Saturday, January 20, 2007

Two Gripes.... Hold The Barclays

I needed to check for a moment whether Mayor Bloomberg's grasp of electricity policy is as bad as it sounds. I caught him yesterday opining on whether our delightful local utility, the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, should face fines in connection with leaving vast parts of Queens without power last summer. His answer was " "If you want to fine Con Ed, just go to your electric bill, and next time you're going to have higher costs. You're going to pay the fines."

There's a few ways to read his comments. The first is that this is a deeply depressing and cynical view of the value of regulation, that any attempt to control a corporation is a cost for them, one that feeds into higher prices. The second is that he's saying that the . The third is that he's genuinely unaware that utility rates in New York aren't set with regards to utilities' profits. I mean, obviously he could just be deliberately exploiting the public's lack of knowledge of the arcana of electricity regulation, but we'll leave that aside for the time being.

The Daily News, bless 'em, gets in the rebuttal pretty quickly. ConEd had the misfortune to report its results that very same day, and they showed a 2.5% rise in profits on 2005, and expects a further rise in 2007. In record time a characteristically noisy Queens Councillor (no, not that QC) chimed in to note "Now it is clear that Con Ed has plenty of money to pay the fines without passing it on to ratepayers."

Moreover, ConEd's rates are set according to a basic service charge, whioch is regulated, and the cost of various components, which would not reflect fines for ruining the food of the residents of Astoria. Since ConEd's insurance has covered the cost of replacing this, or at least as much as ConEd's gonna pay, it's hard to see how ConEd would get a rise out of the regulators given its profits and the cock-up last Summer. Am I missing something, or is Mayor Mike engaging in crimes against the actualite?

The second target of my scepticism (yeah, I know that "Barclays sponsoring the Nets arena thing is nonsense" line worked out very well, didn't it?) is NY1's launch of an evening news cast at 11. Our 24-hour local news channel has been steadily trying to inch itself out of the "bite-sized news for bleary-eyed workers slurping their coffee in the morning" ghetto. First we had "The Call", this weird phone-in show where in theory the public sets the news agenda, but in practice anchor John Schiumo gets to chew out callers for not turning down their telly.

Now we've got NY1 hiring a CBS anchor to run an evening round-up by eating into a re-run of "Inside City Hall", where the city and state political class watch eachother being vindictive. That said, according to a Daily News article i dug up, the new show won't be costing them too much extra. And the channel's trailers for the show have taken a deserved pop at the other channels' fondness for fluffy human interest stories?

But let's turn that on it's head. What evidence is there that the average viewer wants hard news at that time of night? For weather and traffic, two elements at which NY1 is pretty good, you can wait till morning. After a hard day's work, there's nothing quite like watching a statuesque, immaculately coiffed reporter hassling a bodega owner for selling cigarettes to kids. Beyond the politicians, which make up a disproportionately influential share of the channel's politicians, there's little mass audience for this kind of stuff.

But then again, since this is essentially a reheated and slightly more accessible version of the previous purely political gabfest, maybe this is a bet NY1 can't lose. The rest of us will probably stick to the Daily Show.


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