Since the start of the FCC’s examination of its multiple ownership rules in anticipation of its Quadrennial Review of these rules, the question of TV shared services agreements has been one raised by public interest groups, suggesting that combinations of local TV stations for news or sales purposes are not in the public interest, as such combinations reduce competition in the local markets. MVPDs have also suggested that these agreements are unfair in the negotiation of retransmission consent agreements. Television broadcasters, on the other hand, have pointed to the economics of the television business, especially in smaller markets, where combinations of stations are considered necessary to preserve news operations (and in some cases, the operations of the stations themselves) in these markets. The NY Times featured this issue on its front page, further indicating that this is an issue that is likely to be addressed in the FCC’s decision in its ownership review – expected later this year or in 2013.
The Times report talks about how some SSAs result in newscasts covering similar stories or using the same reports on multiple stations. While some public interest advocates complain that duplicative news does not serve the public interest, the story also interviews station owners who make the very simple point that economics dictates what stations can do – that without these shared service agreements many stations that have news programs now would not have them at all without a shared services agreement being in place. Clearly, the media marketplace is changing, and all of the traditional media simply cannot operate in the way that they have in the past, with all of the new forms of competition making changes inevitable (see, e.g. the recent news about the major daily newspaper in New Orleans going to a three times a week publication schedule). After the FCC’s recent decision on shared services agreements in Hawaii (see our article here), and the front page publicity that the issue has received in the Times, we are bound to see this issue addressed in the FCC’s ownership proceeding whenever that is resolved (we’ve been predicting sometime after the November election – see our article summarizing the proceeding here), and perhaps in orders clarifying the obligations of parties in retransmission consent negotiations, also under consideration by the FCC.