We've been listening for the last few hours to the audio stream of testimony and comments at the Federal Communications Commission hearing at Seattle, and the testimony overwhelmingly has been predictable: Against media consolidation. Which we agree with, strongly, but not a lot of news there.
The single most interesting point we've heard came from Seattle talk show host John Carlson, who offered a wonderful rebuttal to pro-FCC arguments that there are a lot more media - Internet, cable, satellite radio - these days, as an argument for loosening regulation of the publicly-owned air waves. When questions of indecency or other content come up, Carlson noted, the FCC majority abruptly becomes concerned about abuse of the publicly-held airwaves. The disparity is striking.
Media company witnesses talked about how much they do and how tough the competition is; they drew mostly hoots and howls from the jammed crowd of 800 or so, which didn't seem to think the broadcasters were doing so hot a job. Predictable again, but Mark Allen of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters made a point we found intriguing, albeit probably not as intended - and almost an extension of Carlson's point. He talked at some length about changing audience expectations, how people want more specialized things, want what they want here and now - and how the terrifically expanded universe of media is changing in efforts to provide that. It was an argument for the niche-ing of media, and from a market standpoint certainly it cohered.
Which logically prompted this thought in a territory he doubtless would rather we not go: Why not split up the niches along more logical lines?
You want to talk Internet, sat radio, cable and so on? Great. Let them be where they are now - broadly open to expanding marketplaces, a great place for private enterprise to compete at will because the playing field is so immense and so openly competitive, and so difficult to monopolize. It is easily entered, by players large and small, and easily exited. It is a good place for a lightly-regulated marketplace to operate.
And then, in this vastly expanded environment of so many massive arenas (of whose existence Mr. Allen was so careful to remind us) available for private interests to enter, return and reserve the limited publicly-owned airwaves purely to the public interest. Yank every license to broadcast on the public airwaves - every single one of them, radio and television - and redistribute them one by one to local nonprofit organizations, none of which could hold more than a single license, and all of which would be strictly required to operate with the public interest foremost in mind.
There. Now doesn't that sound like a more logical realignment of the massively expanded media world?
Thanks for the idea prompt, Mr. Allen.