Call to revolution

Paxson wants no caps on media ownership

NEW YORK — Pax TV topper Lowell (Bud) Paxson wants the FCC to jumpstart the digital revolution by eliminating almost all ownership restrictions governing both broadcasters and cablers.

Specifically, Paxson says the commission should “remove ownership caps … completely, allow television duopoly, allow network duopoly, allow cable to own broadcast (and) allow broadcast to own cable.”

“The commission has burdened itself with all these rules it wants to review,” Paxson told Daily Variety. “Don’t review the rules — get rid of them. Then you’ll see the digital stampede.”

Paxson, who plans to repeat his call for massive deregulation in a keynote speech at an industry forum in Gotham on Thursday, says a digital TV revolution can happen only if various media are allowed to combine forces.

“I am predicting that the broadcaster will come to the day in the very near future in which it enters massive financial agreements with cable: cable with broadcasters, cable with satellite, satellite with broadcast, broadcast with satellite and the Internet,” he said.

“If we don’t combine forces with cable, satellite and the Internet in creative ways to offer the consumer an incentive, we’re not going to start the digital revolution. It will fizzle. … The consumer is going to say, ‘Why should I buy a digital set?’ ”

Paxson forecasts chaos if the FCC starts a process of making piecemeal changes, or chooses to make no changes at all.

“Congress is going to do some legislation and we’re all going to lobby and water it down,” he said. “And whatever Congress comes out with will be horribly flawed.”

However, the FCC’s powers are not without limit: Congress would have to take legislative action if all of the changes Paxson is advocating come to pass.

While Paxson’s positions on FCC regs are more extreme than most, he’s not alone in calling for major changes to ownership limits.

Most of the major webs are in favor of expanding the current 35% station ownership cap to at least 50%. CBS and NBC have also asked the FCC to explore the idea of network duopoly.

Critics of such proposals, including many of the webs’ own affiliates, say such massive deregulation would continue the trend toward consolidating media power in the hands of a few major media groups. Paxson, however, contends that past deregulation hasn’t had a negative impact on media diversity.

Paxson similarly dismisses skeptics who believe his deregulatory push, along with the creation of the Pax TV netlet, are simply part of a strategy of boosting the value of his stations in advance of a sale.

“Everybody has said that Bud’s only in it for the short term,” Paxson laughs. “Please remember what Bud did. He sold out of the Home Shopping Network in 1991.”

Instead, Paxson swears he’s in the broadcast biz because he want to sit “at the apex of this information revolution … a revolution that can only happen in an industry every 200 years, according to the historians.”

(Christopher Stern in Washington contributed to this report.)

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