July 11, 2005

Senate turns eye to digital TV, music licensing

By Brooks Boliek

WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter) - Television and
music-publishing issues will take up some of the Senate's
attention this week as lawmakers plan to examine digital TV,
funding for public broadcasting and music licensing on the

Public broadcasting executives are scheduled to defend
their funding Monday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee
begins to decide how much money the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting should be allotted.

Controversy over public broadcasting intensified when the
House Appropriations Committee slashed direct funding for the
CPB by 25%, slicing $100 million out of its $400 million
budget. The cuts actually are deeper, however, because it also
cut $45 million for PBS' conversion to digital TV and $40
million budgeted to replace PBS' aging satellite delivery
system. The full House restored $100 million in cuts.

The controversy was fueled when the CPB board selected
former Republican Party co-chairman Patricia Harrison to run
the corporation.

CPB board chairman Kenneth Tomlinson is under investigation
by public broadcasting's inspector general for attempting to
illegally influence programing decisions at PBS and National
Public Radio. The probe is focusing on his paying of outside
groups, some with GOP ties, to decide whether programing like
"Now With Bill Moyers" has a liberal or anti-White House slant.
Reportedly, many of the contracts were approved without board

The corporation, which was set up by Congress in 1967 to
shield public broadcasting from political influence, acts as a
clearinghouse for federal dollars to PBS, NPR and hundreds of
public radio and television stations.

Public broadcasting supporters hope to convince the Senate
to restore the rest of the funds cut by the House.

"The kind of star of the hearing is going to be Pat
Harrison," Association of Public Television Stations president
and CEO John Lawson said. "Many people want to see how strongly
she advocates fully funding public broadcasting."

Calls to the CPB for comment Friday went unreturned.

The Senate typically has been more receptive to public
broadcasting than the House, and Lawson expected that trend to
continue, though Harris could face some tough questioning from

"It all depends on who's there," Lawson said, noting that a
hearing today is a rarity, particularly after the annual Fourth
of July politicking.

The timing could make it tough on lawmakers from Western
states -- such as Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Ted
Stevens, R-Alaska -- who have been strong public broadcasting
supporters in the past.

Senators won't give up TV on Tuesday either, as the Senate
Commerce Committee has scheduled a pair of hearings on digital

While some leading lawmakers in the House are pushing for a
"hard date" that would require broadcasters to give up their
analog channels by 2009, the senators have been taking a slower

Broadcasters have conceded that they are likely to face a
date when they are required to broadcast on only their digital
channels, but they want to win approval of legislation that
would force cable operators to carry their entire signal, as
well as public funding so some consumers can buy digital-analog

The digital TV transition has bedeviled policy makers for

Currently, broadcasters are required to stop analog
transmissions at the end of 2006, or when 85% of the U.S. TV
viewing audience receives a digital signal, whichever comes
later. The 85% number has long been considered an unreachable
goal. The National Association of Broadcasters contends that
there are 73 million television sets in use in that rely on
free, over-the-air broadcasting as their only source for TV
reception. A recent study by the GAO found that 20.5 million TV
households rely exclusively on over-the-air TV reception.

Democrats have withheld their support of the bill because
they are worried about turning off millions of TV sets, while
at the same time requiring people to pony up cash to make them

GOP plans to reduce the deficit without raising taxes has
renewed interest in the switch, which could bring between $10
billion-$30 billion into the treasury when the analog channels
are auctioned.

Also this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee's copyright
subcommittee will conduct a hearing on music licensing on the

Online subscription services have blamed their slow starts,
in part, on the difficulty of getting licenses for music.
Although music publishers have said they are willing to adopt a
single-license format for new music delivery, they haven't
wanted to go as far as online services.

Radio doesn't have to pay a mechanical license because its
broadcasts are ephemeral. Mechanical royalties are paid to
publishers for physical property like CDs and downloads like
Apple's iPod.

Music publishers have resisted the idea of a blanket
license because they feel it undercuts the payments their
companies receive. The change in heart comes as licensing legal
services becomes more attractive in the light of piracy on
peer-to-peer services.

In March, National Music Publishers Assn. president and CEO
David Israelite told the House Judiciary Committee's copyright
subcommittee that publishers were willing to consider a
"blanket license" for many new forms of music delivery.

"We're willing to consider everything between the goal
posts of radio and pure sale," Israelite told reporters after
the subcommittee hearing. "Everything under the umbrella of
subscription services."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter