Hundt speech devoid of help, say biz exex

In the wake of FCC chairman Reed Hundt’s TV violence address Monday to a joint NATPE/INTV session, industry honchos were saying it was long on style and short on hoped-for substance.

Hopes were high that the freshman chairman would give some indication of the FCC’s stance on a range of issues from must-carry protection for broadcasters to cable rate reregulation to relaxing broadcast station multi-ownership rules. However, few answers were forthcoming.

Critics are claiming the lack of clarification on numerous regulatory issues is having a bottom-line impact on the business. “It’s very hard for people to invest in television and cable stocks when they’ve been given no indication of what the regulatory lanscape will look like,” said Oppenheimer analyst Jessica Reif. “That’s created a great amount of uncertainty on Wall Street with regard to the industry.”

Violence stance

Instead of offering guidance through the current regulatory morass, Hundt took the opportunity to warn the industry that if they didn’t move aggressively to curb violence, Congress and the FCC would work together to do it for them. It wasn’t what station execs had come to hear.

“It’s fine to give that kind of speech and it’s good to have an idea of where the chairman stands on this issue,” said WPWR general manager Al DeVaney and chairman of the Assn.of Independent Television Stations. “But I think too often, we’re taking an unfair amount of heat for very complex societal problems.”

In the end, Hundt left his audience with more questions than answers.

“The commissioner seems to think we have violence on TV, therefore we have more violence in society,” said Radio Television News Directors Assn. prexy Dave Bartlett. “But I think it’s the other way around — that TV is reflecting the violence that is in our society.” Moreover, I defy the chairman to define what’s violent TV. Is it ‘The Three Stooges’ and Road Runner cartoons, the evening news or ‘NYPD Blue?’ Is a Stallone movie more violent than a Schwarzenegger movie? This isn’t for a government panel to define.”

Privately, station execs were saying that all the brouhaha about the violence issue would have little impact on what they eventually decide to program.