Yahoo! Exec Dissses Network Neutrality

A Yahoo! News Vice-President just called the battle to restore network nondiscrimination to U.S. broadband a “tempest in a teapot.” That’s according to a blog post from Celia Wexler of Common Cause. Scott Moore, the Yahoo! exec. was also reported saying that “in a competitive media marketplace, any company that withheld content that people wanted would find those individuals choosing another cable or broadband provider.” It’s clear he doesn’t cover the media industry! We’re not surprised that high-ups at Yahoo! would see network neutrality as something less than important to fight for. Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft know they have the clout–and the business partnerships–to ensure their content and service gets carried by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner. We have also heard–via the Hill–that Google has largely been missing in action when it comes to the net neutral fight.

Ultimately, the big online companies will make their deal with NCTA and USTA. That’s why we urge readers not to believe that network neutrality is some kind of magic digital bullet. Having neutrality alone will not give us the democratic digital media system the country requires. Nor is it certain that Congress will pass anytime soon any policy that truly democratizes the country’s broadband infrastructure. NGO’s and others will still need to build a system, via the marketplace, that places the public interest before profits (although with sites and services that can still makes lots of money to help make sustainable civic expression and social justice work).

Before we help “Bail Out” PBS, Public Interest Must Be Guaranteed: No Long-term Funding without Serious Commitment and Change

Groups such as and others have rightly responded to the proposed Bush Administration budget slash to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (around a 25% reduction to CPB’s funding for public television and radio). There is now a campaign to help restore funding and also politically pave the way for some form of permanent support—such as a “Trust Fund.”

While reversing the cuts is necessary, it is too early to support any permanent funding plan. More money won’t cure PBS’s problems. It will just enable the network to display higher-priced collectibles on Antiques Roadshow. The system needs to be restructured so the public interest is better guaranteed via a truly non-commercial approach. We also must think beyond today’s PBS and NPR to ensure there will be funding to support a much more expansive and diverse non-commercial digital environment. But to begin with PBS. Its annual budget should be required to have mandatory requirements for programming. For example, PBS—and its stations—should be mandated to reserve around 30% of annual revenues to pay for news and public affairs programming. Investigative news programming produced locally and nationally would be part of this commitment. A significant amount of funding would need to go for cultural programming. All children’s programming must be fully non-commercial: no underwriters, brand-tie-ins and even toy deals (that would be needed for news as well). Like news, the PBS “kidvid” block would receive a guarantee percentage of the Trust Fund revenues. PBS would be required to underwrite programming which reflect the needs of a diverse and under-served audience. It would have to ensure independent producers, especially women and producers of color, create at least half of all its annual programming. A review process would be created via an independent committee that would report annually to the public how well PBS was fulfilling its Trust Fund obligations. PBS and its stations would also be required to develop governance reforms which would help put the “public” back into public broadcasting. There could be similar approaches to NPR (This blogger has worked on PBS issues for many years, so my expertise is with the TV side versus public radio).

Finally, an independent body would be set up which would provide grants directly to producers and others who produce non-commercial content across various platforms. Such funding would grow in time as the need for stations recedes due to the digital transformation. (A Trust Fund would have to alter its funding strategies to reflect current and impending changes in media use). CPB would be replaced, of course. I don’t believe Congress will “free” public broadcasting soon. But as we begin the conversation about its future, much more serious deliberation is needed. We shouldn’t help save “Big Bird” if all the public is going to get is more of the same of what we have today. That’s why advocates need to clearly offer a serious restructuring that will better guarantee the country has a set of diverse non-commercial digital services it deserves.

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Elmo Pushes Pizza! Hey, Sesame Workshop and Co. Stop Counting Kids Dollars

CNN Money reports that Elmo will soon by promoting pizza. A new toy via Mattel will be “an Elmo doll holding a pizza, and the pizza talks and sings along with Elmo. The toy is expected to retail for $19.99.”

We think the folks at Sesame Workshop need to rethink what “Elmo’s World” should be like. Is it one that further commercializes childhood and pushes junk food, all to help bolster the Workshop’s bottom line? Shouldn’t companies that benefit from federal funding and public television distribution adhere to some higher level of conduct? Licensing of Elmo and other public broadcasting related products for children require a serious set of federal and PBS safeguards. We hope Gary Knell and company listen. Congress surely should, as it considers public broadcasting (PBS) funding.

Billion Dollars Bribery: As presidential candidates prepare to raise and spend $1 B on TV Ads for ‘08, it’s time for digital era reform

Advertising Age reports that U.S. presidential candidates are expected to spend $1 billion buying TV spots for the 2008 race. What this means, of course, is that our political leaders will be selling bits of themselves to well-heeled donors and special interests. How can we have a democracy that addresses our most serious problems when the very forces likely contributing to them are helping foot the TV ad costs? We can’t, even in this age of direct contributions via the Net. The big bucks raised are ultimately bribes from folks representing Wall Street, Silicon Valley, the Chamber of Commerce, and Hollywood.

The emerging new media platforms of broadband, mobile, and digital TV will be the methods of choice for delivering political marketing messages. Personalized style communications sent to digital video recorders, iPods, cell phones, along with “Second Life” style virtual press conferences, will soon replace traditional broadcast TV advertising. We need a law requiring free access on such platforms for all candidates (which would be accompanied by refinements in campaign finance limits). In a media world without communications scarcity ( such as with old media style broadcast TV) there is no reason to continue the “pay us for access to voter eyeball” type of media industry shenanigans.

Failure to address the problem of political communication access to the digital media will only result in the old system shaping how new media addresses our elections. It will be a pay-per-voter system where both the gatekeepers of old (Fox, Disney, Comcast) and new (AT&T, Verizon, Google) charge what the traffic will be forced to pay. A $1B tab for 2008 will be seen as a quaintly modest affair, as new media outlets reap many more future political profits (and power).

Here’s an excerpt from Ad Age: “Amid mouthwatering visions of more than $1 billion in spending on the most wide-open race since the TV era began, stations will have to devise some way to handle the rush when close to two dozen candidates come knocking at the same time… Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/Campaign Media, said advertising could well start in force this summer, with candidates trying to introduce or establish themselves early. Despite the early start, time is still an issue. “This kind of wide-open race is unprecedented, and there is only so much [ad] time,” said Jim Boyer, president and general manager of Des Moines station WHO-TV, a CBS affiliate.”

“TV Stations Prepare for $1 Billion Presidential Ad Onslaught
Dozens of Candidates Create Most Wide-Open Race Since TV Era Began.” Ira Teinowitz. Ad Age. January 29, 2007

Progressive 2.0–We Need to Build a "New" New Media System for U.S.

We are convinced that the only way to ensure a more democratic and diverse communications system in this era of “anytime/anywhere” media is to “build” it. Public policy will not be able to play a leading role to help us do that–certainly in the short term. What’s required is a strategic effort designed to harness the power (and challenges) of convergence by fostering large-scale collaboration and partnerships. The potential of Web 2.0 sites that foster community building is a critical area for progressive endeavors. As we have said, the Web 2.0 model offers the opportunity for communities and the nation to have diverse, public-interest-oriented and sustainable digital communications services. We should not cede media influence to services who are primarily interested in financial profit–they will dominate unless we can challenge the new media status quo.

We will need to tap into the expertise of new media business types who wish to harness the power of the media for social good. In that respect, we believe that the Huffington Post’s hire of a Time Warner executive familiar with online ad sales (and who will help it better connect with the growing revenue stream of Web 2.0 media) is something which should be replicated.

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As Progressives Plan to Meet in Memphis, it’s Time to Look Beyond Policy

We are heartened by the upcoming conference on media reform coming up Jan. 12-14. But the focus of the conference should be to look beyond Washington for answers. The communications industry is already defining our emerging digital media reality through major investment and mergers. Washington—even under the Democrats—can’t really help in the short-term. Media industry leaders know this—that policy is largely irrelevant at the moment. Yes, we should fight for network neutrality, access for low-income Americans and oppose big mergers. But we must also address how the public interest can be best served in this broadband media “anywhere, anytime” era. It requires, in our opinion, a proactive effort to shape the marketplace. If we are going to have a media system which provides serious news, as well as promotes ideas which puts people first (think health care, employment, education and peace), we need to work together to help create it.

The theme for Memphis should be to both address policy and market activism. Otherwise, we won’t make the progress we so desperately require.