Showbiz is bracing for the arrival of a new sheriff in Washington.
Because no matter what happens next week on Election Day, one thing is certain: Current FCC chief Kevin Martin is out the door. Even if Republican John McCain wins, Martin is history, Beltway insiders say.
“There’s no love lost between them,” said MPAA topper Dan Glickman of McCain and Martin.
Speculation about post-election appointments for the FCC and other key policy posts reached fever pitch in Washington media circles this week.
Should Democrat Barack Obama be elected, his chief kingmaker on showbiz-related policy issues is likely to be his old friend and Harvard Law School classmate Julius Genachowski.
Genachowski is no stranger to the industry, having spent eight years as a senior exec and consigliere to Barry Diller at InterActiveCorp and its predecessors. Before that, Genachowski was in the thick of media policy debates in the mid-1990s as a top aide to Federal Communications Commission chief Reed Hundt, who also has been a top Obama campaign adviser.
Former FCC chairman Michael Powell has McCain’s ear on media policy and would undoubtedly play a big role in guiding a McCain administration’s pick for FCC chief. And it’s McCain’s association with Powell that fuels much of his ill will toward Martin. Although both are Republicans, Powell and Martin clashed frequently when Powell was FCC chief and Martin was a commission member prior to succeeding Powell as chairman in 2005.
The two names most buzzed about as possible McCain appointments to the FCC are Bill Bailey, a former telecom adviser to McCain who now lobbies for Disney, and Mark Busey, the GOP candidate’s chief of staff.
Meanwhile, Genachowski is considered the top contender for the “chief technology officer” post that Obama has talked of creating to implement, among other things, his vision of vastly expanding and diversifying broadband service around the country. That’s an initiative the biz is likely to embrace wholeheartedly as Internet vid and online distribution become ever more central to showbiz’s business models.
There’s also talk that Genachowski could land as chairman of the FCC in an Obama administration. And if he doesn’t head the commission, he’ll “be the guy who would pick the chairman,” a D.C. veteran said. Beltway insiders believe Obama would likely lean toward a former Genachowski colleague under Hundt, such as former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin.
On the single most overriding issue for the MPAA — the fight against global piracy — “there’s no fundamental difference between Obama or McCain on intellectual property issues,” Glickman said.
Both have supported recent IP bills, which have generally drawn bipartisan backing.
Still, Glickman acknowledges an Obama administration would likely mean the MPAA would be reaching out to “newer, younger White House staffers and appointees about the value and importance of IP.”
“But no matter who is in the White House, our job is to explain to Congress and the administration that we are a powerful economic engine and a strong and successful American industry that should be encouraged,” Glickman added.
Given its focus on legislative matters, the MPAA has more direct dealings with Congress than with the White House. That the Democrats appear to be gaining steam would seem to favor Glickman, a former Democratic representative from Kansas.
Obama has generally been more vocal during the campaign on media policy issues than has McCain. McCain, during his long tenure in the Senate and time as chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, frequently fought with broadcasters over a range of issues.
McCain also has been regarded warily by the cable biz because of his close ties to the telco giants, who are bent on taking market share away from cable and satellite TV providers with their own subscription TV services.
Under an Obama administration, showbiz congloms could expect tougher scrutiny of merger and acquisition deals that require federal approval. Obama has been highly critical of the Bush administration’s handling of deregulation and antitrust issues in general and in regard to media in particular. He’s spoken repeatedly of the need for diversity of media ownership.
“It’s clear that Sen. Obama has had a more skeptical eye on the value of megaconglomerates,” said Austan Goolsbee, a senior economic adviser to Obama and a U. of Chicago economist who specializes in media, telecom and technology issues.
“You have major fundamental changes taking place in the media industry. Everyone knows that regulations need to be updated for the 21st century. But (Obama) has been pretty skeptical of saying, ‘Let’s throw our hands up and turn it over to industry self-regulation,’ just because it’s difficult to figure out the best way to proceed,” Goolsbee said.
An Obama administration might also butt heads with Hollywood over the hot-button issue of Net neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers should not be allowed to charge fees or otherwise apply different access terms to any individual user or website, no matter how much bandwidth they consume.
Obama has strongly endorsed Net neutrality, as have most Democrats, but the MPAA opposes it, arguing that legislation would inadvertently prevent ISPs from policing their pipelines for bootlegged content. McCain has opposed a Net neutrality policy mandate, saying the decision on Internet access should be left up to the free market, not government.
Democrats have tried to move bills on Net neutrality, and with more Dems in both the House and Senate likely to be elected, they could try once again.
“We care about Net neutrality, and we embrace the MPAA’s position on it,” said one top media lobbyist. “But we are right now in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Depression, and it’s not going away for at least two or three years at best. Whoever is in the White House will have one priority and one alone — creating jobs. Is a Net neutrality bill going to create jobs? No. They’re not going to waste their time on it.”
The one congressional committee change likely to result from the election and impact showbiz will be Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) ascending to chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee. Rockefeller has been vocal about the need for tighter regulation of not only indecent content on TV but also violence.
“That could present some interesting challenges,” Glickman said.