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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Media Questions Answered -- Sort Of

5

December

Some days in this business, you have more questions than answers.

Here's a few which have been bugging me for awhile.

Question #1: If the Bush Admnistration Loves Liberty So Much, Why do They Keep Undermining the Free Press?

News that the Bushies were paying Iraqi newspapers to run pro-U.S. stories was hardly surprising to anyone who has followed their track record with the press on our own shores.

First, there was the creation of fake TV news stories by government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture -- basically video press releases disguised as news reports and given the antiseptic name of Video News Releases. Despite the fact that many TV stations chose to air such material without alerting viewers to their true nature, the Bush administration defended creating such material.

Then, news broke that the Bushies were secretly paying pseudo-journalists such as Armstrong williams and Maggie Gallagher to support their policies wthout revealing their financial ties to the administration. And White House officials' baldfaced attempts to spread information on covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to silence her husband's criticsms of the administration has resulted in a string of court decision imperiling the ability of journalists across the country to keep confidential sources.

My theory: a win-at-all-costs ethic combined with an intense desire to control press coverage has allowed this White House to develop press control strategies other politicans wouldn't dare attempt. Call me a leftst shill, but i always thought conservatives were supposed to support democracy.

Question #2: Why Are TV Networks Supporting Technology Which Could Destroy Them?

From ABC's deal to sell episodes of its hit shows via iTunes to CBS' hush-hush talks with Google, the big TV networks are pursuing options for delivering episodes on demand to consumers -- despite the danger of destroying their own economic model.

The danger comes in two ways: TV networks currently count on local stations to beam their programming to local households. But if the wealthiest, most tech savvy consumers take to downloading episodes, the most advertiser-attractive consumers will watch local stations less, diminishing their ad revenue and threatening their existence.

Also, networks count on the advertising revenue from rebroadcasts to pay the production fees for each show -- particularly high-end dramas such as Lost or Law & Order. But if those shows are increasingly viewed on demand, then re-runs are even less valuable.

Yes, I know, the nets are wisely trying to jump in the pool and play around before they suffer the fate of the record industry, which stuck its head in the sand until most of its best customers got their music for free online. But they must be careful or the will simply speed the pace of their own demise.

Question # 3: Why Is a Republican FCC Chairman Championing the Further Stratification of Cable TV?

Kevin Martin says he is pushing a la carte cable TV -- a system allowing cable TV users to pick the cable channels they will subscribe to in the standard tier -- because he wants to allow folks to filter out explicit chanels such as Comedy Central or FX. But the effect of his solution may be to only further segregate quality TV outlets into high-priced tiers.

Some studies estimate kid favorites such as Nickelodeon and Disney Channel might have to charge HBO-level fees if revenue from standard cable subscribtions isn't made available to all channels. Of course, since nearly everyone connected to the issue has a vested interest, finding independent analysis is tough.

Still, at a time when talent such as Howard Stern is moving to satellite radio and on demand services threaten to move hit network shows out of the free TV arena, the price tag for access to quality media programming seems to be rising all the time.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]

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