Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

FCC Announces that All Quarterly Children’s Television Reports Need to be Filed in New LMS Filing System Starting March 31 – And that Stations Need to Make Sure that these Reports Reach the Online Public File By April 10

Posted in Children's Programming and Advertising, FCC Fines

In a Public Notice released yesterday, the FCC announced that all Form 398 Annual Children’s Television Programming Reports, which report on the amount of educational and informational programming directed to children was broadcast by any TV station in the prior quarter, need to be filed in the FCC’s new Licensing and Management System (LMS). The FCC is migrating all TV broadcast filings to this new system, and the next Form 398, due by April 10 to report on programming broadcast by stations in the first quarter of this year, must be filed in this system.  While LMS has been available for stations to use for these reports since last June, beginning with the reports due in April, no more reports can be filed in the FCC’s old KidVid Filing System.

The Notice was also interesting as it stated that broadcasters need to check their online public files to make sure that these reports are timely uploaded into the file. While the FCC is supposed to automatically link the form as filed with the Commission to the station’s online public inspection file, the notice states that station licensees need to manually upload the report to the online public file if the link is not made within 10 days of the end of the calendar quarter. So if the new system does not quickly upload the report to your public file, you need to do it yourself. Continue Reading

On Its 20th Anniversary, Looking Back at How the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Changed the Broadcast Regulatory Landscape

Posted in General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, License Renewal, Multiple Ownership Rules, On Line Media, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

In Washington DC this week, many in the communications world are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Five years ago, we noted the changes that the Act made in the broadcast regulatory world – changes that are still being debated 20 years later. To show how little things change, I thought that I would republish the article that I wrote 5 years ago. There, I talked about some of the changes made in 1996 in the broadcast ownership rules that were still being debated in 2011, and suggested that they might be resolved by the review of the multiple ownership rules that was then about to begin. Of course, that didn’t happen (see our article here about the FCC’s decision to push most of the ownership decisions into the current Quadrennial Review of those rules. So we can again make the same claim – that perhaps some of these issues will be resolved by the current ownership rule review that is supposed to be decided this summer (though that date may well slip – see our predictions for the FCC’s actions on broadcast issues for this year, here).

Our article from 5 years ago also talked about calls then being made by one FCC Commissioner to roll back some of the 1996 reforms lengthening the license term for broadcasters. Those calls seem to have gone unheard so perhaps that one issue may have been resolved – at least for the time being.  It also discussed the proposals for the repurposing of the TV spectrum for wireless uses, which has led to the Incentive Auction that the FCC is about to conduct. 

But other issues remain on the table.  So here is a look back at what I wrote 5 years ago on the 15th anniversary of the Act:

On February 8, 1996, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  While the Act had significant impact throughout the communications industry, the impact on broadcasters was profound, and is still being debated.  The Act made changes for broadcasters in several major areas:

  • Lengthened license renewals to 8 years for both radio and TV, and eliminated the “comparative renewal”
  • For radio, eliminated all national caps on the number of radio stations in which one party could have an attributable interest and increased to 8 stations the number one party could own in the largest radio markets
  • For television, raised national ownership caps to having stations that reached no more than 35% of the national audience, with no limits on the number of stations that could be owned as long as their reach was under that cap.
  • Allocated spectrum that resulted in the DTV transition

Obviously, the DTV spectrum began the profound changes in the way television is broadcast, and led to the current debate as to whether over-the-air television should be further cut back in order to promote wireless broadband (see our recent post on the FCC’s current proceeding on this issue).  While the other changes have now been in effect for 15 years, the debate over these provisions continue.  Some argue that the renewal and ownership modifications have created too much consolidation in the broadcast media and lessened the broadcaster’s commitment to serving the public interest.  Others argue that, in the current media world, these changes don’t go far enough. Broadcasters are under attack from many directions, as new competitors fight for local audiences (often with minimally regulated multi-channel platforms, such as those delivered over the Internet) and others attack broadcasters principal financial support – their advertising revenue. Even local advertising dollars, traditionally fought over by broadcasters and newspapers (with some competition from billboards, direct mail and local cable), is now under assault from services such as Groupon and Living Social, and from other new media competitors of all sorts.  With the debated continuing on these issues in the current day, it might be worth a few looking back at the 1996 changes for broadcasters, and their impact on the current broadcast policy debate. Continue Reading

FCC Order on Biennial Ownership Requirements – All Broadcasters, Commercial and Noncommercial, Need to Start Collecting Information from Attributable Owners and Directors for Next Year’s Filing

Posted in AM Radio, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, General FCC, Multiple Ownership Rules, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Television

In an order released last month which has not received much attention, the FCC clarified its requirements for the filing of Biennial Ownership Reports. Much of the order deals with fixes to the report itself that will, for the most part, make the completion of the report administratively easier in terms of the physical data that needs to be entered into the form. However, certain new information-collection requirements call for broadcasters – both commercial and noncommercial – to start gathering information now from their attributable owners, including members of their governing boards, in order to enable the completion of the forms when they are next due to be filed, on December 1, 2017. We earlier wrote here about the FCC’s proposals in this proceeding (including the dazzling use of acronyms for various kinds of identification numbers assigned to attributable owners).

One of the principal purposes of the Biennial Ownership Reports is to gather information about the ownership and control of broadcast stations that will allow the FCC to slice and dice that information to use it to make decisions about issues like minority ownership in broadcasting and the concentration of broadcast ownership and control. Thus, the Biennial Reports gather information about race and gender of those with attributable interests in broadcast stations, and also about the interests those interest holders have in other stations. As we have written before, there have been complaints from some who have tried to analyze the information collected in the Biennial Reports that the data cannot be easily manipulated, particularly to track the ownership and control of individuals across multiple companies. Partially, this was attributed by the FCC to the failure of applicants to be able to get from all of their attributable owners information necessary to obtain an FRN (FCC Registration Number). That FRN was to be used to uniquely identify each holder of an attributable interest and track those individuals or entities through all of their media interests. In the past, there had been concerns that some interest holders were reluctant to provide the information necessary to get an FRN. The FCC has tried to remedy some of those concerns, and backed up their remedy with a suggestion that they will sanction interest holders who fail to provide the required information. Continue Reading

Changes in the Board of Nonprofit Corporation Doom FCC Application for New FM Station – Addressing Control Issues in Noncommercial Broadcasting

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, FM Radio, Noncommercial Broadcasting

In a decision released earlier this week, the FCC dismissed an application for a new noncommercial FM station based on a change in the majority of the applicant’s board of directors within a one-year period after the application was filed.  The change was deemed a major change in ownership, which the FCC rules says requires the assignment of a new file number – essentially meaning that the application is treated as a new application received after the filing window for the new FM stations was closed and was therefore dismissed.  The decision was one made by the full Commission which reversed a decision of its Media Bureau.  The Bureau had granted the application following a settlement with other mutually exclusive applications. The full Commission decision to instead dismiss the application was not made without some angst, as two of the Commissioners concurred in the decision but urged the FCC to change its rules before the next noncommercial filing window to avoid a similar result in the future.  But the decision does raise some questions about just what constitutes a change in control of a noncommercial broadcaster.

In this decision, the FCC found that two changes in the majority of the members of the board of directors of the applicant, where a majority of the board members changed in a period of less than one year, constituted a major change in ownership of the applicant requiring the assignment of a new file number to the application and its dismissal.  The decision contrasted this case with those of other noncommercial applicants in another new application filing window.  In that other window, the FCC granted blanket waivers of the major change rule to applicants that had a change in a majority of their boards over a much longer period of time while their applications slowly made their way through the Commission’s processes.  It was the difference between the relatively sudden changes in ownership in less than a year in the case decided this week as opposed to the more gradual changes in the other cases that seemed to make the difference in the outcome.  But the two Commissioners who separately commented on the case asked if this distinction really should make any difference, especially as the changes did not appear to be the result of any takeover of the organization, but instead were merely changes that occurred in the normal course of operation for this volunteer organization. Continue Reading

FCC Releases Order on Online Public Inspection File – Answering Questions about Compliance with Radio’s New Obligations

Posted in AM Radio, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, General FCC, Noncommercial Broadcasting, On Line Media, Political Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

Last week, we wrote about the FCC’s decision to require that radio stations move their public inspection files online.  Stations with 5 or more full-time employees that are located in Top 50 markets need to make the transition to the online file later this year once the FCC gets its new rules approved by the Office of Management and Budget following a Paperwork Reduction Act review.  Other radio stations will need to come into compliance, unless they get a waiver of the new rules, by March 1, 2018.  Our initial article about the decision was based on the FCC’s press release on the decision and comments made at the FCC meeting at which the obligation was adopted.  The FCC has now released the full-text of the decision (available here) and that order contains many new nuggets of information about the new obligations about which stations need to be aware.

The text of the decision does a good job of summarizing the obligations of radio broadcaster’s current public inspection file obligations (as well as those of the other entities that were also addressed by the new rule – cable systems, DBS operators, and Sirius XM for their satellite radio service).  For each of these services, the FCC addressed a number of issues.  Some of the radio questions addressed by the order include those set forth below. Continue Reading

February Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters

Posted in AM Radio, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Internet Radio, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Political Broadcasting, Television

It’s February, and we’re back to the normal cycle of FCC filings. Due to be placed in the public files of radio and TV stations with 5 or more full-time employees are EEO Public Inspection File Reports for radio and TV stations in the following states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma. Radio stations with more than 10 full-time employees licensed in the states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi also have an obligation to file an EEO Mid-Term Report providing the FCC with their last two EEO Public File Reports, plus providing the FCC with a contact person to provide information about their EEO programs.  For more about the Form 397 Mid-Term Report, see our article here.

Noncommercial Television Stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma and Noncommercial AM and FM Radio Stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York have an obligation to file their Biennial Ownership Reports on February 1. While the FCC just last week adopted new rules to move noncommercial stations to a Biennial Ownership Report filing deadline consistent with commercial stations (by December 1 of odd numbered years), that rule is not yet effective so noncommercial stations in the states listed above need to continue to file their reports as scheduled on the anniversary date of the filing of their license renewal applications. Continue Reading

FCC Adopts Online Public File Requirements for Radio, Satellite and Cable – To be Effective for Large Market Radio Later This Year

Posted in AM Radio, Cable Carriage, FM Radio, General FCC, Noncommercial Broadcasting, On Line Media, Political Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television, Website Issues

The FCC today adopted rules to require that the public inspection files of radio stations (and of cable television systems and operators of satellite radio and television companies) to put their public inspection files online.  While, thus far, the FCC has only released a public notice summarizing its decision and not the full text explaining its reasoning, what is clear is that the new rule will go in to effect later this year for commercial radio stations with 5 or more full-time employees which are located in the Top 50 markets.  Other radio stations will have two years to come into compliance with the new requirements.

The rules, like the TV rules adopted several years ago (see our Q and A about the TV online file requirements, here), require that stations upload their files into an FCC-maintained database that will display the contents of each station’s file to the public.  According to today’s public notice, political broadcasting material only needs to be uploaded on a going forward basis upon the effective date of the new rules (i.e. only new documents created after the effective date of the new rules needs to be uploaded – existing documents would be maintained in the station’s paper file until the two-year retention period for political documents has expired).  It appears that all other documents not already in FCC databases will need to be fully uploaded by licensees within 6 months of the effective date of the new rules.  The documents that will need to be uploaded within that 6 months would include Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and the Annual EEO Public Inspection file report back to the beginning of the station’s current license term – documents not normally filed with the FCC.  Ownership Reports, FCC applications and similar documents filed with the FCC will be automatically uploaded to the station’s public file by the FCC’s own systems.  Continue Reading

SoundExchange Audits of Digital Music Companies and Sport Leagues Audits of MVPDs Published in the Federal Register – Understanding Audit Rights Under Statutory Licenses

Posted in Cable Carriage, Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights, Television

In the last week, copyright audits have been in the news.  Several broadcasting publications noted the recent announcements by the Copyright Royalty Board that SoundExchange has decided to audit several companies that pay it royalties, including webcasters (including Pandora and a number of broadcasters in connection with their webcast operations), business establishments services (those who provide music for stores and other businesses – DMX and Muzak) and music services provided by cable and satellite video providers (e.g. DMX and Muzak).  It was also just announced in the Federal Register that the sports leagues plan to audit a number of MVPDs to determine if the MVPDs have been accurately paying the royalties owed the sports league for the sports programming on TV stations carried on certain satellite and cable systems.  What are these audits, and why are they being announced by publication in the Federal Register?

When media companies buy a piece of equipment, or a building in which to house their operations, they usually know in advance how much their purchase is going to cost, and in the vast majority of cases, they get a bill specifying the price.  Even the purchase of some programming is easily quantifiable – either as a fixed fee per month, or some barter arrangement or other set fee.

But, in many other licensing transactions, the fees are not as easily quantifiable.  For certain movie packages or other syndicated video programming, the number of times that a program is played is not necessarily clear in advance.  For music, it is even more complicated, as a digital music service never knows how much music it is going to use when it enters into a licensing agreement.  In the case of programming carried by an MVPD on a distant signal basis pursuant to the compulsory copyright licenses under Sections 111 and 119 of the Copyright Act, the MVPD in advance won’t know how many subscribers it will have or exactly what programming the stations that it carries will program.  So in all of these cases, the user of the copyrighted material does not get a bill.  Instead, the user has to tell the “seller” of the rights (or its representative) how much they owe.  Because the buyer is reporting how much they think that they owe, the rights organizations usually have the right, by contract or by law, to audit the user to decide if the user paid the right amount. Continue Reading

As The Golden Super Bowl Approaches, Be Aware of The NFL’s Efforts to Protect Its Golden Goose from Unauthorized Ads and Promotions

Posted in Advertising Issues, Intellectual Property, Trademark

With the Super Bowl fast approaching, broadcasters and other media companies are planning advertising and promotions around the big game.  Here is some advice to broadcasters from Mitchell Stabbe, a lawyer from my firm who has spent over 30 years counseling businesses on trademark issues, about legal cautions to consider in finalizing your plans:

In addition to the monies it receives annually for the right to broadcast the Super Bowl, the NFL receives more than $1 billion in income from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.  Not surprisingly, it is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the game.  Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers need to take special care before publishing ads or engaging in promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl.  Broadcasters and media organizations have slightly greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement.  (These risks also apply to the use of “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament.)

Simply put, the NFL views any commercial activity that uses or refers to the Super Bowl to draw attention as a violation of its trademark rights.  Many of the activities challenged by the league undoubtedly deserve a yellow flag.  However, the NFL’s rule book defines trademark violations very broadly.  If anyone were willing to throw the red flag to challenge the league’s position, a review from the booth might reverse some of those calls.  But, unless you are ready to take on the NFL in that fight, proceed with caution.  Continue Reading

A Broadcaster’s Calendar of Important Regulatory Dates in 2016

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, General FCC, Internet Radio, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Political Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Television

At the beginning of each year, we publish our broadcaster’s calendar of important dates – setting out the many dates for which broadcasters should be on alert as this year progresses.  The Broadcasters Calendar for 2016 is available here.  The dates set out on the calendar include not only FCC filing deadlines and dates by which the FCC requires that certain documents be placed in a station’s public file, but also some special dates – like the FCC filing window for AM stations to move FM translators a great distance under a special waiver policy adopted in the AM revitalization proceeding.  Also on our list this year are lowest unit rate windows for the many primaries and elections that will be occurring this year, as well as certain other dates dealing with copyright matters, including dates to make payments to SoundExchange for Internet streaming royalties.  While these dates may change, and new ones may be added, this at least gives you a start in planning your regulatory obligations. And, remember, you should always talk to your own attorney to make sure what dates are important to you.