NEW YORK — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate committee on telecommunications and a potential candidate for President of the U.S., told an audience of TV executives that he’s talking to the broadcast networks about restructuring the Republican Party’s presidential-nominating convention in the year 2000 to harvest more primetime coverage from the Big Three.
Speaking at a luncheon gathering here for the third annual Worldwide TV Industry Summit Conference sponsored by Variety and NATAS (the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences), Sen. McCain said he’d held a meeting with Roone Arledge, chairman of ABC News, to discuss two recent ABC proposals:
If the Republicans and Democrats agree to shorten their conventions from four nights to two, and schedule speeches of legitimate, newsmaking political figures, not celebrities or entertainers, ABC News promises uninterrupted coverage of the speeches in primetime. The floor reporting and anchor analysis would take place before and after the speeches, instead of constantly interrupting them, as in past conventions.
ABC News also offered one hour of post-convention primetime, free, for a debate between the two presidential candidates, who would go head-to-head without any moderator or panel of journalists to detract from the give and take of the two principals.
One network source says Sen. McCain is so taken with Arledge’s brainchild, particularly on convention coverage, that the senator is planning to call for party hearings on remaking the Republican convention to render it more network-primetime-friendly.
Paul Taylor, executive director of a coalition to get more free air time for political candidates, said a new focus on serious speeches by party heavyweights, not showbiz figures, “will help to cut back on the Oprah-fication of political conventions. I’m all for it.”
In his speech at the Variety/NATAS lunch, Sen. McCain also said the 1996 Telecommunications Act “ended up reforming nothing. The FCC took three pages of law and turned it into 2,000 pages of regulation. Government’s job is to get out of the way and not invent new rules and regulations” for areas like the Internet. He said the Internet is thriving precisely because government hasn’t straitjacketed it with restrictive laws.
Sen. McCain also took another whack at NBC because it’s the only major broadcast or cable network that has not embraced the new content ratings. “NBC is getting cheers in Hollywood for supposedly standing up against censorship,” he said. “But content-based ratings are not censorship — they’re like labels on a can of soup.” On “Schindler’s List,” which ran earlier this year on NBC, Sen. McCain said, “I’d want NBC to put an ‘M’ rating on it, but then I’d encourage everybody to watch it.” M designates that the movie is suitable for mature viewers.
In other news from the Variety/NATAS conference, Niraj Gupta, an analyst with Schroder & Co., predicted that, in the emerging markets of the world, “the core TV business has such attractive dynamics because of deregulation, privatization and economic growth in general that — post-1998 — the revenue increases will be consistently in the high single digits or low double digits.”
Kay Koplovitz, chairman and CEO of the USA Networks, said during one of two panel sessions on program distribution that “there’ll be a sea change in the way movies and TV shows get into people’s homes,” featuring such potentially powerful distributors as Microsoft, America Online and Netscape. But she added that “there won’t be one gatekeeper in the future. Instead, there’ll be multiple players,” pointing to the cable industry’s stated goal “of keeping an open and fluid marketplace” to prevent a company like Microsoft from becoming dominant.
The second panel session, on new distribution technologies, ended up in a lively debate between Carlo Sartori, managing director of Italy’s government-owned RAI network, and Helmut Thoma, managing director of Germany’s privately owned RTL network.
Sartori said most of the programming from “commercial and private” TV companies is “pure trash.” He continued the indictment, charging that if the addition of dozens of new digital channels winds up in the hands of commercial companies, “pure trash will dominate” the digital universe.
Thoma countered by saying that “government-owned channels buy the same stuff from the Americans as private channels.” Calling public channels “outdated, living-death organizations,” Thoma said the only reason they continue to exist is that a politician can use them for his own ends.