Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


January 19, 2012

As if Ryan Seacrest weren't already busy enough-now he's taking a stake in a cable channel.

The "American Idol" host said Wednesday that his holding company, Ryan Seacrest Media, would take a minority ownership stake in Mark Cuban's network HDNet, alongside stakes taken by sports and entertainment concern AEG and Creative Artists Agency. As part of the deal, Mr. Seacrest's production company will create content for the channel. Mr. Seacrest won't appear on the channel himself, however. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

HDNet will be renamed AXS TV. Co-founded by Mr. Cuban in 2001, HDNet now airs a mix of travel, sports and concert programming although its best-known shows include martial-arts program "HDNet Fights" and weekly news show "Dan Rather Reports." While the martial-arts program and Dan Rather show will continue, the programming for the channel beginning in the summer will focus on lifestyle, music and live entertainment. HDNet becomes the latest small cable network to team up with a celebrity in an effort to lift its profile. Discovery Communications Inc. teamed up with Oprah Winfrey in transforming Discovery Health network into OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Current TV hired Keith Olbermann, who said at the time he was getting a small equity stake in the channel. These moves reflect the reality that channels with low viewership are in danger of being dropped by cable operators under pressure from rising programming rates.

Mr. Cuban says the channel had close to 27 million subscribers for 2011. The most widely distributed cable networks are in more than 100 million homes. HDNet reaped on average 49 cents per month per household from cable and satellite operators in 2011, down 40% from the end of 2007. In both the Current and OWN ventures, the personalities are appearing on the channels. Ms. Winfrey, for instance, recently began hosting a weekly talk show that has helped boost ratings. In this case, Mr. Seacrest's involvement will be through his production company developing and producing content, including reality-TV programming. Mr. Seacrest is already a busy TV producer, whose production company is behind several reality series featuring the Kardashian family on E! Entertainment, a cable channel owned by Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal.

Mr. Cuban's hope is that Mr. Seacrest, despite not appearing on the channel, will infuse it with enough programming magic to keep scattered viewers interested. "It is not about Ryan the host," said Timothy Leiweke, chief executive and president of AEG, "but Ryan the business partner." Mr. Seacrest and AEG have been seeking to create a cable channel that would feature concerts and other programming for well over a year. Since October 2010, the group has approached potential partners about the venture, with the intent of taking over an existing channel, according to media reports at the time. Mr. Seacrest declined to comment on the earlier negotiations.

Mr. Seacrest said he went to Mr. Cuban about launching the channel. "We walked him through the idea," he said. "He's very quick to get into the details and make a decision. That's what we love about him-things don't get held up." For his part, Mr Cuban said, "I'd be stupid not to take advantage of the opportunity. Between Ryan and AEG, I can gain far more than staying alone." In addition to "American Idol" and his production business, Mr. Seacrest has a radio deal with Clear Channel Communications and hosts various other TV specials. Asked about how he would balance his day, Mr. Seacrest joked, "We have scheduled all our AXS TV meetings for 9 p.m., the one free hour in my day," before adding seriously, "it's not difficult to balance everything. I get up and run with it." Wall Street Journal

U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, one of 30 co-sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act, on Wednesday announced he was withdrawing his support.

"Based on my background as a sheriff, the Stop Online Piracy Act, commonly referred to as SOPA, was brought to me as a law enforcement bill," Holden said. "At its core, the bill's intent to eliminate theft by foreign websites protects the intellectual property of American manufacturers of all spheres. However, the possible unintended consequences, such as stifling innovation and limiting free speech on the Internet, have come to the forefront of debate. An open Internet requires that we find a better approach that is acceptable to all sides. Therefore, I withdrew my co-sponsorship of this bill and will work to find a solution that protects both the openness and innovation of the Internet as well as intellectual property."

The bills are designed to crack down on sales of pirated American products overseas, and they have the support of the film and music industry. Among the opponents are many Internet companies such as Wikipedia, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, eBay and Twitter. U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming Township, is a co-sponsor of the bill. And Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, is a co-sponsor of the related bill in the Senate, called Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Marino's spokeswoman Renita Fennick said the congressman would issue a statement on the bill today.

John Rizzo, Casey's press secretary, issued a statement saying, "Sen. Casey has heard from a number of his constituents on the issue and looks forward to a full debate on the legislation. His goal is to fight to protect law-abiding citizens while stopping criminals who are hurting Pennsylvania companies and workers." Sen. Pat Toomey is not a supporter of the legislation but said he is concerned about the issues that led to them being introduced. "Piracy of intellectual property is a legitimate concern that should be addressed," Toomey said. "However, the (two bills) are flawed, and I cannot support them in their current form." Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Don't kill the messenger.

That was the plea 2,500 years ago by a servant in Sophocles' "Antigone." It is the plea today from everyone who is concerned about free speech and the Internet. On Wednesday, Wikipedia, Reddit and other websites went dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act now being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. They have every reason to raise the alarm.

Online piracy and copyright infringement are rampant on the Web, and the 1998 law on the books (called the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act) is like trying to kill a wasp with a stick. If a website illegally publishes copyrighted material, there is simply no effective way to force the material to be taken down. The penalties are too meager to deter offenders, the worst of which are often foreign companies beyond the law's reach. One industry-funded study estimated that pirated films, drugs and other goods cost American businesses $130 billion a year in revenue. Critics call that figure way too high, but no one is defending thieves. The problem is that the proposed cure is far worse than the disease.

SOPA would mean nothing less than the effective death of free speech and creative expression on the Internet. The reasons are as ancient as Sophocles and as modern as the idea of aggregation. Currently, websites such as YouTube or Wikipedia are notified that someone has posted stolen material and asked to take it down. The vast majority of websites, search engines or Internet service providers readily comply. SOPA would change that.

Suddenly, Web companies would be responsible for copyrighted material that ended up on their site or their search engine - liable for the actions of their users. The messenger would be blamed for the message. If someone believes their material is being stolen, they would seek a remedy in court. A judge could then order the Internet company to blacklist certain content providers. It could even be forced to investigate who might be using that content with something called "deep packet inspection" of users' personal computers, which is as ugly and invasive as it sounds.

Because there is no way for Internet companies to be entirely certain of its providers or users, the law could drive many that host uploaded content out of business entirely. SOPA might have worked for web 1.0, a world in which websites published their own content. But it's as if the 42 congressional co-sponsors of SOPA and its Senate counterpart (the Protect IP Act) missed the entire interactive and social media revolution of web 2.0. Or more accurately, it's as if the media companies and lobbying firms who have given those lawmakers $18.5 million simply don't care. We need to care.

The social media revolution has altered the music and film industries, breaking the stranglehold of a few companies and allowing artists to market their arts directly to the audience. It is revolutionizing commerce as online user reviews and other innovations keep retailers engaged and responsive. It is revolutionizing society as support groups for everything from cancer to autism provide a lifeline to millions. It is revolutionizing American politics as YouTube images from Sen. George Allen's "macaca" moment to the "oops" heard 'round the world catch candidates off script or in private moments - sometimes shattering their carefully packaged public image. It is revolutionizing global politics as we saw during the Arab Spring, a grassroots movement that might not have been born under the chilling effect of SOPA. And it is revolutionizing media as websites, including our own, bring readers not only their own news but the news that others are reporting as well.

Yes, there is a difference between aggregation, which points readers to the original source for the full story, and theft, but that doesn't negate the tremendous benefit of news aggregation to readers worldwide. Everyone agrees that copyright theft and piracy are huge problems, and Congress needs to strengthen current law. But this is too important to get wrong. Killing the messenger never solves our problems. It only leaves us in the dark. Harrisburg Patriot-News editorial