Retrans, Diversity Dominate IRTS Panel


New York -- Courtroom Television Network CEO Henry Schleiff on Friday called
on the Federal Communications Commission and the Bush administration to review
retransmission consent and the impact it has on cable networks that don't have
broadcast-station holdings.

'I just question whether the consumer, the viewer, is being served,' Schleiff
said during an International Radio & Television Society panel discussion
here, which was dominated by retransmission consent and diversity issues.

FCC commissioner Susan Ness noted that it would be unusual for the agency to
tackle the issue without receiving a petition asking it to do so.

'I don't think we want to do it alone,' Schleiff responded, adding that the
network has considered filing a petition on the issue 'from time to time.'

Emmis Communications Corp. chairman Jeff Smulyan offered a different view on
retransmission consent, insisting that television stations should be paid by
viewers for their over-the-air signals.

'The American public largely pays for what they don't want and doesn't pay
for what they do watch,' Smulyan said, pointing out that local stations draw
more viewers than subscription-based cable networks.

Most cable networks rely on both subscription and advertising revenues.
Broadcasters also need that dual revenue stream in order to compete, Smulyan

Ness said she believed having free, over-the-air broadcasting in the United
States 'is a foundation of our democracy.' She added that the commission is
'reluctant' to regulate issues related to content.

Smulyan also complained about the recent moves by satellite companies such as
DirecTV Inc. to offer subscribers local-station signals in big markets. The
satellite providers charge subscribers $5 to $10 each month for the
local-station packages, while television stations are compensated with just 5
cents to 10 cents per subscriber, he added.

Diversity was also a big topic of debate, as panelists agreed that far too
few minorities hold senior-level positions in the television industry. The
Annenberg School for Communication at the University of
Pennsylvania plans to release a report next month that will point out that none
of the top 25 media conglomerates are run by women, Ness said.

National Geographic Channel is focused on diversity in the workplace, and the
network also reflects diversity in its programming, president Laureen Ong said.
'Everything we do is about a global village,' she added.

Schleiff noted that the cable industry has been addressing diversity issues
for years, through the National Association of Minorities in Communications, the
Walter Kaitz Foundation and Black History Month programming. But the efforts are
'all so ad hoc,' he added.

'It's disappointing to see how much, real, no-BS programs we have seen in
this area,' said Schleiff, noting that there were few minorities in attendance
at the panel, held Friday afternoon at The Waldorf-Astoria.

One of the ways Court TV is addressing the issue is with its
summer-internship program, which Schleiff said he hopes to fill with 30 women
and minority applicants.

PBS president Pat Mitchell said she persistently tells network recruiters,
'Diversity is the No. 1 requirement.'

Columbia TriStar Television Distribution president Steve Mosko said the
industry should create mentor programs for minorities. It's also important to
'educate young people about what the opportunities are,' Mosko added.

The panel was moderated by Electronic Media editor Chuck Ross. Some of
the panelists were featured in the magazine's 'Twelve to Watch'