Jun 8, 2011

Bill on spectrum auction passes Senate Commerce Committee

The Senate Commerce Committee voted 21 to 4 today (June 8) to authorize incentive auctions to compensate broadcasters that give up spectrum for wireless broadband. It's part of a larger effort to fund an emergency communications network. If it becomes law, the legislation will also compensate broadcasters who retain their spectrum but are "repacked" to make larger, contiguous swaths of vacated spectrum available for wireless (Current, "Spectrum talk at NETA: One ominous session," Jan. 24, 2011; also Feb. 8, 2010). The bill must now pass the full Senate and move to the Republican-controlled House.

The Association of Public Television Stations told Current in a statement: “We have been carefully watching progress on the Hill regarding FCC authority to conduct incentive auctions. Obviously, Congressional authorization is the linchpin in the FCC’s broadband wireless spectrum plans. We are hopeful that all spectrum legislation and implementing FCC rules will continue to recognize the important services provided by public television stations.”

Number of over-the-air TV homes grew over last year, new survey shows

According to research out this week from Knowledge Networks, the number of Americans exclusively using over-the-air (OTA) television broadcasting in their home increased from 42 million to 46 million over the last year. The demographics of broadcast-only households skew towards younger adults, minorities and lower-income families, the report finds.

The "2011 Ownership Survey and Trend Report" shows that 15 percent of all U.S. households with TVs use just over-the-air signals; that compares with 14 percent of homes reported as broadcast-only for the previous three years. Knowledge Networks estimates that more than 17 million households, or about 45.6 million consumers, receive television exclusively through broadcast signals.

The research also showed that minorities make up 40 percent of all broadcast-only homes; 20 percent of homes with a head of household age 18-34 are broadcast only; and 23 percent of homes with an annual income under $30,000 receive TV signals solely over-the-air.

The survey of 3,343 households was conducted in March and April with a standard error range of plus/minus 2 percent.

Eshoo recovering from appendectomy

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a longtime pubcasting champion on Capitol Hill, underwent a successful laparoscopic appendectomy at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., on Tuesday (June 7), according to a statement from her office. There were no complications and she is making a full recovery. "Rep. Eshoo will be working from home for the rest of the week," the statement said.

NewsHour, Chicago Tonight to work jointly on content using Joyce Foundation grant

PBS NewsHour and WTTW just received a $250,000, one-year grant from the Joyce Foundation to collaborate on coverage of Great Lakes region news. The partners will produce segments for the national PBS NewsHour audience; expand local reporting on Chicago Tonight and its digital platforms; and create national arts reports for NewsHour and related arts and culture content for the Online NewsHour. “Public affairs programs such as Chicago Tonight are important, credible platforms for informing the public on policy issues that most local television news programs would not cover,” said Joyce Foundation President Ellen Alberding in a statement. “And by partnering with PBS NewsHour, we know these regional issues will receive national attention.”

Pittsburgh jazz fans object to WDUQ format change

A group of community leaders and jazz fans working to preserve music programming on Pittsburgh's WDUQ, the NPR News and jazz station that has been in ownership limbo for more than a year, asked the FCC to delay the proposed license transfer to Essential Public Media (EPM), according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The expectant owner recently announced plans to convert 90.5 FM into an all-news station and move all but six hours of jazz programming to an HD Radio channel. Evan Pattak, chair of Jazz Lives in Pittsburgh, recently described the format change as "draconian" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "From 100 hours [a week] to six -- it's a blow to this city's cultural and artistic diversity. I can't imagine any jazz fan who would find it acceptable," he said. The FCC's window for accepting public comments on the proposed sale closes this week; EPM plans to begin broadcasting on 90.5 FM under different call letters on July 1.

"Voluminous" FCC report on media future offers only "minor suggestions," WSJ says

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Federal Communication Commission's highly anticipated report on the future of media, to be released Thursday, "holds little more than minor suggestions for rule changes, such as requiring broadcasters to put more information online." The paper cites sources that have read what it characterizes as "the voluminous document." The document also suggests that the Internal Revenue Service help struggling media companies get an easier path to becoming nonprofits. "It's more of a history of media than a future of media [report]," said one FCC official who has read the report.