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There’s no free lunch in the future, say TV panelists

TV control, aud fragmentation among topics discussed

LAS VEGAS — The disparate interests of the handful of companies that control the TV biz prevent them from speaking with a single voice regarding the future of over-the-air television, panelists declared at a NATPE event titled “Is Free TV Worth Saving in a 500-Channel World.”

Notably, the serious discussion regarding the economics of the broadcast television business was more sparsely attended than a rollicking panel that preceded it, “Loose Cannons,” featuring such outspoken figures as Mark Cuban and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura.

Entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren noted that free TV largely belongs to five companies that possess a vast array of assets, preventing them from sharing the same agenda regarding what’s best for the medium over the long term.

That theme was seconded by the WB’s Jamie Kellner, who complained that the orgs had “agendas spread all over the map.” An example mentioned by the panel was DirecTV’s push to speed penetration of DVR boxes to subscribers, regardless of how that may affect corporate sibling Fox and its broadcast holdings.

MediaCom’s Jon Mandel said the congloms had concentrated on serving a “Wall Street agenda and not the public,” forgetting that they were licensed to operate in the public interest. As for past discussion of shifting broadcasting onto the pay cable spectrum, he said, “If you take it away from the 43 million without cable or satellite, you cut them out from ideas.”

Besides an overall lack of leadership and responsibility of public service, panel also talked about audience fragmentation and advertiser complaints.

Mandel suggested that the networks could still remedy some of their short-term problems by focusing on offering better shows.

“They’re trying too hard to fix too many things with the current way of thinking,” he said. “Give the public something to watch and they’ll come.”

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