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Taking One Step Beyond

B & C Asks 14 Industry Veterans to Gaze Into the Crystal Ball

Nicholas Johnson

Broadcasting & Cable
75th Anniversary Special Edition

May 22, 2006

"The panel of prognosticators:

Jim Barton, co-founder of TiVo; sets company's tech vision
Tom Brokaw, journalist; former anchor/managing editor, NBC Nightly News; ratings leader from late 1990s to 2004
Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder, Children's Television Workshop, and force behind 37 years of Sesame Street
Charles Dolan, chairman of Cablevision and founder of HBO
Brian France, chairman/CEO of NASCAR, TV's second-most popular sport
Brian Graden, president, entertainment, of MTV Networks Music Channels Group, who also helped develop South Park
Nicholas Johnson, former FCC commissioner who bashed TV
Ted Koppel, managing editor, Discovery Channel; former anchor and driving force behind ABC's Nightline
Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports
Newton Minow, former FCC chairman and famed author of TV's "vast wasteland" speech
Leslie Moonves, president/CEO of CBS Corp.; developed CSI
David K. Rehr, president/CEO, National Association of Broadcasters; longtime force on Capitol Hill
Fred Upton, Representative (R-Mich.); chairman, House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet
Brian Williams, anchor/managing editor, NBC Nightly News, the most-watched evening newscast in the U.S."

[Note: As a courtesy to the other contributors, only the comments of Nicholas Johnson are reproduced below. The full series was available from Broadcasting & Cable, as of June 18, 2006, from This material is copyright by Broadcasting & Cable, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of Broadcasting & Cable.]

B&C: What represents this business at its worst?

Nicholas Johnson: The myopic focus on stock prices over programming. Management decisions based on the mathematical realization that, when revenues don't increase, profits can still appear to do so if the "costs" of good journalism and quality programming are eliminated. The mergers and acquisitions that tend to deprive the broadcasting and cable business of the only unique asset it has ever had: localism, an asset even more essential to financial success in today's and tomorrow's multimedia environment. And the industry's willingness to combine lap-dog support of the [Bush] administration with political pressure on the White House, Congress and FCC that results in these practices being defined as "the public interest."

B&C: How about at its best?

Nicholas Johnson: "This business" is at its best when it realizes that it is ever so much more than "just another business." It's the major competitor to our K-12 educational system and organized religion. It bears a major responsibility for what Americans are and will become -- physically, intellectually, spiritually and, therefore, economically. The unnecessary wars we fight and the health care we don't have. It's not just an investment alternative to petroleum or pharmaceuticals.

B&C: What makes you hopeful about the future of TV?

Nicholas Johnson: What makes you think I'm hopeful? See