The month of November is one of those rare months on the FCC calendar when there are few routine regulatory filing deadlines for broadcasters. In odd years, we would have Biennial Ownership Reports but, being an even year, we can wait until 2015 for that obligation for commercial broadcasters. There is a new November 28 deadline, about which we wrote here, for TV stations with Joint Sales Agreements with other stations in their markets to file such agreements with the FCC. While we are getting to the end of the current license renewal cycle, there are still some obligations of television stations for the airing of renewal pre or post filing announcements. Commercial and Noncommercial Full-Power and Class A Television Stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, the Mariana Islands, and Saipan need to air License Renewal Post-Filing Announcements on the first and sixteenth of the month, while television stations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont need to air their pre-filing announcements in anticipation of the filing of their license renewal applications on December 1.
November brings a few other dates of note for broadcasters. With the end of the political window for lowest unit rates on Election Day, broadcasters have a few last minute issues to remember. If they sell ads on Election Day, those ads must be sold at lowest unit rates. If they have opened their stations to take new advertising or changes in copy for any commercial client in the past year, they must be ready to take similar steps for federal candidates over this last weekend before the election. Even if they never accommodate a commercial advertiser over the weekend, they may still need to provide weekend access to accommodate last minute equal opportunities requests. In these last few days before the election, there are also questions as to whether stations can be “sold out” for purposes of selling last-minute ads to candidates. That is a very difficult question to answer, as much depends on station practices. If stations are selling their time at what is essentially a perpetual auction, where a commercial advertiser can always pay more to preempt someone who paid less, then a station can never be sold out. Candidates can always buy at the higher rate and preempt the lower classes of time.
If there are real “classes” of time, with different rights associated with each class (e.g. different notice or make-good rights), then the most pre-emptible of those classes may in fact be sold out, with candidates who want access now (for any new buys) having to buy higher on the rate card to preempt those sold out classes of time.
A candidate claiming equal opportunities presents different issues, because if a candidate is buying in response to his or her opponent’s schedule, the buy may have to be fit into the same class with the same rate as the prior candidate – even if that means bumping a commercial advertiser who normally wouldn’t be bumped, or if it means giving the second candidate a better deal than a commercial advertiser would get. That is particularly true in this week before the election. All these considerations and others must be weighed by stations in these last few days before the election. See our Political Broadcasting Guide, here, for more information.
In addition to the election-related deadlines, there are comment deadlines in a few other proceedings of interest to broadcasters. Reply comments in the proceeding on online captioning of video clips (about which we wrote here) are due on Monday, November 3. Oppositions to the petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s incentive auction decision are due by November 12, with replies due November 21. November 26 is the deadline for comments on the new form that will be used by TV broadcasters to claim reimbursement of their post-incentive auction expenses if their station must change channels as part of the spectrum repacking (we wrote about that form here and here).
There will no doubt be other issues of importance to broadcasters that may come up during the month. There are additional incentive auction proceedings where public comment will be required, including the proceeding to comment on the post-auction treatment of TV translators and LPTV stations (see our summary here), and a recent proceeding on inter-service interference after the auction. There are quality standards for closed captioning rules that will go into effect at the beginning of next year where reconsideration requests are pending, and there is the FCC proposal on extending the online public file to radio broadcasters (about which we wrote here), all of which are reported to be under active consideration by the FCC. So, while there are not many routine FCC filings this coming month, there still are plenty of regulatory issues that broadcasters need to be watching.