In a decision released yesterday, the FCC issued a Declaratory Ruling permitting certain identified foreign companies and individuals to own up to 40% of the voting interests in Univision, and allowed aggregate foreign ownership of up to 49% of the equity of the company. This decision noted that it was based not on the new rules for analyzing foreign ownership in broadcast stations approved by the Commission in late September (see our summary here), as those rules were not yet effective as they were only published in the Federal Register last month and certain aspects still needed to undergo analysis under the Paperwork Reduction Act. Instead, the request for the ruling in this case was analyzed under the 2003 Declaratory Ruling on ownership (see our summary here), the same ad hoc analysis used to review and approve Pandora’s acquisition of a radio station in 2015. While technically, the new rules did not apply to this proceeding, it is clear that the analysis of this decision would not be much different, as the Commission specifically refers to the new rules as setting what is reasonable in its ad hoc analysis of the circumstances of this case. Thus, this decision provides a good basis for determining what issues any potential foreign investor in a US broadcast station would face, particularly when investing in a public US company.
Even though the FCC looked to the new rules for guidance, the final conditions look much like those imposed on Pandora. Univision is required to seek specific approval for any acquisition of stock by any foreign shareholder not specifically approved in this order if that investor seeks to acquire an interest (either voting or equity) of greater than 5% of the company. The company must actively monitor its shareholders to assure that no specific foreign shareholder exceeds that 5% threshold and that foreign ownership does not exceed the aggregate 49% limit. The company cannot simply rely on the address of its shareholders in making a determination as to whether or not they are foreign, but instead must use reasonable efforts as defined in the October order (and set out in our summary) to establish the citizenship and ownership of its investors. The company also must insure that its organizational documents provide that, if any foreign owner causes the station to violate one of the restrictions imposed by the Declaratory Ruling, the company can redeem the stock of the owner. The company must also have provisions providing for the right to restrict foreign ownership and the right to require disclosure of citizenship information. The decision also notes that Executive Branch agencies had reviewed the proposal and did not find any potential security issues.
It would seem that this decision establishes how this kind of request will be dealt with in the future, setting out the kinds of conditions likely to be required in similar deals. As we wrote here and here, there are a number of other declaratory ruling requests pending at the FCC, and another was released for public comment last week. Presumably, the processing of these requests will become somewhat routine going forward, as the parameters for dealing with the requests are established through these early cases. Watch for more decisions on the other pending requests soon.