Meet the new approach to media relations, definitely NOT the same as the old approach

fcc + backdrop-1In a little heralded order, the Commission has announced a dramatic reorganization – and elevation – of the Office of Media Relations (OMR). Did we say OMR? Not anymore. From now on, it’s the BUREAU of Media Relations. Apparently concerned that the public face it is presenting is somewhat antiquated and bureaucratic, the Commission is looking to upgrade its image to appeal to the “elevated expectations” of an “increasingly sophisticated audience”. And the FCC has apparently concluded that to accomplish that make-over, the overall authority of the new Bureau (f/k/a OMR) has got to be ratcheted up, a lot.

As a result, it will henceforth occupy a “unique position within the Commission’s organizational chart immediately below the Commissioners but above all other Bureaus and Offices”. It’s going to be the “Uber Bureau of Media Relations” (UBMR) – seriously. Before any decision, policy statement or public notice is released by anybody at the agency, it will apparently have to be run through the UBMR, which presumably will be on the lookout for ways to “punch up” the material for smoother consumption by a public unwilling to slog through conventional bureaucratese.

But more than serving as the official Puncher-Upper of Commission prose, the UBMR will have more immediate responsibilities: the overhaul of Commission meetings.

These changes should not be entirely surprising to attentive observers. Back on March 15, if you happened to be watching the testimony of FCC Commissioners before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government of the House Appropriations Committee, you may have been struck by Commissioner Pai’s statement. In particular, he called for closer examination of the proposed 2017 FCC budget for its OMR. What was up with that? Now we know.

From the specific changes mandated by the Commission, the focus here appears to be on Production Values or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof in the FCC’s historic approach to its meetings. It is, after all, all well and good for the West Dumptruck Town Council to serve up to online viewers a static camera and occasional set of drab PowerPoint slides. But when you’re the Federal COMMUNICATIONS Commission, wielding control over broadcasters AND the Internet, the audience can and should expect a little bit more. After all, an agency that deals with maximally sexy topics like Net Neutrality, broadcast indecency, and gazillion dollar spectrum auctions should be able to package its discussions a bit more attractively than a local board of zoning appeals addressing a request to build a carport.

So what can we expect? First, a glitzier set, with a green screen background replacing the stodgy wood paneling. The green screen will be used to display behind the Commissioners (at least in the streamed version and online recording) “illustrative or otherwise useful images”. (The Commission released the example shown above.) Also, witnesses and guest speakers will be getting fancier podia at which to speak. In a footnote, the Commission suggests that what it has in mind here is something like what the participants in the recent Presidential debates have used. (Budget tip: The UBMR might want to reach out to the networks who presented those debates to see if it can pick up any of those lightly-used podia for cheap.)

Second, look for a more professional, broadcast-quality presentation, with “intros”, “outros” and “bumpers” each with their own new graphics and (get this!) original theme music. And we can only hope that that theme music is catchy, because the Commission has announced that it hopes to defray some of the costs of all this by licensing its theme song for use “in appropriate contexts” – which, according to the Commission, could include use “as default ring-tones in wireless handsets or other electronic devices.”

And speaking of music, check this out. Each Commissioner is going to get to pick his or her own “walk-up” song, a snippet of which is to be played when the Commissioner is first introduced at each meeting and before each time the Commissioner speaks during the meeting. (No word yet on what songs the various Commissioners are thinking about using – but we here in the CommLawBlog bunker welcome anybody with suggestions to let us know, and we may be able to pass them along.)

These upgrades won’t come cheap, a fact the FCC has acknowledged by announcing a willingness to accept contributions from entities or individuals. In return for those contributions, the Commission will provide “underwriting acknowledgements” during the course of the meeting.

In view of these changes – which have obviously been on the drawing board for some time – is it any surprise that the Commission has also initiated an inquiry into the policies of MVPDs relative to carriage of the programming of independent program producers? If the FCC is positioning itself as a source of primo video material, why not at the same time get the ball rolling to insure itself outlets for that material? Stay tuned for updates on that front.