The odds are nearly 100% that we now have a new president elect, barring a surreally unfortunate rerun of Florida 2000. And regardless of who the president-elect is, the Democratic Party has beyond any doubt strengthened its hold on both houses of Congress. What will this mean for broadcasters? Probably not a whole hell of a lot.
For one thing, the National Association of Broadcasters, though under the helmsmanship of David K. Rehr, a known Republican, has been carefully working both sides of the aisle in the recent past (if not since its very inception – the NAB has been around long enough to know that there are two parties to be friendly to in Washington).
Anyway, the bad news is that at the White House level, there is reason for concern regardless of which candidate prevails. Although many, though certainly by no means all, corner-office executives might generally prefer a Republican in the Oval Office, when the Republican is named McCain all bets are off – his relationship with broadcasters has frequently been contentious. With Obama, the concern is more general, that he’ll follow the somewhat standard Democratic tendency to regulate first and ask questions later.
You never know what may happen on Capitol Hill, but the issues percolating there of concern to broadcasters are not many, and tend not to break down easily along party lines. Performance royalties and minority tax certificates are two items to watch for once we get past the DTV transition. Some are concerned about a renewed effort to either reanimate the Fairness Doctrine. If Democrats on the Hill take their cue from prominent FCC Democrat Michael Copps, it won’t happen, but maybe they’ll try for something approximating it. We’ll be watching.
The FCC is where there could be major action – the white space issue certainly figures to develop. Cable carriage status for Class A television stations may well spring back to life. Of great concern is the localism proceeding, and proceedings on advertiser sponsorship identification/payola matters. With Kevin Martin’s vote a true wildcard in many of these proceedings, the change from a Republican to a Democratic majority might not be all that noticeable, although the re-regulatory items suddenly upgrade from regular to high-test fuel. Look for new faces here as well.
One thing that is not likely to happen under any circumstances and any of these venues is a return to old, pre-Telecom 1996 local ownership caps. During the many hearings on the topic over the years, many have observed that it will be difficult if not impossible to get that genie back in the bottle. That was true in general as a general operating principle all along, and it is doubly true now – you can’t force a fire sale if there aren’t any buyers.
Finally, regardless of who has the reins of government, we hope they get a handle on this economy ASAP.