me.

Just copy and paste whatever you do. Then, look at the bottom-left of the FCC’s website under Leadership. You’ll have to click each commissioner and look at the left side to email each one.

CongressDon’t forget Congress created the FCC, oversees it and confirms FCC appointments.

They can even use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them by passing joint resolutions. Congress enacted it while Newt Gingrich was House Speaker as part of his Contract with America, and President Clinton signed it into law in 1996.

Click here if you need to find your Congressional Representative (you may need your ZIP+4) and click here to find your senators. Just look for your state at the top of the site.

Then, send what you sent the FCC commissioners.

fcc logoWe are the public, the American people. I don’t think we have been listened to by most of the people in government on any level for far too long, with just a few exceptions. It’s time to make a change and take charge. The FCC has revoked licenses before. In Boston, a whole new channel 5 was established in 1972. It forced the owner of New York’s channel 9 to move to New Jersey and then let it sell instead of revoking its license. In the 1960s, after a several-years long investigation, KYW was brought back to Philadelphia from Cleveland. The FCC can do big things. Let’s have them do this as the start of a new era.

Now for the fun. If you don’t believe me, maybe you‘ll believe John Oliver. Watch his take here.

(OK. This was longer than I intended, probably the longest of any blog I’ve published, but there are so many reasons I feel the way I do (hope you agree!), and that’s just what always ends up happening to me!

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Sinclair, Tribune TV stations combined: Why it’s not a done deal yet

Let’s start by updating my latest post on television. Last Thursday, in discussing Fox Sports paying a fortune for Thursday Night Football, I brought up Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – trying to buy Tribune Broadcasting, another biggie.

Sinclair had given hints on what it would divest in order to get approval from the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. You’ll find that here.

Also, I mentioned the FCC’s internal watchdog is looking at whether its chairman, Ajit Pai, pushed too hard for the blockbuster $3.9 billion deal by having his agency let television broadcasters own a lot more stations than they were allowed. That happened mere weeks before the deal was announced.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

Those against the deal question the timing of the rule changes, and also Pai’s meetings with Sinclair representatives.

Bloomberg reported an FCC spokesman called the accusation against Pai “absurd.”

It used to be a company’s stations couldn’t reach more than 39 percent of the country but the change is, the FCC restored the old rule that lets companies “discount” the reach of their UHF stations in the formula, because those stations were weaker, pre-cable and satellite.

Sinclair’s stations reached 38 percent of the country before the Tribune deal – just short of 39 percent — but with the UHF stations, the combined company would legally reach 72 percent!

Tribune has 42 stations, and Sinclair either owns or operates 193. That’s noteworthy because some stations will still have to be spun off to comply with even the relaxed rules.

So who plans to buy the stations Sinclair would divest if the deal goes through?

Fox TV stations21st Century Fox, since Disney/ABC plans to buy most of its assets, leaving the so-called “New Fox” with just the Fox network; 28 TV stations in 17 markets, covering more than 37 percent of homes, but the Fox Television Stations Group’s website STILL doesn’t list them, as I’ve written time and time again; the Fox News Channel; the Fox Business Network; and a whole lot of cash in exchange for everything else including its studio.

Besides, Sinclair owns more Fox affiliates than anyone else, giving it power, and owns more Fox affiliates than stations of any other network. In fact, Variety reports that after the deal, Sinclair will have more Fox affiliates than even 21st Century Fox itself owns!

And Sinclair is proposing it be allowed to keep multiple stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis, and Greensboro, N.C. — even though FCC rules say a company can’t own two of the top four stations in a local market. Three people familiar with the negotiations have said the two sides are expected to come to an agreement eventually.

map Harrisburg Indy Greensboro

The question is: Will the merger bolster local news coverage and be a stronger competitor to internet giants like Facebook and Google — or harm competition?

Broadcasting & Cable magazine quotes Business in the Public Interest chairman and CEO Adonis Hoffman, a former top FCC staffer, as saying,

“When any number of companies outside the broadcast sector can reach the entire country with the same programming, the national cap becomes a fiction that limits, and applies only to, broadcasters.”

I say those other companies — cable, satellite and the internet — don’t use our public airwaves and broadcasters do, so the rules should be different.

NFL Logo

Last Thursday, I also wrote about Fox trying to buy stations in cities with NFL teams. I don’t exactly care for the emphasis Fox has put on that, since teams have been moving. But it already has a wide majority of the NFC, which it mostly carries Sunday afternoons, and the AFC becomes even more important since Fox will be carrying Thursday Night Football.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair’s reach without Tribune

So the plan is for Tribune’s WPIX-New York (CW) and WGN Chicago (independent) to be sold, but still operated by Sinclair, which wants its stations to be seen all over the country and is how it has operated around the rules for years.

Really gone will be Tribune’s Fox affiliate KSWB-San Diego.

map seattle sacramento san diego salt lake city denver clevelend miami

Expected to be gone are Tribune’s Fox affiliates in Seattle (KCPQ), Denver (KDVR, which Fox once owned), Salt Lake City (KSTU, which Fox once owned), Sacramento (KTXL) and Cleveland (WJW, which Fox once owned). Let this show Fox owned but sold three of those five stations, which shows a lack of commitment to those communities.

Plus, there’s Tribune’s CW Miami-Fort Lauderdale affiliate (WSFL-Channel 39).

Imagine the Fox network buying Miami’s WSFL. I’m sure Fox affiliate WSVN’s owner Ed Ansin would have something to say about that. He has more experience than anyone in that situation because NBC did it to him twice: in Miami in 1989 and Boston in 2017.

Tomorrow, I’ll have details from history on why he should be worried, even though the status quo since 1989 has been good for both him and Fox.

Here is a hint: I used the phrase “a lack of commitment to those communities” a few paragraphs ago.

By the way, please, if you like what you read, subscribe to this blog site with either your email address or WordPress account, and you’ll get an email whenever I publish.

And one more thing about the FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai. Last Friday, he won the National Rifle Association’s “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” at the Conservative Political Action Conference for successfully pushing to repeal his agency’s net neutrality rules that are popular with the public.

nra instagram example
https://www.instagram.com/p/BeGTtHtHeft/?taken-by=nationalrifleassociation

Just today, The Washington Post reported, “Surveys last year showed that more than 80 percent of Americans, and 75 percent of Republicans, preferred keeping the FCC rules on the books rather than repealing them.”

The Hill reported, “Pai’s award is a handmade Kentucky long gun, which will be housed in the NRA’s museum in Fairfax, Va.”

Those net neutrality rules made internet companies common carriers like your phone or electric company, equal to all. But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “What you can see on the internet, along with the quality of your connection, are at risk of falling victim to the profit-seeking whims of powerful telecommunications giants.”

ACLU logo

The Post reports, “There are still “opportunities to challenge the FCC in court and in Congress,” and this afternoon, Ars Technica announced, “The Washington state legislature has approved a net neutrality law that applies to all wired and wireless Internet providers in the state and prohibits blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.”

If worst comes to worst, the fight to keep net neutrality could become a state by state issue — harder than convincing the FCC, but already being discussed in “more than half of US states.”

generic map usa

Got cable, satellite? You’ll foot the bill for Fox’s Thursday Night Football

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Wikipedia

How many of you watched the Super Bowl this year? Of course, in Philadelphia, that’s a loaded question with the underdog Eagles in the game and beating the seemingly perennial winners, the New England Patriots.

Same thing in New England. Their team was in the Super Bowl and they don’t get sick of Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. They watch.

But what about the rest of America? Apparently two thirds of Americans did not watch. And this was the Super Bowl!

Thursday Night Football logo

Imagine how that would translate to Thursday night National Football League games, known for having bad matchups and also being available on the NFL Network and streaming, besides being broadcast on a local TV station.

Fox Sports

But three weeks ago, Fox decided to pay a fortune — $3.3 billion for the rights for five years, and expanded digital highlight rights — and the money it’ll cost is going to trickle down to you and me.

Thanksgiving

Let’s talk schedules, the reason and then the money.

Starting this fall, Fox will broadcast 11 games each season from week 4 to week 15. That won’t include Thanksgiving night when you’re eating with your family shopping or resting up to work at midnight on Black Friday.

ESPN reports when Thursday Night Football went to the networks in 2014, CBS paid the NFL just $37.5 million per game for only eight games. Same story the next year, in the 2015 season.

Then, for the past two seasons, NBC joined CBS. They each broadcast five games for a total of ten, at a cost of $45 million each.

Now, ESPN sources say Fox will pay an average of more than $660 million a year. Divide that by 11 and that makes $60 million per game – a big increase over the past four seasons and 33 percent more than the latest. Amazing number!

money x 33

Is that price increase worth it? It depends who the buyer is.

In 1994, Fox arguably overpaid for Sunday afternoon NFC-away games in order to get better TV stations to secure it as a reputable fourth network.

money x 5

(Not many remember Fox trying to take Monday Night Football from founder ABC back in early 1987, even before it started programming. That didn’t work and it took until 1994 for Fox to get an NFL package. Oh, and five times as much money as CBS would bid!)

Monday Night Football ABC

These days, Fox doesn’t have much of a regular Thursday night lineup. The NFL would draw viewers.

Are NBC and CBS upset about losing the rights? No, according to CBS CEO Les Moonves. He says he’s not worried because CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon instead. Also, Sunday games are much better than Thursdays because they’re exclusive. Thursday night games can be seen on The NFL Network and also streaming.

A CBS Sports spokesperson was more specific:

“We look forward to continuing our terrific long-term partnership with the NFL on Sunday afternoons with more than 100 games per season (Lenny: many in markets where the home teams are playing) including next year’s Super Bowl LIII.”

Speaking of streaming, the price to do so recently increased fivefold, according to ESPN.

Amazon Prime logo

“Amazon paid $50 million this past season to stream the games on Amazon Prime, up from the $10 million Twitter paid in 2016,” it reports. “Rights for the upcoming season have not yet been sold.”

money x 5

So you can say it’s “1st and goal” when it comes to the NFL and Thursday night streaming rights.

Miami Dolphins twitter

Now, look back to 1972 and the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season. At the time, the NFL regular season only had 14 games over 14 weeks. Monday Night Football was only in its third season. Otherwise, football fans were left to Sunday afternoons.

These days, the season has 16 games over 17 weeks. Economically, more games should lessen demand.

On top of that, Thursday nights mark a regular third night of football (before Sunday and Monday), along with early and late Sunday afternoon games.

Plus, ESPN reports players don’t care for Thursday Night Football. Games on so many days cuts down on their time to rest up, recover and stay healthy. And as a side note, just last month, I wrote about how hits and concussions have literally killed former NFL players, years later.

ESPN logo

The last NFL schedule expansion was in 1987 when ESPN started carrying some Sunday night games. It was the first time the NFL aired games on cable and they only took place in the second half of the regular season. Two years later, the NFL added games on TNT in the season’s first half. TNT aired those games until 1997, when ESPN took the whole season. Like today, games in each competing team’s home market also aired on a regular TV station, so the games were not cable-exclusive but close. But the arrangement ended after the 2005 season.

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That’s because NBC had no football for seven seasons and was desperate to get it back. It had lost AFC team away games to CBS, which itself had been outbid by Fox for NFC team away games.

Fox TV stations

Part of Fox’s reason to spend so much in 1994 was to take TV stations in big-markets with (mostly) NFC teams and make them affiliates of the new network that would air the games. Fox eventually bought those stations (but STILL doesn’t tell you what it owns on the Fox Television Group website) and sold about half.

ABC Sports
Not “Reaching New Heights” as Wang Chung might sing — but this brand is history and the ESPN name is in.

Back to the story. In 2006, Sunday Night Football moved to broadcast TV, on NBC, and Monday Night Football went the reverse.

Cable network ESPN took rights from sister-broadcast network ABC, which came up with the idea in 1970.

That didn’t mean a new night of football but Sunday night games became especially popular since they air on the most-watched night of TV, they follow other games on CBS and/or Fox but most importantly, the NFL considers Sunday Night Football its featured game of the week.

Sunday Night Football NBC

NBC was given flexible-scheduling for most of the second half of the season, meaning it can “steal” regular Sunday games from CBS or Fox that are better than what was on its original schedule, and the whole country can watch.

cbs fox

When that happens, NBC will tell the league at least 12 days (two Tuesdays) before, and move that CBS or Fox game to NBC. However, CBS and Fox can “protect” five Sunday afternoon games over six weeks, weeks 11-16. Also, the league can move games between 1pm to the more-watched 4pm ET slot.

For the last week of the season, games are decided just six days earlier, so match-ups with major playoff implications could air in as many cities as possible.

football

Now that you understand that, Thursday night games were actually added back in 2006 and air on The NFL Network, so the NFL could push cable and satellite companies to carry the network very few people were able to watch (and thus charge the subscribers more, which is the crux of this post).

But that’s history. It was really an eight-game package: five Thursday nights and three Saturday nights. More Thursday games were added in 2012.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Thursday Night Football got real recognition. The NFL decided to let a network produce the game – which would air on The NFL Network — but let the producing network simulcast some of the games. That’s what CBS did in 2014 and 2015, and NBC joined to split the Thursday package in 2016 and 2017. The contracts for the rights were short.

Until now.

Fox network

That’s when Fox decided to pay a fortune – much more money – for a longer period of time, over five years.ABC

There are several reasons, which may or may not turn out to be right.

21st Century Fox plans to sell off most of its assets to Disney/ABC, although Philadelphia-based Comcast/NBC had really “offered substantially more” – maybe $10 billion – according to Philly.com.Rupert Murdoch wikimedia commons

 

But it said last Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Fox boss Rupert Murdoch “was concerned that a Comcast deal would be opposed by U.S. regulators and instead opted for the lower Disney offer.”

Besides a lower price, that would pretty much leave the so-called New Fox with its network, the TV stations it actually owns, and cable’s Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. That’s it.

Add the Thursday rights fee of $3.3 billion to the cost of producing all the games, estimated to be even more than that, and you wonder how Fox will pay for it all.

That’s where you and I come in.old tv sets

For years, if a TV station wanted to appear on a cable or satellite company’s lineup, then the cable or satellite company would have to pay the TV station. Otherwise, the TV station could take away the right to carry it, the station would not air on the cable or satellite company’s lineup, the viewers wouldn’t be able to watch it, both sides would blame each other, and finally there would be a secret agreement and our prices would go up.

tv airwaves

That happens all the time.

But the TV station doesn’t get to keep all that money the cable or satellite companies pay it. The networks figure they’re the reason the TV stations are worth so much to the cable and satellite companies, and demand their share in retransmission fees.

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In December, I wrote about Comcast starting to charge more just days before Christmas. Comcast is in a unique position. It’s a cable company, it owns the NBC broadcast network, the TV stations owned by the network and various cable channels.

Also, it used to be that a network would pay its affiliates in every city to carry its commercials (which kept them in business), and the programming that surrounds them (that attracts more people to the commercials and therefore more money). That has been completely reversed and it’s called – of all things – reverse comp, meaning compensation. The stations now pay the networks.

networks

And when a network decides to pay for a special event, it asks its affiliates to help out.

That’s what Michael Nathanson, at MoffettNathanson, predicts Fox will do, according to TVNewsCheck editor Harry Jessell: demand extra bucks from its affiliates.

NFL Logo

Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox, said, “NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media.”

Yes, ratings may be lower – down 9.7 percent this season after an 8 percent drop in 2016, according to ESPN – football may be available at more times, over more weeks and not even exclusive anymore, but there’s nothing else that brings America together like NFL football these days. That’s worth a trifecta: viewers, attention and money.

squeeze money

So Jessel reports Nathanson’s thinking is Fox will demand more money from stations in cities with NFC football teams because they air on the local Fox affiliates most Sundays.

He also says it can happen to stations in AFC markets because Thursday night games have teams from all over competing, not mostly the NFC but nearly equally the AFC.

That means Fox stations can expect a call from the network demanding more money for providing better programming – especially in cities with NFL teams – and that may not be so bad, considering what Fox airs on Thursday nights these days? (Do you know?)

Sports Illustrated reported Thursday Night Football is the No. 2-rated show in primetime.

And where will these stations get that extra money? Sure, selling ads for higher prices, but also demanding to charge your cable or satellite company more when its contract is up — Fox will insist they do — and that will raise your bill.

girl watching tv

It has been estimated cable and satellite companies pay ESPN about $6 per month per subscriber. Think about what your cable or satellite bill is. Do you watch ESPN? Would you be willing to go without it and save $6 every month? If your answer is yes, then do you have a choice?

Jessell calls ESPN “a network that forces people who have no interest in sports to heavily subsidize it.”

It’s the same story here, but on a much lower, local level. We may be talking about a quarter – 25 cents – every month for the local station if Fox gets Thursday Night Football. Check out your bill and see what you’re paying for local stations (as a whole) every month. And while you’re at it, see what it costs to get your regional sports networks.

And besides calling on stations, New Fox — much smaller after selling what it plans to sell — needs to make money somehow.

It has two possibilities and is reportedly looking into both.

First is to air as many live events as possible. Scripted sitcoms and dramas are expensive. Live programming, especially sports that’s also expensive, is supposed to draw viewers.

Second is to buy more stations. A TV station used to be a license to print money. That’s not the case anymore, with so much competition and paying networks instead of getting paid by them, but life isn’t so bad.

sinclair broadcast group

Sinclair Broadcast Group – the largest TV owner in America – has been waiting to buy Tribune Broadcasting, which is also one of the top TV station owners in the country.

sinclair before tribune
Sinclair without Tribune, from http://sbgi.net/tv-stations/

If the $3.9 billion deal goes through, Sinclair will have to sell off some stations because the Federal Communications Commission (public airwaves) and Justice Department (antitrust) ownership limits. Also, Sinclair and Tribune already own stations in some markets and compete, so the combined company would own multiple stations in one city.

Tribune Broadcasting Company

Fox wants to buy some of those stations, Sinclair will be forced to sell, and New Fox will have the money from selling so much to Disney/ABC.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: Variety is reporting Sinclair plans to sell off Tribune’s New York WPIX-TV (CW) and Chicago’s WGN-TV (independent) if the merger is approved, despite wanting to continue filling the map of the U.S. (above). The company filed that with the FCC yesterday. That would leave out two of the three largest broadcast markets in the country based on population. (New York is #1, with 6.4 percent of the nation’s households; Los Angeles is #2; and Chicago is #3 with 3 percent.) Also reported to be spun off instead of taking part in the merger is San Diego’s KSWB (Fox affiliate).

However, there is concern that in the filing, Sinclair said it has buyers for New York and Chicago, and it intends to run the stations through an “options and services agreement” with those buyers. Media watchdog groups have long criticized Sinclair for using shared-services agreements to control stations without owning them, which they see as a loophole around the FCC’s ownership rules.

Sinclair did admit there are eight cities — including Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City — where it needs to sell a station to comply with FCC rules on the number of stations a single owner can have in a given market. But again, Sinclair said it has buyers for Seattle, Oklahoma City, and Greensboro, N.C., so it can continue operating those stations after a sale.

On the other hand, Sinclair also made a case it should be able to own more than one of the top four stations in Harrisburg, Indianapolis and Greensboro, N.C.

Ajit Pai fcc wikipedia
Ajit Pai (Wikipedia)

If all that sounds complicated, you should also know last April, FCC Chair Ajit Pai — appointed by President Trump — pushed his agency to loosen rules letting TV station owners “greatly increase the number of stations they own,” according to The New York Times. Then, a few weeks later, Sinclair announced its deal to buy Tribune. Coincidence? The new rules made the deal possible.

Last week, The Times learned from New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and two congressional aides, “The top internal watchdog for the F.C.C. opened an investigation into whether Mr. Pai and his aides had improperly pushed for the rule changes and whether they had timed them to benefit Sinclair.”

People strongly opposed to the mega-deal argue it would reduce the number of voices in media and diminish coverage of local news.

Seattle Seahawks

So Fox wants to buy more stations and number one is KCPQ, its Seattle affiliate in the home of the NFC’s Seahawks, and where Sinclair already owns a competing station.

Other NFL cities where Fox doesn’t already own a station are the next biggest possibilities. Keep in mind, we don’t how how the late news of Sinclair’s FCC filing and the FCC’s inspector general’s investigation could change or stop things.

I never understood why Fox has insisted on buying station in NFL (especially NFC) cities. Back in 1994, it made sense. It made a network. But consider this: NFL teams play 16 games per year, unless they make the playoffs.

NFL playoffs

Preseason doesn’t count. Those rights are usually bought locally. Not all of the NFC games air on Fox. Not when an AFC team comes to town. Not when the game is on Sunday or Monday nights, or Thursday night until now.

And a competing station can be the local team’s “official station” even if its network doesn’t carry the games. That means special promotions with the team, greater access and maybe a show with the coach. Not too bad.

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So will all this work out for Fox? What about your cable or satellite bill? You just read about a lot of variables, and when the Thursday night contract ends and the number crunchers have their say through the 2022 season, the NFL’s other TV rights will be up for grabs. This could greatly determine the price of them then. And don’t forget all the other sports out there, out for rights money!

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Killing kids and desecrating the name of Marjory Stoneman Douglas

I didn’t plan on writing two blogs in two days completely from scratch, but the news calls for it.

Yesterday, around this time, I was cramming on another blog and then dragged out even though I couldn’t care less about St. Valentine’s Day. Despite personal protests as long as I can remember, it’s not my holiday. That’s why I didn’t find out about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland until today.

wikipedia MSD hs
Wikipedia file

In case you’re just learning about it, click here for the latest article on this blog at the moment, since you can always come here for the latest news – on the side on your desktop, or on the bottom on your tablet or phone.

Notice I wrote Parkland, rather than adding Florida, because I grew up down there, and have family and friends nearby, so I consider the deadly mayhem a local news story on several levels.

Parkland’s website calls it “a tranquil city nestled in a serene, wooded environment in Northwest (sic) Broward County, Florida,” which means in the outskirts rather than an urban environment — too close to Douglas’ beloved Everglades National Park, if you ask me.

parkland map
Parkland sits at the very edge of the Everglades. Think about what was there before Parkland. (Google Maps)
everglades national park map
Everglades National Park (National Park Service)

I’m disgusted for all the same reasons you are. There’s no need to explain the obvious.

This is also a disgrace to Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ name. She was known most throughout her long life as an environmentalist — which by “nature” has to do with life — first getting involved in the Everglades way back in the 1920s. She promoted responsible urban planning when Miami saw a population boom of 100,000 people in the decade.

MSD friends of the everglades
Friends of the Everglades

Then, according to Wikipedia,

“By the 1960s, the Everglades were in imminent danger of disappearing forever because of gross mismanagement in the name of progress and real estate and agricultural development. Encouraged to get involved by the leaders of environmental groups, in 1969—at the age of 79—Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades to protest the construction of a jetport in the Big Cypress portion of the Everglades. She justified her involvement saying, ‘It is a woman’s business to be interested in the environment. It’s an extended form of housekeeping.'”

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Photos via Wikipedia

Douglas had been honored by practically every environmental group for defending the Everglades against efforts to drain it and reclaim land for development. She convinced people it’s a treasured river instead of a worthless swamp.

Unfortunately for so many people in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, suburban sprawl has taken its toll. This isn’t like areas around other cities because it’s obvious from maps, including those in this article, you can’t build east. There’s the Atlantic Ocean. You also can’t build too far south. There’s Biscayne Bay and the Florida Straits, if you don’t hit the Everglades first.

But builders and sugar farmers try to make their livings further and further west. They keep fighting to move Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary back, and commissioners keep approving, affecting the Everglades and its rural and natural resource protection areas.

Douglas wasn’t just about the environment. She also supported the ACLU, Equal Rights Amendment and mental health support, due to her mother’s deterioration.

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She served as a as a society columnist — writing about tea parties and society events, starting in 1915 — since her father, Frank Stoneman, was the first publisher of the paper that became The Miami Herald. From 1920 to 1990, Douglas published 109 fiction articles and stories.

Douglas was best known for her 1947 call to arms, The Everglades: River of Grass, which she began simply, ”There are no other Everglades in the world.”

According to The New York Times, her now-famous phrase

“‘river of grass’ caught the public imagination but it was also a reference to the fact that the Everglades is really a vast, slow-moving stream of shallow water and saw grass that covers much of the final 100 miles of South Florida.”

Of the people of South Florida, The Times reported she said,

“They could not get it through their heads that they had produced some of the worst conditions themselves, by their lack of cooperation, their selfishness, their mutual distrust and their willful refusal to consider the truth of the whole situation.”

She added that unless people acted more responsibly, ”overdrainage will go on” and ”the soil will shrink and burn and be wasted and destroyed, in a continuing ruin.”

Douglas died at the age of 108 on May 14, 1998. 

The next week, The Times reported,

“Once an area of more than 4,000 square miles, the Everglades has shrunk to less than half its original size, the result of overdrainage, urban sprawl and pollution from government-supported sugar cane and dairy farming. Many think its long-range future is still tenuous.”

(The article has much more on government attempts to buy land, how the sugar farmers blamed the government for the Everglades’ problems, sugar farmers convincing Florida voters to reject a penny-a-pound tax on sugar, other attempts to restore the Everglades’ natural water flow — and much more on Douglas’ life, short marriage and accomplishments. Click here for even more, from longtime Miami Herald managing editor Rick Hirsch, published two years ago tomorrow.)

Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles explained her impact, saying,

“Marjory was the first voice to really wake a lot of us up to what we were doing to our quality of life. She was not just a pioneer of the environmental movement, she was a prophet, calling out to us to save the environment for our children and our grandchildren.”

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas Building in Tallahassee, headquarters of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Wikimedia Commons)
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 1993, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Chicago Tribune wrote she “was thrilled when President Clinton called and invited her to the White House” for the nation’s highest civilian honor.

On April 22, 2015, while giving an Earth Day speech in the Everglades, President Obama announced that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had designated her house in the Coconut Grove section of Miami — built in 1924, and where she wrote all of her major books and stories — a National Historic Landmark.

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It’s now owned by the state of Florida and a park ranger lives there to maintain it from the disrepair it had suffered from as early as the 1926 Miami Hurricane and also an infestation of bees.

One tidbit from PBS: Marjory Stoneman Douglas didn’t like to go out in the buggy Everglades!

It’s hard for me to believe the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary School in Miami-Dade County weren’t even born when she was alive. Both schools opened in 1990. Douglas was still alive. I wonder what she thought about the schools’ openings and more specifically, their locations.

I look at the maps and consider both locations suburban sprawl, since the schools had to be built as late as 1990, and that meant families moving into places nobody hadn’t been living before.

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high school website (west of Miami)

elementary website (Parkland, Broward Co.)

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One would think Douglas would’ve been against that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find details on Douglas’ reaction to schools bearing her name being built in such places. I’d really like to know.

However, The New York Times wrote, “In 1990, on her 100th birthday, when she was blind and frail, she continued to speak out against those who plundered the Everglades.”

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Honored at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, which she fought for in the 1930s and called “one of the greatest achievements for the entire area.”

But look at where we’re talking about: a place that’ll probably be underwater sooner rather than later, due to global warming, at the rate we’re going.

In 2003, the Miami Herald reported,

“In 1990, the (Miami-Dade County School) board hired Roma Construction to build Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary. The project was 390 days late, and Roma forfeited $45,000 for pulling out before the work was complete. Just four years later, the board rehired the company to build Paul Bell Middle”…

School, but that was also a disaster.

This evening, the same paper reported,

“Two South Florida Republicans, Senator Marco Rubio, who received millions of dollars in political help from the National Rifle Association, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the single largest recipient of direct NRA campaign cash among Floridians in the House of Representatives since 1998, said gun control legislation won’t stop mass shootings.”

R.I.P. to Marjory Stoneman Douglas and also yesterday’s victims. Unfortunately, I don’t see progress in solving South Florida’s, or the country’s, problems.

demos

Football, even the Super Bowl, may be hazardous to your health

Super Bowl LII Philadelphia Eagles

The Super Bowl is over, the Eagles won and in a moment, I’ll show you why the old phrase in the title — “may be hazardous to your health” — doesn’t just apply to cigarettes, but also football.

bob costas NBC Sports
Bob Costas (NBC Sports)

One of my favorite sportscasters since I was a teenager has been NBC‘s Bob Costas. He’s very smooth, been national since 1979 and knows what he’s talking about.

NBC just had two of the biggest events in sports less than a week apart: the Super Bowl and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Costas, 65, was the king of both when NBC had the rights — until this year.

He hosted six NBC Super Bowls and served as NBC’s primetime host for a record 11 Olympics.

A year ago, the 26-time Emmy winner announced he wouldn’t be doing the Olympics this year. People magazine reports he said in a statement,

“It’s been a wonderful run, but I just felt now was the right time to step away and I’m grateful that NBC left that decision to me.”

2018 olympic logoIt’s a huge job, day after day, with so many events and athletes to know all about. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, he went on the air after catching an eye infection.

Now, NBC took Mike Tirico from ABC and ESPN to do the chore, which may have doubled because the network brilliantly decided to carry everything live on the west coast (starting at 5pm) and go until 2am in the east, when west coast prime time ends at 11. Of course, the South Korea time zone helped get everything live, but it’s still six long hours on the air.

It’s kind of fitting, in a way. Costas had hosted every Olympic Games since 1992. Tirico was the first student to receive the Bob Costas Scholarship at Costas’ alma mater, Syracuse University, back in 1987.

Costas is at the point in his career and life that he can say what he wants, and I love that. I hope I come across just as honestly these days, as well. It’s almost a waste to keep your mouth shut, if you know what you’re talking about.

helmetfootball

As for the Super Bowl, it’s one game and just over three hours of time that most of America and much of the world would be watching. And he’d only have to be an expert on two teams. Sounds much, much easier — something he can handle with his eyes closed.

(L-R) lining up to push and shove; Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Nick Foles (#8) had just thrown a pass when he was with the University of Arizona; trying to tackle the runner

brains Wikibooks
brain comparison (Wikibooks)

But in November, he said, “This game (football) destroys people’s brains,” referring to players’ concussions and other head injuries.

He’s absolutely right! Don’t think so? Look at all the damage done. Look at the behavior of some former players who got hit too hard too many times. Keep reading for the names of some players who died too young because of the damage, and a description of how the damage happens.

Lenny Oak LogParents, is it worth a four-year scholarship to college? Do the students getting the scholarships actually study for a job in the real world, or is football an extra responsibility that’s much more important than regular studies and credits?

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching football, especially when I know the team and the players. But I’m no die-hard who would watch some college football game between two west coast teams I know nothing about.

I like watching the players give it all to catch a pass, the defense trying to block and then tackle the runner if necessary. And the runner doing whatever it takes to get an extra few feet or make it out of bounds while keeping control of the ball. But first, the defensive line trying to blitz the quarterback, with his offensive counterparts protecting him.

A Popular Science article two years ago stated a football game has

“an estimated 130-plus plays, hundreds of hits, tackles, spears, and lay outs. For a young and healthy athlete, that can lead to serious brain trauma.”

“According to the NFL, there were 271 documented game-related concussions this past season — the most recorded by the league since 2011. Roughly one-third of those were caused by helmet-to-helmet contact.”

The magazine describes “one of the season’s dirtiest” games. It happened in January 2016.

“How dirty? With 22 seconds left in the game, the Steelers’ star wide receiver, Antonio Brown, was midair, ready to catch a ball that he hoped would put the Steelers within range of a game-winning field goal. Instead, Bengals’ linebacker Vontaze Burfict launched himself at Brown as he came down, slamming his helmet (which in the NFL can weigh four to six pounds) into the side of Brown’s head, whipping it sideways on his brain stem. The hit, at an estimated 707 miles per hour, carried about 1600 pounds of tackling force. It flattened Brown on his back, seemingly knocking him unconscious. Jim Nantz, the NFL’s normally unflappable play-by-play guy, was apoplectic, calling the assault ‘disgraceful.’

“The Steelers, who ended up winning the game 18 – 16, later said Brown had suffered ‘concussion like symptoms.’

“In the NFL, that’s code for ‘has a concussion.’”

A co-director at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center told the magazine “what mostly likely went on inside Brown’s head that day.”

“As Burfict slammed into the left side of Brown’s head, he twisted it up and to the right. The slo-mo is painful just to watch. According to (Dr. Robert) Cantu, a hit like that would lead to a textbook rotational concussion, among the worst a player can suffer. There are several things happening inside Brown’s skull, the moment of impact. Brown’s brain begins to twist and spin. It does this in the opposite direction of the hit and inside his skull’s cerebrospinal fluid, a clear fluid that cushions the brain. In that same moment, his brain’s nerve fibers stretch and rotate.”

Also, according to the magazine,

“A large percentage of NFL concussions are the results of T-bone hits (at the ear hole) or right between the eyes. These hits rattle the brain’s center of gravity. What they do is make the brain to rock dangerously backwards and forward, repeatedly hitting the skull. In young athletes (think teenagers), the brain is flush with the bone. So this effect is not as pronounced as in older players, who have a one-eighth to a quarter-inch space, more room for the brain to ricochet off the skull, and thus to cause more harm.

“Blows to the side of the head, like the that laid out Brown, are far more dangerous. The spinning a brain undergoes during a rotational concussion can cause significant structural issues.

“As Brown’s body recoils, his brain continues swirling back and forth before finally oscillating to a stop. That’s where things fade to black, both in Brown’s consciousness and in our scientific understanding.”

Stanford bio-engineer David Camarillo recently told PBS KQED’s Quest blog, “One of the serious issues is the wobbling of the brain.”

“The exertion caused by a rotational hit puts a much greater degree of stretch and strain on the nerve tissue than a linear hit,” Dr. Cantu explained. “It isn’t just going in one direction. It is going side to side, front and back.”

The magazine describes the injury.

“As soon as Brown’s head is hit, his brain violently accelerates. Neurotransmitters — chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with each other — are released, but since the trauma is so great, these neurotransmitters are chaotic and rendered effectively useless. At the same time, the new membranes surrounding the brain’s neuronal cells stretch so thin that ions like potassium and sodium flow out of the neurons and into the fluid-packed extracellular space. These ions are quickly replaced by calcium, which flows into the cell and basically paralyzes the neuron.”

It continues,

“The cell is unable to transmit nerve impulses. So what you have is a cell that is alive, but is greatly impaired and nonfunctioning. Cantu calls it ‘an energy crisis in the brain.’ And it can last not just minutes, but for months. That means whatever responsibility that cell controls, whether it be memory, speech or rage control, it can’t do its job. ‘So if the cell affects vision, you won’t see properly,’ says Cantu.”

But that’s not all.

“Microseconds after the ion chemical reaction, Brown’s nerve cells and fibers start to stretch. Once the blood vessels in those parts break, microscopic hemorrhages occur. Doctors using specialty MRI scans have seen these ruptures in injured NFL players as tiny holes where vessels have bled out. If the vessels bleed into the brain’s tissue, the fluid could kill neurons, which can already be in bad shape from a hit as severe as Brown’s.

“Scientists do not know how to measure the number of cells injured in a concussion. They just don’t know. But for athletes who suffer from CTE, a degenerative condition that can only be diagnosed through autopsy (90 out 94 former NFL players who authorized the examination over the past eight years have had it), the cell death is crippling. It leads to massive atrophy in the medial surface of the brain’s temporal lobe. That’s the region and area of the brain that is associated, in part, with memory and language. If the cells don’t have enough rehab time (say, a player takes the field too soon), they ‘tip over,’ says Cantu, and die, causing brown stains to develop throughout that region (a phenomenon noted by medical examiners during autopsies on NFL players).”

Junior Seau Wikipedia
Junior Seau (Wikipedia)

Players like Dave Duerson and Terry Long wasted away due to the ravages of CTE and then ultimately committed suicide.

No football fan could forget Junior Seau. A team of scientists who analyzed the brain tissue of renowned NFL linebacker after his 2012 suicide concluded he suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head, researchers and his family told ABC News.

That January 2013 article reported,

“More than 30 NFL players have in recent years been diagnosed with CTE, a condition once known as ‘punch drunk’ because it affected boxers who had taken multiple blows to the head. Last year, some 4,000 retired players filed lawsuits against the league over its alleged failure to protect players from brain injuries.

“The NFL has said it did not intentionally hide the dangers of concussions from players and is doing everything it can now to protect them.”

Ken Stabler suffered from CTE, died of colon cancer in 2015 and donated his roughly three-pound brain to Cantu’s CTE Center for analysis. Shortly before his death, he established the XOXO Stabler Foundation to take

“up a cause that directly affected the foundation’s chairman: sports-related brain trauma.

“The foundation’s new initiative XOXO Game Plan for Change is focused on changing the course and culture of contact sports to increase sports safety and reduce brain trauma in athletes. To facilitate change, the XOXO Stabler Foundation funds research on related brain diseases, methods of treatment and prevention, and educational outreach.”

Antwaan Randle El, 36, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he suffered severe memory loss and couldn’t even walk down the stairs.

Calvin Johnson announced he’d retire at age 30 likely because of fears relating to his post-retirement health.

Aaron Hernandez Flickr
Aaron Hernandez (Flickr)

“The very severity of the disease, at least that we’re seeing in American football players, seems to correlate with the duration of play. The longer they play, the more severe we see it,” Dr. Ann McKee told The New York Times.

And most recently, in April 2017, Aaron Hernandez killed himself while serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for a 2013 murder. Despite that, he was remembered in a video tribute before this month’s Super Bowl, when the league ran salutes to those the NFL lost in the past year.

Five months after the 27-year-old’s death, The New York Times reported,

“A posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.”

!!!!!

The gray lady’s ominous lead was,

“The brain scan came as a surprise even to researchers who for years have been studying the relationship between brain disease and deaths of professional football players.”

Frank Gifford Howard Cosell Don Meredith Monday Night Football
Frank Gifford worked with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith on Monday Night Football (Wikipedia)

The article claimed CTE has been found in more than 100 former NFL players including Andre Waters, Ray Easterling and sports announcer Frank Gifford.

surgeon general cigarette warning
The title comes from the surgeon general’s cigarette warning we were exposed to for decades, from 1965 until it got changed.

What if it was touch football or flag football, instead of tackle?

We’re talking about a whole different game! There would be a whole lot less excitement, fewer fans, less money in TV rights, and a lot less money in team and player paraphernalia.

Heck, if I could see and run better, I could even play! That just shows how different the game would be.

But going back to those injuries: Marc Buoniconti’s spinal cord injury causing him to be a paraplegic for more than 30 years. Who’s paying those medical bills? We’re talking about the rest of these people’s lives! As it stands, what percentage of former players go bankrupt due to bad advice or simply spending too much (which is much, much more than earlier players made)?

What is the union doing? This is its whole webpage on health.

Last month, Costas told Sports Business Daily the decision to sit out the Super Bowl was mutual. He explained,

“Not only do I not have a problem with it, I am actually happy about it. I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it’s better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it.”

Bob Costas with President George W Bush Wikipedia
Costas (R) with former President George W. Bush (Wikipedia)

Again, Costas not part of the Olympics nor the Super Bowl seemed like a surprise. And again, it’s great to be able to do what you want and not do what you don’t want.

But Costas says we should not be surprised. His Olympics decision was made way back. And as for the Super Bowl,

“I have been making the same points for several years, often on NBC. In halftime commentaries, interviews with (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell and other prominent NFL figures, appearances on CNN and elsewhere, I have addressed the issue of football and its undeniable connection to brain trauma many times.

“Why?

“Because the evidence is overwhelming and the effects are often devastating. It’s the elephant in the stadium at every game whether others choose to acknowledge it or not. And it’s not going away. So the idea that I am only now finding my voice on this, or that NBC was taken aback by what I said at Maryland is just wrong. It’s all simple and straightforward.”

I love people who speak freely!world
money dollars cents

Yes, there are benefits to being a popular, rich athlete. A lot of good needs to be done in the world. It costs money. People need food and clean water. Children here need examples, especially the ones without fathers.

But would you go out on the field, even with a ton of protection, and do something that has destroyed so many people’s lives?

P.S. Too bad NBC doesn’t have time for professional hockey during the Olympics. The network has the rights to it, and the National Hockey League isn’t taking a break this year.

ESPN reported last April, owners were not happy with the weeks-long “intermissions” every four years and wanted “conciliatory offers from the International Olympic Committee and/or the NHL Players’ Association.”

The NHLPA said in a statement,

“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.”

A deal didn’t happen, the players can’t compete and be Olympians this year, so Costas could call hockey. I don’t think he ever has, but he’s probably too smart to compete against the Olympics!

P.P.S. I couldn’t resist! Please forgive me.

ronald reagan smoking

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Today, Merry Christmas to Comcast! You’re welcome!

No waiting until Christmas on Monday. Comcast, you obviously consider yourself too powerful.

comcast santa

Today, your hard-earned rate hikes take effect. Santa says you’ve been such a good company this year, only getting me concerned and wasting my time by forgetting when my Xfinity introductory offer ends.

comcast xmas 1
Comcast notice, page 1 of 7
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Comcast notice, page 2 of 7

money dollars cents

Does anyone reading this have suggestions for me for when that offer actually does expire? I need the internet (keeping net neutrality, which nobody is counting on Comcast to do), and pretty much the local and basic cable stations, especially news. Nothing special. None of the new programs I’ve read about but never seen. There are a lot of companies’ names that I’ve read about but never understood. (See new information released today, below.)

Seems like I’ll be looking at something very different and unfamiliar, since my building doesn’t do Verizon’s Fios nor satellite.

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Comcast’s old logo, before the feds let it buy NBC/Universal — under several conditions.

Comcast, I know costs go up but Philadelphia is your hometown, you have more to lose here than elsewhere and here, you actually own so much of your own programming and channels, including one for local sports fans (now called NBC Sports Philadelphia) and two broadcast, over the public’s airways.

One is WCAU-NBC10 (where I worked, 1998-2000, under General Electric, before the Universal and Comcast buyouts) and there’s WWSI-Telemundo62, the Spanish station really licensed to Atlantic City, whether or not it concentrates on people down the shore. In case you didn’t know, it comes just less than three years after NBC pulled its affiliation from New Jersey’s only major network affiliate, WMGM-40 in Atlantic City. That voice is gone.

SIDEBAR: Looking at NBC10’s website, I noticed the Channel 10 homepage weather featured “StormTracker4” and thought that was weird. NBC also owns its station in the next city up: WNBC-4 in New York. WNBC also brands its homepage weather “StormTracker4” but that makes sense, since it’s Channel 4!

So I tried another NBC-owned station that’s not on Channel 4 (anymore): WTVJ-6 in Miami. Their homepage weather is called “First Alert Doppler 6000” which makes sense for Channel 6 and is different from NBC’s two northern stations that are bigger, have different channel numbers, but the same name (at least at this moment). I wonder if this is regular or something simply went wrong.

Don’t forget synergy saves parent company Comcast money, and should be factored into our fees, too. (And kudos to Miami for actually selling their web weather preview!)

ANOTHER SIDEBAR: Newswise today, I noticed NBC10 beat Philadelphia competitor WTXF-Fox 29 (where I worked, 2016-2017) that had two headlines way up above the fold that were known and could’ve been written long ago — seven months and 15 months ago, respectively. Their personnel decisions should be going under the microscope.

fox29 headlines 12-20-2017
fox29.com (21st Century Fox)

First, on May 9, 2017, it reported Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office decided not to charge Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian “with a criminal offense” in the May 2015 crash that killed eight people and injured 200 others.

Then, three days later on May 12, 2017, it reported, “Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro expanded on charges a Philadelphia judge approved a day earlier after the family of a woman killed in the crash sought a private criminal complaint” and that specific story, more than seven months old, was for some reason updated today!

fox 2nd article 05-12-2017
Your guess why a May 12 Associated Press article had to be updated Dec. 20 is as good as mine. I don’t know what’s new or corrected from May 12.
Second, a year and a half ago, in June 2016, I had trouble inserting my subway token at the Broad Street Subway’s Spring Garden station. There was no place to insert it. I ended up having to walk up and down steps at three of the four corners of that intersection to finally find a human to take my token and let me down to the train platform. So we knew tokens were being phased out. Besides, how many other cities already did away with them?
Christmas
SIDEBAR OVER: So Comcast/Xfinity, for now, Merry Christmas, but I don’t know how long my even more costly business with you will last. We’ll have to find out if and when our relationship changes in the future. I can’t wait to see (with my own eyes) what you propose.
xfinity 595x227

I also wonder, did @PHLCouncil, and especially my district’s @Darrell_Clarke, who happens to be city council president, allow your rate hike?

P.S. Readers probably figured out I had the Comcast portion of this blog post prepared since shortly after I got my bill (and read it) weeks ago. Coincidentally, I found several other articles on similar topics with updates and possible solutions, this morning alone!

old tv sets

First, The New York Times‘ “How to cut the cord on cable” which prepares us to use the internet and streaming services to save a ton of money. Our viewing habits are different, so we all should read it.

Second, according to The Seattle Times, a Washington State broadband company “filed a claim with the FCC saying cable giant Comcast is unfairly trying to force Wave to provide higher-priced sports TV channels to customers who don’t want them.”

Third, the fighting between station owners, and cable/satellite operators, for retransmission consent money that probably cost you from watching something you wanted at some point (with both sides blaming each other) continues.

According to TVAnswerMan, “AT&T’s U-verse TV service lost two more local stations last night due to a fee fight with their owner, Sarkes Tarzian, Inc.” Satellite provider Dish had been involved in the majority of recent fights. New England Patriots fans almost didn’t see the game against AFC-East rivals, the Miami Dolphins, until the Boston CBS station allowed carriage.

FTV Live‘s Scott Jones put it best:

Finally, Bloomberg warns, “Cable TV’s password-sharing crackdown is coming” and “it’s a growing problem that could cost pay-TV companies millions of subscribers — and billions of dollars in revenue.”

The article reports TV Everywhere, started in 2009, “was an attempt to appeal to young consumers by letting them access cable or satellite shows on any device.” Of course, that “any device” part led to piracy and password-swapping since companies like Charter/Spectrum only force paying customers to enter their passwords for each device once a year. Somehow, tens of thousands watched just one subscriber’s streams simultaneously for free!

budget
Anyway, after all that, got a solution for my Comcast concern? I’d love to hear in a comment! (Got a web link?) And thanks!