US media gets a new guardian at FCC

After much speculation and guess-work, President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his former Harvard Law classmate Julian Genachoswski as nominee for chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Genachowski, who has been Obama’s technology advisor, had been on most people’s guess-list for a new “chief technology officer” post with the incoming administration — though some outlets had called it last week on his FCC appointment.

So who is Genachowski? Well, most outlets believe he should understand the future of media as he’s held several posts at Barry Diller’s Internet media business IACI and he’s previously been a chief counsel for former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, the chairman under former President Bill Clinton.

That experience will help with two big upcoming Internet-related issues. The first is Obama’s ambitious plan to invest in broadband technology expansion as part of his economic stimulus package.

The second more challenging issue is Net neutrality, the idea of an open and level Internet for all players regardless of their size. The FCC chair will be trying to manage the expectations of Internet service providers, content companies and everyday consumers.

from Summit Notebook:

Time Warner Cable and the Audacity of Hope

It's not every day that you have a top executive in big business talk about how nice it will be to see the back of the Bush administration. Republican presidencies typically tout their adherence to free markets, unbridled capitalism and, most importantly, a smaller pile of what corporations often consider burdensome regulations. That isn't what they usually expect from Democratic administrations, even ones led by Barack Obama.

That's why we thought it so interesting that Time Warner Cable's chief financial officer, Rob Marcus, is happy for some turnover at the Federal Communications Commission. It is the FCC, after all, that has to approve some key licenses for Time Warner Cable's split from its majority owner, Time Warner Inc. For some reason, the FCC can't seem to find room on its schedule to do that, and that seems to have irked Marcus. It is, after all, preventing the two companies from separating by the time Time Warner Cable said it would.

"There's nothing substantive that has currently arisen in connection with the FCC approval. They just haven't put it on the agenda," he told the Reuters Media Summit in New York on Monday.

Digital TV transition tour to hit NASCAR circuit

Federal regulators and U.S. lawmakers are trying every trick in the book from Web sites to road shows to make sure Americans know that the digital television transition is coming soon — which could mean those without cable or satellite would only see black unless they buy a new television set or get a converter box.rtx78xz.jpg

On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission decided to take their efforts one step further — to NASCAR. The agency plans to sponsor driver David Gilliland (car #38) for three races of the widely popular spectator sport.

“I believe this sponsorship is an extremely effective way for the FCC to raise DTV awareness among people of all ages and income levels across the United States who loyally follow one of the most popular sports in America,” said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Comcast FCC decision: the reactions

kevinmartinfcc.jpgThe U.S. Federal Communications Commission today ordered the largest U.S. cable TV operator Comcast Corp to change how it manages its broadband network. The regulator concluded that some of Comcast’s tactics unreasonably restrict Internet users who share movies and other material.

The 3 to 2 decision supported by two Democrat commissioners and the Republican chairman,  is precedent-setting. It could kick-start a long-simmering ‘net neutrality’ debate between advocates, who believe Internet access should always be open without interference, and some Internet service providers, who believe they should be allowed to manage Internet delivery in order to provide the best service to all users. The FCC seemed to support the former group.

“Subscribers should be able to go where they want, when they want, and generally use the Internet in any legal means,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement.

Comcast set for FCC D-day

brianroberts4.jpgThe U.S. Federal Communications Commission is likely to vote today to uphold a network complaint against Comcast Corp, the largest U.S. cable television operator, which was accused of violating open-Internet principles by blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network.

The FCC chairman Kevin Martin and two Democrat commissioners have already voted in favor of a reprimand, according to a source. That makes it three out of five votes and even following last-minute protests from the Bush administration officials and the top House Republican as this Wall Street Journal story says it’s likely to go through.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts spoke up in defense of his company’s network management practices at its quarterly annual meeting on Wednesday.

Timeline: Sirius and XM Satellite Radio

A Russian Proton with a satellite for Sirius Satellite Radio is lifted into place at its launching pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on September 1, 2000, while (L to R) Bob Prevaux, Program Director for Space Systems Loral talks with Rob Briskman, Executive Vice President for Sirius Satellite Radio and Ted Sitek, Mission Manager for International Launch Services. (Reuters/Karl Ronstrom)******Federal regulators have cleared the last remaining hurdle for Sirius Satellite Radio’s proposed acquisition of XM Satellite Radio Holdings, a deal that will combine rivals in the nascent U.S. pay-radio market.******The U.S. Federal Communications Commission reached an agreement to conditionally approve the deal on Thursday, four months after the Department of Justice gave its blessing, and 18 months after XM and Sirius agreed to combine. Experts say that new services from a combined company could come in a few months, but suggest their holiday subscription growth may be hurt by the delayed deal closing.******Here are are some important dates in the history of the satellite radio industry.******* 1994 – CD Radio goes public at about $3.15.******* Oct. 1999 – XM goes public at $12 a share.******XM and Sirius Price chart - 3 years******* Nov. 1999 – CD Radio changes its name to Sirius Satellite.******A Pioneer Xm2go Inno satellite radio is displayed in a car at a trade show* Nov. 2001 – XM starts national radio service, after launching its first two satellites — “Rock” and “Roll” — earlier in the year.***

    **** 2002 – Sirius launches national satellite radio service.******* Oct 2003 – XM reaches 1 million subscribers.******* Dec 2003 – Sirius signs 7-year, $220 million pact with the National Football League.******xm-sirius-logo.jpg* Oct 2004 – Shock Jocks Opie and Anthony begin broadcasting on XM, on a premium channel.******* Oct 2004 – XM signs 11-year, $650 million pact with Major League Baseball; deal starts with the 2005 season.******* Oct 2004 – XM unveils Delphi MyFi, its first portable radio receiver.******* Dec 2004 – Sirius reached 1 million subscribers********** Shock Jock Howard SternOct 2004 – Sirius signs shock jock Howard Stern to 5-year, $500 million deal.******* April 2005 – XM raises subscription price to $12.95 a month from $9.99, matching Sirius.*******Sept 2005 – XM surpasses 5 million subscribers.******* Feb 2006 – XM signs 3-year, $55 million deal with Oprah Winfrey.******* Sept 2006 – Sirius tops 5 million subscribers.******* Jan 2006 – Sirius starts broadcasts of Howard Stern.******* Feb 2007 – Sirius and XM propose merger; Deal requires approval of their respective shareholders, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department. Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin to be CEO of new company, XM Chairman Gary Parson to become Chairman.******Lifestyle diva Martha Stewart (R) stands next to Mel Karmazin, CEO of SIRIUS Satellite Radio******* July 2007 – CEO Hugh Panero says he is stepping down in August; COO Nate Davis to become Interim CEO.******* Nov 2007 – XM and Sirius shareholders approve the deal.******* Gary Parsons, Chairman of XM Satellite RadioMar 2008 – The Justice Department approves the deal.************* June 16, 2008 – FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced his recommendation to approve the merger with conditions.******* June 30, 2008 – Sirius ends the second quarter with 8.9 million subscribers, up 25 percent from a year earlier. XM had 9.65 million subscribers at the end of June, up 17 percent from a year earlier.******* July 25, 2008 – FCC Commissioners approve the deal with conditions, clearing the way for a deal that will leave just one U.S. satellite radio service. Analysts expect the deal to close within days or weeks of the regulatory approval.******(Sources: XM, Sirius, Hoover’s, Reuters)******(Top picture: A Russian Proton with a satellite for Sirius Satellite Radio is lifted into place at its launching pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on September 1, 2000, while (L to R) Bob Prevaux, Program Director for Space Systems Loral talks with Rob Briskman, Executive Vice President for Sirius Satellite Radio and Ted Sitek, Mission Manager for International Launch Services. (Reuters/Karl Ronstrom))

    Who’s paying for all that Coke on American Idol?

    kevin-martin2.jpgIf it wasn’t sufficiently clear that Ford is paying for those Mustangs on TV, or who’s supplying all that Coca-Cola to the American Idol judges, the Federal Communications Commission may make everyone involved in this obfuscation ‘fess up.
    According to the Wall Street Journal, the FCC is expected to launch a formal proceeding this week to consider rules for proper disclosure of what the industry calls product placement: the frequently annoying inclusion of brand names into scripts for TV shows, movies and, according to some, novels.
    Some ideas under consideration include requiring TV shows to put up a notice similar to the ones used by political candidates in their campaign ads. The Journal says U.S. advertisers, who are already shelling out several billion dollars a year on these stealth ads, are opposed to the idea.
    We can’t help but question whether such notices would effectively become a second plug for a product, at least in the minds of consumers. Or does the explicitness of it all reduce any potential “cool” factor of having your vacuum cleaner featured in a Saturday Night Live skit? 

    Keep an eye on:

      Beatles representatives are in talks with both Activision and MTV Games to create a Beatles-themed video game in a move that could pave the way for a broader licensing of the Fab Four’s catalogue. (Financial Times) MySpace is STILL worth more than Facebook, according to a TechCrunch analysis. Oh, and even more executives have defected from Yahoo than even they originally thought. (TechCrunch)

    Uncle Walt bends FCC chairman over his knee

    Walt_MossbergKevin_MartinWalt Mossberg, the world’s most powerful technology product reviewer, opened the final session of the D: All Things Digital conference with an angry tirade against the s-s-s-low state of broadband in the United States.

    “WE ARE VERY SLOW,” Mossberg complained of U.S. Internet access speeds.

    The target of 61-year-old Uncle Walt’s wrath was Kevin Martin, 42, the boyish-looking chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who was punished on-stage before an audience of high-tech industry insiders.

    Big is the new small

    karmazin-smile.jpgWho needs competition when you have a nice big merger to complete? After 13 months of Congressional haggling that would have put John McCain to shame, Sirius chief Mel Karmazin won U.S. Department of Justice approval for his $5 billion marriage with XM Satellite Radio.
    Sure they’re the only two subscription radio operators, but with all those iTunes downloads and Web radio personalities, there’s no need to think anyone will suffer with Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey in their exclusive hands.   
    Most expect the FCC will come through with the final green-light for XM and Sirius to close the deal, and then the real work on actually making money from satellite will begin.
    We’re still a little stuck on the regulatory landscape that seems to err on the side of bigness, from Verizon and AT&T’s billion-dollar wireless spectrum wins, to a push from underdogs like Microsoft and Google to use the blank spaces of TV spectrum for mobile Internet and the ability to even contemplate a scenario in which Rupert Murdoch buys Newsday.
    Let the games begin.

    Reuters, Deal Journal, Silicon Alley Insider

    Keep an eye on:

      Google unveiled plans for a new generation of wireless devices to operate on soon-to-be-vacant television airwaves, and sought to alleviate fears that this might interfere with TV broadcasts or wireless microphones.  (Reuters) Fox Broadcasting asked U.S. regulators to reconsider indecency fines the government imposed last month on 13 Fox television stations for airing episodes of a reality TV show in 2003.  (Reuters) Hulu video site looks great, but in terms of consistently good service, not so much. (Silicon Alley Insider) The CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment tells the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German!) that the company is developing an online music subscription service that would give users unlimited access to its music and be compatible with a host of digital music players.
      (Associated Press)

    (Photo: Reuters / Mel Karmazin)

    FCC’s breaking the waves

    martin.jpgThe FCC took in a record haul of $19.6 billion from its auction of wireless airwaves, but the real story will unfold in the next few days when we find out who won the hundreds of licenses issued.

    FCC chief Kevin Martin said he would make that list public after commissioners approve an order to formally end the auction.

    High on the guess list is Verizon Wireless, which many in the industry believe paid as much as $4.74 billion for the coveted “C” block of spectrum. That block carries requirements — advocated by Web search leader Google Inc — that it be accessible to any device or software application.