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Miscellaneous News

January 19, 2007

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin gave a speech to a national advertisers conference advocating "a more a la carte system of television," referring to a la carte (single) channel pricing by cable and satellite systems.

He extolled the benefits to advertisers of knowing which channels people were actually watching (the ones they ordered), rather than trying to guess which ones out of a 200-channel tier were popular and which never saw the light of day.

Does this mean that the FCC is going to move to impose a la carte channel pricing? Probably not, but you can bet the cable and satellite people are going to be busy looking at new business models and priming their lobbyists for a fight.

Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, the Senate and House committees responsible for DTV legislation are still just thinking about getting to work--no new hearings scheduled yet, no new DTV bills making an appearance. Over in the Senate, John Sununu (Republican from New Hampshire) is threatening a bill to keep the FCC from imposing a broadcast (copy protection) flag. The weight of Congress, however, would seem to be leaning in the other direction, based on last year's rumblings.

So whither SED? Canon and Toshiba have decided to terminate their joint venture, SED, Inc., which was to have produced SED television sets (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display). This in the wake of the lawsuit by Texas firm Nano-Proprietary's lawsuit against Canon for improperly transferring Nano-Proprietary's licensed SED technology to the joint venture.

The good news is that SED will go on. Canon is buying Toshiba's share in SED, Inc. and will proceed with plans for SED TV production. Initial production is still set for late this year, but Canon will be reevaluating the timing on mass-production. With LCD flat-panel technology improving and prices dropping rapidly, the business model for SED sales will be tight.

The National Association of Broadcasters has formed a politically-oriented DTV transition team to educate the American public on that transition.

Four political operatives. A Director of Media Relations, a Director of Public Affairs, a Director of External Relations, and the big boss, a former press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Very strange.

Since TV broadcasters are already uniquely placed to communicate directly with every individual who will be affected by the DTV transition, i.e. all those who watch television, one wonders why they would not go about the education process differently. To wit: why not hire an advertising firm to produce TV public service announcements and have their member TV stations put those education spots on the air?

Being a cynical ex-Washington regulatory/policy drone, I'm wondering whether this looks-like-a-lobbying team has not been formed to head off a mandatory broadcast industry public education requirement. Certainly the consumer electronics industry accomplished the same thing by creating a comprehensive public education campaign to convince the FCC that mandatory warning labels for analog-only TVs were not needed. That voluntary education program was never actually put into place (at least outside the Washington beltway), and no labels appeared on those obsolete NTSC TVs.

Last year's failed Senate communications bill contained a broadcast station requirement for DTV public service announcements. We'll see if a similar provision appears this year, or if our politicians will be persuaded that the industry can take care of it without a legal incentive.

The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) has promised to release by January 26 its Request for Proposals to run the government's digital-to-analog converter box subsidy program. I'm assuming that means we'll soon see their long-awaited final rule describing what features those converter boxes will have.