As in any month, February has many impending deadlines for broadcasters and media companies – many routine regulatory obligations as well as some that are specific to certain proceedings. First, let’s look at some of the routine filing deadlines. On February 2, license renewal applications in the second-to-last filing window of this renewal cycle are due to be submitted to the FCC by TV stations in New York and New Jersey. The last TV stations to have to file in a regular renewal cycle will be due on April 1, for those TV stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware. After these stations complete their renewal filings, it will be another 5 years before another set of routine license renewals are to be filed. Stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware should be broadcasting their pre-filing announcements on February 1 and February 16 (and there are also post-filing announcements that need to be run by the New York and New Jersey stations, as well as those in New England that filed their applications by December 1).
Radio and TV stations in New York and New Jersey, as well as in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oklahoma, should be placing EEO Annual Public File Reports in their public files (online for TV and paper for radio, with links to the reports on their websites) by February 1 if they are part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees. By February 2, noncommercial TV stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York should file with the FCC their Biennial Ownership Reports, and noncommercial radio stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma should be filing those same reports on February 2. Commercial radio and TV stations in the entire country will be filing their Biennial Reports in December of this year. A guide to many of the regular FCC filing deadlines can be found in our Broadcasters Calendar available here.
In February, all sorts of activities are planned around the broadcast incentive auction. This, of course, is the proceeding by which the FCC will pay some TV stations to abandon their spectrum so that the remaining TV stations can be repacked into a smaller TV band, with the cleared spectrum sold to wireless companies for wireless broadband. The FCC has announced that it is beginning a series of meetings around the country to explain the auction process and, in subsequent one-on-one meetings, suggest the prices that TV broadcasters can expect for the sale of their spectrum. These meetings will continue around the country for the next several months. A list of the cities in which meetings will be held in February is available in the FCC Public Notice here, and interested TV broadcasters should contact the FCC to indicate their interest in attending one of these meetings and in having a private meeting about what they can expect from the auction. It is our understanding that these meetings are only open to TV broadcasters and their advisors (but any TV broadcaster can attend, whether or not they have TV stations in the area in which the meetings will be held), but appointments need to be made to attend.
At the same time, the FCC is taking comments on its proposed auction procedures – 68 pages of proposed procedures with over 100 pages of exhibits setting out details on how the auction is proposed to be conducted, providing many of the assumptions and background data for the proposed procedures (and there are some controversial issues on which commenters may differ – including the way that the FCC may limit the payout to certain broadcasters based on their population coverage and their preclusive impact on channels in their own and nearby TV markets). Comments on these procedures are due on February 13, with reply comments exactly a month later.
Reply Comments on what to do with LPTV stations in the incentive auction and repacking are also due in February – on February 2 pursuant to a Commission order that recently extended that deadline date. That proceeding looks at whether to extend the LPTV digital conversion date from September of this year until some point after the incentive auction repacking, and also at what preferences, if any, LPTV stations have for new channels if they are forced off their current channels as part of the incentive auction process. We wrote about the many other issues raised in that proceeding here. The FCC will also be holding a webinar on LPTV issues in the incentive auction on February 17 (see the FCC Public Notice about the webinar here).
While incentive auctions may be occupying much of the broadcaster’s attention, there are also comments due on the FCC proceeding to reform the broadcast contest rules – proposing to allow broadcasters to disclose the material rules of the contest online rather than on the air. Comments are due on February 17. We wrote about that proceeding here.
Also, initial comments on the FCC proposal to regulate some “over-the-top” (“OTT”) Internet video providers in the same matter as MVPDs (“multichannel video programming distributors” like cable and satellite TV) are due in February. We wrote about the details of that proceeding here. Comments are due on February 17. This proceeding, prompted by developments in the Internet video industry (like Aereo and the many other new services like DISH’s SlingTV, proposing to deliver cable networks to consumers using IP technologies) is bound to prompt significant comment, and quite probably controversy.
And, while we are mentioning deadlines, there are still a few that should be met here in January. Before the end of this month, reply comments are due on January 30 on proposals to make video programming providers subject to more regulation to assure the quality of the captioning of TV programming (see our summary of the proposals here). And, as we said in our Broadcaster’s Calendar, companies engaging in webcasting have obligations before the end of the month to make elections if the royalties that they are to pay in 2015 are to be covered by certain Webcasters Settlement Act agreements that provide reduced royalties and recordkeeping obligations for smaller companies. Minimum fees under those agreements are also due before the end of January.
Certainly, as in any month, this but highlights some events that will occur in February. A list of many other matters pending in DC for TV broadcasters is set out in our summary of TV issues that was recently published in TV NewsCheck, here. And we can always expect other actions to arise that will be of relevance to broadcasters. For instance, there are big picture items that will be considered this month that could have an overall impact on the greater communications industry – like the net neutrality decision that the FCC is supposed to discuss at its February 26 meeting. Decisions in court cases, at the FCC and at other government agencies on issues of importance to media companies can occur at any time – so be alert to how these events can affect your business.