When TV was made digital to free up spectrum stations were given “extra” channels in the new bandwidth, to do with as they wanted.
Something similar happened in the 1940s, and it made many fortunes. Big radio stations in major markets were literally handed new TV stations. If they also owned newspapers the bonanza was doubled. This was the foundation of Cox Enterprises, originally a newspaper chain founded by failed 1920 Presidential candidate James M. Cox.
The current transition is making no billionaires. In fact, it’s a scandal. A scandal no one is talking about.
Before the transition there was lots of talk about TV stations creating multiple channels with their new spectrum rights – news channels, cultural channels, ethnic channels. Instead, these rights have been sold or rented to a host of ad-based garbage programmers. Most stations just took the money and ran.
In Atlanta, for instance, there are channels running 1950s re-runs, a bunch of home shopping channels, foreign language channels, religious channels, even foreign channels. These are the kinds of channels that are too worthless to make it onto cable. There are also a lot of empty channels, or channels running the equivalent of radio. If you only have access to “free” TV (through a special antenna and, perhaps, a set-top box) you’ve been ripped-off. It’s not worth what you paid for the antenna.
The frequency spectrum is not supposed to be property. It’s not supposed to be a private slum. It’s supposed to be a public good. That was the idea of the Radio Act of 1926, and the Federal Communications Act that followed it. But this concept has been lost in our time.
If you want to make some meaningful change, demand we go back to that.