Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

When is a Nondirectional FM Antenna Really Directional? The FCC Weighs In

Posted in FM Radio, Tower Issues

In a decision of the FCC Media Bureau’s Audio Division that may be of interest to the more technically minded broadcasters, the Commission found that an FM station’s supposedly nondirectional FM antenna should be treated as directional. This decision was in response to a complaint from another broadcaster on the same channel, arguing that the broadcaster in question was exceeding its licensed effective radiated power in the direction of the complaining station (which was also the direction of Dallas, toward the more densely populated areas that it was trying to serve). The station that received the objection argued that the apparent effect on its antenna pattern was simply the result of being side-mounted on the broadcast tower that it was using, and this kind of effect was common in the industry and impossible to avoid. Yet, in reviewing the pleadings filed by the parties, the FCC found that the supposedly nondirectional station looked far too much like a directional one, and ordered the licensee to reduce power to keep its ERP (effective radiated power) in the direction where it was greatest to a value within that set out in its license. What impact will this decision have on other FM stations with sidemounted antennas?

First, it appears that the this case is one where, at least according to the FCC decision, the station had specifically designed an optimized pattern that resulted in its significantly exceeding its permitted power in the direction of the complaining station. The FCC found that, in the direction in which its maximum power was being radiated, the station had an effective ERP of 274 kw, far in excess of its licensed 100 kw ERP. The Commission noted that the direction of the highest radiation was actually not in the direction of the station’s city of license. The FCC also found that the ratio of the power in the direction of maximum radiation to the power in the direction of the minimum radiation was 19.18 dB, far exceeding the maximum 15 dB ratio permitted for directional antennas. Finding these great discrepancies in what was supposedly a nondirectional antenna led the FCC to its decision that the antenna was designed to do what it did –radiate more than permitted in the direction of the complaining station. But does this decision have potentially greater impact? Continue Reading

FCC Proposes Fine of $325,000 in TV Indecency Case – What Prompted this Largest Fine Ever for a Single Incident?

Posted in FCC Fines, Indecency, Programming Regulations, Television

The FCC set a new record for a fine for a single violation of its indecency rules – $325,000 for a 3 second visual image of a penis run in a corner of a TV screen a single time on a TV station during its 6 PM news (a full description of the image is in the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability but, so as to not trigger too many spam filters, I will omit any more details in this article). The image in the newscast was a visual of a website, the website having several different frames, each with video images, and one of those frames had the image that led to the fine. This is the first time that the FCC has imposed a fine of $325,000, an amount authorized by Congress during the FCC’s last crackdown on indecency but never before used by the FCC. And not only did the FCC issue the Notice of Apparent Liability describing its legal reasoning for imposing the fine, but they also put out a press release publicizing the Notice, highlighting other recent indecency actions taken by the FCC, and warning broadcasters to pay attention to the decision. What happened here?

According to the FCC’s order, a TV station did a story on a former adult movie star who had retired from her former profession and begun to work with the local rescue squad. In providing background to what might otherwise be an off-beat human interest story about a person with a colorful past adapting to a new life as part of a local community, to provide context, the station showed the website of the adult movie company for which she had formerly worked. In editing the brief clip of the website into the story, neither the independent producer who put the story together nor anyone at the station noted the visual in one corner of the webpage with the image that got the station into trouble. According to the station, the image was not viewable on the editing machines used by those producing the story. But, apparently viewers at home, perhaps watching on bigger screens, were able to see the image, prompting the FCC complaint and other complaints to the station. While the image appeared on screen for only about 3 seconds, and only once, the FCC nevertheless selected this case to be its first in which to levy this new level of indecency fine – ten times higher than previous fines for a single broadcast of indecent material on a single station. Why? Continue Reading

FCC Asks for Comment on Radio Broadcasters Proposal for Moving Online Some Sponsorship Identifications

Posted in Advertising Issues, Music Rights, Payola and Sponsorship Identification, Programming Regulations

A group of radio broadcasters have asked the FCC to agree to waive some provisions of the current sponsorship identification rules of the FCC to permit stations that have sponsored music or sports programming to move some of the required sponsorship identification online (the request is available here). This is to provide listeners with a more detailed and accessible means of determining the sponsor of certain broadcast programming. The FCC’s Mass Media Bureau has asked for public comments on this proposal, with comments due by April 13, and reply comments by May 12.

The examples of situations where the waiver would be used as provided in the Petition are for sponsored music programming (e.g. if a particular music label was to purchase an hour to feature their recordings) or sports programs (e.g. if a team were to purchase time on a station to do a coaches program or even a full game). The current rules require that the identification must be broadcast at the time of the broadcast – which has often been interpreted to mean at the time of the program, which is why you see the sponsorship acknowledgements at the end of TV quiz shows, acknowledging all the companies who provided free stuff to the program producers to get their products mentioned on air. The proponents of the new approach set out in this petition suggest that the online disclosure might actually provide more information to listeners of a radio program as, if the listeners don’t happen to be listening at the top of the sponsored hour (or three hours for a sponsored baseball game broadcast), they don’t hear the fleeting announcement. So the broadcasters have suggested what they see as a better way of providing that announcement. Continue Reading

Want a New FM Station? FCC Proposes FM Auction in July, Lists Channels to be Sold, and Imposes a Freeze on Certain Applications

Posted in Broadcast Auctions, FM Radio

The FCC has announced that it plans to hold an auction to award construction permits allowing the winners to build new FM radio stations. 131 total channels on which bids can be placed are included in the list of channels to be auctioned – with most being in the state of Texas. The auction is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 23. Working backward, that would mean that initial applications would likely be due sometime in May, and “upfront” payments equal to or greater than the minimum payments for the channels that an applicant ultimately wins in the auction will probably be due in June. To protect these allotments, the FCC has also imposed a freeze on the filing of FM applications that could affect applications for these channels.

The FCC’s freeze on applications that could impact these new stations is in place until the winning bidders file their post-auction applications. No applications or rule-makings can be filed that would request a change in one of these channels, or which would be short-spaced to one of the reference coordinates for these allocations. Continue Reading

Songwriter’s Equity Act Reintroduced – What Does It Propose?

Posted in Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights, On Line Media

The Songwriter’s Equity Act has once again been introduced in Congress (see our article about that Act when it was introduced in the last Congress). It proposes to make changes in provisions of the Copyright Act governing the way that songwriters are paid for the use of their musical compositions – with the obvious intent of raising the songwriters’ compensation. This legislative proposal is one reflection of the complaints by songwriters that they are not sufficiently compensated for the use of their music. It is interesting that this bill was introduced during the same week that ASCAP announced its first year of billion dollar collection for songwriter’s public performance royalties, and at the same time that the Senate explores more comprehensive changes to the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI through a hearing held last week, with the Department of Justice review of these decrees expected in the not too distant future (see our article here).

The Act makes seemingly small changes in legislation, but those changes could have a significant impact on how rates paid to songwriters are computed. The first change proposed is to allow the rates set for the public performance of sound recordings (those royalties that digital music services pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings – the actual recordings of songs as opposed to the performance of musical compositions for which ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay songwriters) to be used as evidence by the judges setting rates for the public performance of musical compositions. That has been prohibited under current law. It is interesting to note that, under Copyright Royalty Board precedent, the Copyright Royalty Judges have in the past determined that the rates paid by music services for the public performance of musical compositions are not a precedent for the public performance of sound recordings, as they are different rights that are not necessarily of the same value. Yet this legislation seems to assume that the royalties for sound recordings are in fact instructive as to what those rates should be for public performances. While seemingly acknowledging the relevance, the legislation does not allow the reverse – stating that the legislation should not be seen as having any effect on the precedent already established by the CRB for the rates for the public performance of sound recordings, so that the rates for sound recordings should not be affected by this legislation. Continue Reading

Will Drones Soon Become an Effective Tool for Broadcasters?

Posted in Digital Television, Programming Regulations, Television

Drones are coming up more and more often as I travel the country to speak to broadcaster groups. It has become a hot issue, both at the Federal level and in many states. I asked two attorneys in my firm who are watching this issue to do an update on where things stand. Bob Kirk (bio here) and Rachel Wolkowitz (here) have provided the following update on where things stand on the Federal level:

Broadcasters increasingly are looking at drones, or “unmanned aircraft systems” (“UAS”) in FAA parlance, as a more cost-effective option for gathering aerial video and photos. After all, small drones can be used to gather aerial news footage for a fraction of the cost associated with using a helicopter. However, before going out and flying one, be warned, the FAA deems newsgathering a “commercial” use currently prohibited under its rules.

In February, the FAA proposed new rules that would open the skies up to small drones for some limited uses. Congress has ordered the FAA to integrate drones in the national airspace by September 2015, but most experts believe that the deadline will not be met. Indeed, the consensus is that it will take approximately two years to compile a record, review the comments, and adopt final rules for small drones, which the FAA says is the first step in letting many types of UAS take flight. Continue Reading

FCC Announces New Locations for TV Incentive Auction Seminars and Private Meetings

Posted in Digital Television, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Television

The FCC continues to take its show on the road, announcing incentive auction seminars for TV broadcasters in several new cities. At these seminars, FCC officials meet with TV broadcasters in a general meeting to outline the mechanics of the proposed incentive auction to reclaim a portion of the TV band to be resold to wireless users for wireless broadband purposes, and the subsequent “repacking” when remaining TV stations will be assigned channels on which to operate in a smaller TV band. The new seminars are to be held at the following locations:

March 30, 2015: Cincinnati, OH

March 31, 2015: Columbus, OH

April 1, 2015: Cleveland, OH

April 7, 2015: Louisville, KY

April 8, 2015: Indianapolis, IN

April 14, 2015: Las Vegas, NV (in conjunction with the NAB Show)

TV broadcasters should contact the FCC to make reservations to attend. At the same time, broadcasters can schedule a private meeting with the FCC officials to talk about the likely opening bids to be offered to stations to surrender their frequencies and other details specific to the situation faced by their stations. Continue Reading

FCC Extends Reply Comment Deadline on Treating Over-the-Top Video as an MVPD

Posted in Cable Carriage, Digital Television, Internet Video, On Line Media, Programming Regulations, Television

The FCC has extended the Reply Comment deadline in its proceeding looking at whether to apply some or all of the regulations applicable to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs – cable and satellite TV) to over-the-top video providers who provide multiple channels of video programming in a linear fashion (i.e. like a cable system, with the programs all being served up to the audience at the same time, rather than on-demand as would Netflix or YouTube). We summarized some of the issues in the proceeding here. The new reply comment deadline is April 1. The extension was granted at the request of NCTA (the cable television trade association) given the volume and complexity of comments filed by other parties.

March Madness is a Trademarked Term – Use Caution in Using it in Advertising and Promotion

Posted in Advertising Issues, Intellectual Property, Programming Regulations

We are in March, which means that the minds of many turn to basketball, specifically March Madness as the NCAA hosts its annual championship tournament to crown college basketball’s national champion. And many broadcasters want to take advantage of the tournament to promote their stations or the products of their sponsors. Because of this inclination, we post this warning each year (see, for instance, here and here) – just like we do around the Super Bowl or the Olympics – these championship names are trademarked, and the owners are active in policing and protecting their marks, as sponsors pay the NCAA big bucks for association with the championship – so be careful about using “March Madness” in promotions and advertisements, as these uses could bring trouble.

Each year, we get the question “is March Madness a trademarked term” or, as it is sometimes formulated, “is March Madness copyrighted” (in fact, in this context, when talking about the name which brands an event, we are talking about trademark law, not copyright). And each year we say “yes.” But what does that mean? That does not mean that your newscasters, sports reporters or morning DJs can’t talk about the tournament using the name of the event. Instead, what it means is that commercial uses of the term, that could imply some association with the event for which sponsors pay money, can be problematic – and could cause the NCAA and their lawyers to pay attention, and could cost you or your sponsor money or time defending the use. So the safest way to avoid issues is to avoid the trademarked phrase in promotions and advertisements. Continue Reading

FCC Renews Television Station Licenses after Challenges on the Educational Nature of Children’s Programming – With a Warning to Other Broadcasters

Posted in Children's Programming and Advertising, Digital Television, License Renewal, Programming Regulations, Television

In a decision released yesterday, the FCC renewed the licenses of three TV stations held by large broadcast groups, rejecting Petitions to Deny filed by a citizen’s organization arguing that the children’s educational and informational programming run by these stations was not sufficiently educational or informational to meet the requirement that stations run three hours per week of educational and informational programing. The licensees were able to present evidence that these programs where developed with expert guidance to insure that they in fact presented valuable messages to children and, based on that evidence (plus the fact that the challenged programing had been replaced by other non-challenged programming), the renewals were granted. However, the FCC warned stations to be careful in their assessments of the educational nature of children’s programs, as the FCC can sanction stations where that judgment is not deemed to be reasonable.

Every television station has an obligation to present an average of at least three hours per week of educational and informational programming directed to children who are 16 or under. That three hour requirement attaches to each programming stream broadcast by the station (including each digital subchannel – though the obligation can be met if all of the educational and informational programming is done on the main program stream of the station – so a news and weather subchannel does not need to do educational and informational programming if the main program channel does 6 weekly hours of such programming). Such programing is to be designed to serve the “cognitive/intellectual or social/emotional needs” of children. Obviously, what meets those needs can be a matter of debate. Continue Reading