By Patrick Sammon, Jr. (doddleNEWS)
Since mid 2011, a company in the United States has been purchasing bankrupt television stations at fire sale prices in large markets such as Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco. OTA Broadcasting, LLC is a subsidiary of MSD Capital. OTA Broadcasting, LLC is a corporation controlled by Dell, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Dell. Yes, as in Dell Computers. People are asking: What is Michael Dell doing owning TV stations? Dell has had no broadcasting interests up to this point, and aside from computers, his companies do not provide, service or manufacture equipment for the broadcasting industry.
The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that he’s taking a major gamble that he hopes will pay off, and in the meantime, he can make some money while owning these stations. The complex answer has many more moving parts, including the Federal Communications Commission, telcos such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, the National Association of Broadcasters and their member stations, and the public, the real losers.
Since being appointed by Barack Obama in early 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been vocal about the Mobile Broadband Plan being his priority. It should be noted that he has taken a cold stance towards broadcast television, and many in the radio arena feel that they have been ignored by the Commission as of late. According to the Federal Communications Commission website, there was a bill passed in February 2012, giving the FCC the authority to conduct incentive auctions for TV spectrum to reclaim from broadcasters and auction off to telcos to be used for mobile broadband. Licensees who voluntarily participate would be given incentives and a portion of the proceeds of the reallocated spectrum come auction time. Those who do not, the ramifications are not yet known. Genachowski has the commercial TV band squarely in his scope, and unless that legislation to reclaim and reallocate is repealed, will stand.
This is where Michael Dell comes in. If he were to voluntarily relinquish frequency allotments of the stations in which he owns, he makes on the deal, as would any other broadcaster who takes the bait.
The licensees are stewards to whom the station’s license is entrusted to serve the public and their interest, convenience, and necessity. The real losers are going to be the members of the American public, and not everyone has cable, satellite, or telco; many have disconnected their pay TV services to save money. The public lost out the first time in June 2009, when every full-powered analog television station signed off, digital broadcasting became the standard, and many non-cable homes were left with no service. With analog, there was snow, but you received something. With DTV, you either get the signal, or you don’t. The carrier is very unforgiving. The public stands to lose yet again with these actions, making this problem worse.
Furthermore, Digital TV has not been through a major catastrophe yet; the technology is still untested. Will it hold up? Mobile broadband are also digital signals; how useful will it really be in an emergency?