Industry Leaders Weigh In on the State of the Media Union

President Obama gave his take on the State of the Union last week, which included a shout out for network neutrality, trade deals and innovation, all on the media world’s agenda as well.

The Wire asked some other presidents (and one chairman) for their quick take on the State of the Media Union (SOTMU).

That would be the presidents of some major media trade associations around the nation’s capital.

Disruptive incentive auctions, Title II net-neutrality rules and online piracy notwithstanding, like President Obama, they were unanimous in their assessments that their respective industries are strong, if sometimes challenged by the Washington powers that be. Here are highlights:

Michael Powell, president, National Cable & Telecommunications Association: “As technology is transforming consumer experiences and expectations, the cable industry faces challenges, but most of them provide exciting opportunities to remake the industry for the future. That transformation is now underway. The continuing Internet revolution is defining the future for both operators and programmers. By driving towards widely available Gigabit Internet speeds by 2017 and deploying cutting-edge Wi-Fi connectivity, America’s Internet is being accelerated and untethered. And consumers are being liberated from their living rooms by programming that is being delivered by apps and made available on every screen for viewing anytime and anywhere.

“We are also committed to improved customer service that meets the needs of today’s tech savvy consumers. By delivering on the promise of this better future, cable will remain relevant and strong.”

Matt Polka, president, American Cable Association: “ACA members see broadband as their future and are focused on at least two issues. One is stressing to Washington policymakers the need to ensure that the independent cable operators can continue to invest in their networks to satisfy surging consumer demand unfettered by burdensome regulations. The Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to impose Title II regulation on Internet Service Providers was a serious setback, particularly for smaller ISPs that sought, but did not receive, legitimate exemptions from the most onerous features of the FCC’s new common-carrier requirements.

“The other is the ‘cable-ization or content-ization’ of broadband — the concern that powerful edge-content providers (I won’t mention any names, but you probably know who I mean) will withhold their services from consumers until ISPs have signed contracts requiring the payment of per-broadband subscriber fees at the wholesale level. This would be the broken, inflexible and costly cable business model grafted onto the Internet, happening at a time when the big video bundle is already crumbling. Good heavens, that’s the last thing consumers want or need, and ACA is hopeful that Washington policymakers will defend consumers forced to pay for online services they never use.”

Gordon Smith, president, National Association of Broadcasters: "Broadcasters have embraced changes in viewer attitudes and technologies to strengthen our indispensable role in the lives of the American people. Broadcast programming better reflects the multiculturalism of America, and we are employing a greater diversity of show creators, cast and crew members who were previously underrepresented in our industry. Local and network broadcasters are collaborating on new multimedia platforms to give viewers access to local and primetime programming wherever and whenever they want. Ratings are up for local and network news broadcasts, and we remain the definitive place for emergency information when other communications systems crash under capacity constraints. Marquee sporting events are now migrating back to broadcast TV, such as the British Open, professional boxing, and NBA and MLB games.

"The bottom line: Even in an era of unprecedented media fragmentation, broadcasters remain the King Kong of content and have a bright future ahead of us."

Chris Dodd, chairman, Motion Picture Association of America: “On the one hand, it’s been a phenomenal year at the box office, and the cinema experience endures as a popular form of entertainment that can bring people together. At the same time, audiences now have an extraordinary number of ways to access movies and TV shows on digital platforms in their home or on the go. The state of our industry is built on the fact that creativity and consumer choice are flourishing. It’s vital that we protect the core principles of copyright and free expression that have allowed this vibrant sector of our nation’s economy to thrive.”

— John Eggerton

History’s a Lot to Chew on for ‘Black Sails’s’ Stevenson

Ray Stevenson, who plays Blackbeard in the upcoming third season of Starz pirate drama Black Sails, is Volstagg in the “Thor” movies; was Stephen Hopkins in National Geographic Channel’s Mayflower miniseries Saints & Strangers; and turned the republic upside down as legionnaire Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome.

The Wire wondered if he really loves playing historical/mythical characters.

In a phone chat from his home in sunny Ibiza, he turned the question around a bit. In a production like Black Sails or Saints & Strangers, where there’s “incredible attention to detail,” he said, then “there’s this richness in everything” that’s very appealing.

Also, he noted, Pullo was part of “the most advanced technological nation on Earth,” and Blackbeard commanded fullrigged naval ships that were marvels of their age, brilliantly executed in the “extremely realistic” Starz production.

“I do love the fact when it’s done well that you can just mine everyone from the props department, the armorers, the set designers, the costume designers,” he said. “I chew it up.”

Blackbeard is a newcomer to Black Sails but not to Nassau, The Bahamas, where the circa early-1700s series is fictionally based (it’s filmed in South Africa).

Edward Teach has returned, after eight years away, to try to reunite with former protégé Capt. Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) and go on to lead a pirate fleet together.

His initial approach, at least, is relatively quiet.

“You’ve got a character who is by nature larger than life and outside of the norm, but you don’t want it to put a crack into the established mise en scene of the series,” Stevenson explained. “You want it to be part of it and enhance it and challenge it, and create much more interesting situations.”

The Wire has no doubt Stephenson will stir things up in that powerful cast, led by Toby Stephens as Capt. Flint, when Black Sails returns Saturday, Jan. 23, at 9 p.m. on Starz.
— Kent Gibbons