Friday, October 27, 2006

Smoke from a Distant Fire

In case you haven't noticed, I pay a little bit of attention to local TV. One reason is that it reminds me of growing up in Pittsburgh, and visiting relatives in the country who had a big old TV antenna on the roof, with a remote-controlled electric rotor that would move the antenna into position to receive different Pittsburgh TV stations.

The interesting thing was that you could also pull in stations from Wheeling, West Virginia and Youngstown, Ohio, and sometimes these stations were pretty entertaining in a way that I don't think they would have appreciated if they knew how we thought of them. The commercials and newscasts were more than a little less professional than the Pittsburgh stations, and occasionally the wrong film or taped segment would be aired, or something else akin to slapstick would happen, and then some of the locally-produced commercials would run. Think of the SNL skit about the chandelier store and you'll know what I mean.

Some of these stations do deserve credit for creative programming, though. Back in the late 80's the hospital in Pittsburgh where I worked still pulled their TV in from over the air, and the Saturday night Star Trek Marathon on WTOV sure helped the night shift go by quickly.

With the arrival of cable and satellite came the ability to see TV stations from a lot further away than just within the broadcast range of proximal metropolitan areas, and with that came the arrival of federal regulations that established rules about viewing stations other than the ones that served the Designated Market Area, or DMA, that you resided in.

Some of these rules, such as Must Carry
and the Satellite Home Viewer Act, are specifically aimed at preventing local TV consumers from viewing what are called Distant Signals, unless the consumer could prove that they are outside the range of the local station. This has been of particular interest to people like me who moved to Grand Junction from someplace else and found that the local TV stations, especially the news, felt like being forced to watch the Steubenville station when you were used to Pittsburgh.

To be fair, the quality of Grand Junction TV news has improved over the years, but you'll never see a GJ station provide overall event coverage and service at the level of the Denver stations. They'll bring up several examples of "excellent local news coverage", but let's see them break in live at 2:00 AM with updates on the recent CSP trooper shooting and manhunt in Garfield County. Not gonna happen.

Thanks to must carry, the arrival of KKCO in 1996 signaled the departure of Denver's KUSA
from the local cable and rural translators, and the battle was on to get Denver news back on the air in GJ. Pressure from local viewers on several GJ stations has eased since KREX relented by airing the Denver Fox affiliate's newscast on their Fox station KFQX at 9:00 PM, along with the Fox 31 morning news every morning.

In the rural areas of Colorado this has been a somewhat heated battle at times between the smaller DMAs such as Grand Junction and Colorado Springs, and consumers in these areas who prefer news and local programming from Denver stations. Nowhere in the state is this a more glaring issue than in Durango and the Four Corners region, which falls into the Albuquerque-Santa Fe DMA.

EchoStar, the parent company of Dish Network, has provided access to Denver stations to Durango subscribers who are more interested in what is going on in Colorado instead of New Mexico. This is now threatened thanks to a federal judge's ruling in Florida last week that would require Dish to shut down access to distant signals to the vast majority of its' subscribers. Dish has vowed to fight the ruling to keep the distant signals coming, and many folks in the Durango area have contacted the Brothers Salazar about federal legislation aimed at ending the archaic monopolies that prevent residents of rural Colorado from getting the best possible statewide news coverage available.

The Heritage Foundation summed the issue up very nicely in 1999:
  • Broadcasters want to preserve the government-sanctioned monopoly they have enjoyed since the early days of TV broadcasting by ensuring that no company (other than the current local broadcast affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox TV located in each community) is permitted to transmit or retransmit network television signals in the local market. They are concerned that increased competition from "out-of-market" competitors like satellite broadcast providers puts their local advertising base at risk. If their advertising base shrinks, broadcasters argue, their economic livelihood will be threatened and "localism" in broadcasting endangered.

  • Satellite providers want to continue to deliver "distant network affiliate signals" to anyone who wants them, especially those who have poor signal reception from local network affiliates using roof-top antennas, set-top "rabbit ear" antennas, or cable television. Satellite providers believe "unserved households" should be defined as broadly as possible so that customers who do not receive adequate broadcast signals at any time during the day can do so via satellite transmission. (Note: At least one satellite TV provider is now beaming the GJ stations through their satellite systems.)

  • Consumers for the most part want to make sure they do not lose their current service, whether it is traditional broadcast programming from local affiliates or retransmission of distant network signals via satellite providers. Most important, however, they want to receive the highest quality signal possible from a provider of their choice.

The continued development of the Internet as a communications tool lends a bit of irony to this debate. Tonight I can go to KUSA's website, and watch a good portion of their stories online over the same Bresnan cable that is restricted from delivering the same content to my television in the form of a TV signal. Hopefully the net will continue to remain a neutral source of information, so that the foolishness that dominates the delivery of local broadcast TV can't pervade cyberspace.

Best wishes to the folks in Durango and at Dish Network for success in their respective efforts.

1 comment:

sally said...

The media needs to remember its place in the world of news. I know that my opinion will not be shared with most, but it is still my opinion nonetheless.

My belief was always that the news media reported the news as events that occurred (past tense) not from in the middle of them nor creating them on their own. I am particularly upset and angered by a report of a cable news channel, who will remain nameless only because I cannot substaniate the report in its entirely. (I do not like this channel primarily because of its liberal views on most world events but mainly because of its reporting on the situation in Iraq and its stories regarding our troops.)
The report I am upset about is from a British journalist who was working on this channel as a "correspondent" and wished to report on the Al Queda (forgive the spelling) side of the Iraq war. First of all, why do we as Americans give one bit of a second of caring as to how the enemy spin on the war is going? Lest we forget the sucker punch we all took on 9/11 from these cowards. While the reporter was doing his story, a sniper from this organization, while looking through his rifle's sight, asked the reporter if he wanted to print the name of the American soldier he had targeted in his sight before he killed him. He then proceeded to kill the soldier while the reporter watched. To date, this story has not hit the media, as I don't believe it will because we are told by the media what we can know about and what we can't. There are stories everyday of the foiled terroist activities that are targeted at innocent people, Iraqi and American. We don't hear about these stories because it's not good "news" or it may give the public the "right ideas" for a change as to why our troops are there. If this story surfaces, perhaps it will give our military the much needed boost to return to the offensive instead of being forced to sit back, with their hands tied on the defensive. The media needs to be forced out to the perimeters where they always belonged, report the events after they occurred as they were always meant to do, and allow our military to do the job they were sent to do: to regain order and train up the Iraqi troops to maintain security in their own country without the world's help which is exactly what the Iraqi people want to do. They lived in fear for generations from the previous regime and are wishing to change the future for themselves and their children. Instead, our soldiers being forced to sit on their hands and continue to die at the hands of these insurgents who prefer to engage in ancient turf wars.

Someone tell that soldier's mother, wife, son or daughter that their son, husband or father is dead now because a story had to be written from the coward's perspective. Good luck with that.