While January starts off with some regulatory deadlines that apply to all broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs lists must be placed in a station’s public file by the 10th of January – there are many other dates that come due this month, dates to which broadcasters need to pay careful attention. For TV stations, they need to file at the FCC by January 11 (as the 10th is a Sunday) Children’s Television Reports, listing all of the programming that they broadcast in the previous quarter addressing the educational and informational needs of children. Records showing a TV station’s compliance with the commercial limits in children’s television should also be placed in the station’s public file. As we have written, missing Quarterly Issues Programs lists (see our articles here and here) and Children’s Television Reports (and even late Children’s Television Reports) provided the basis for most of the fines during the last renewal cycle (see, for instance, our article here) – even for missing reports from early in the renewal cycle and, for the Children’s Reports, even where the reports were filed (repeatedly) only a few days late. So it is important to meet the obligations imposed by these regular filing deadlines.
Starting on the first day of this new year, there are a host of other obligations and deadlines that arise. On January 1, TV stations need to be captioning clips of video programming that they make available on their websites or in their mobile apps, if those clips came from programming that was captioned when shown on TV. For more on that obligation, see our article on the new online captioning requirements here.
For TV broadcasters, the incentive auction deadlines for filing their Form 177 applications to participate in the auction are due on or before January 12. The FCC has provided all sorts of advice on the preparation of these forms, and broadcasters who want to participate in the incentive auction should be preparing for this deadline as it is the first, but necessary, step to potential payouts from the FCC for broadcasters that want to sell their spectrum to be repurposed for broadband uses. We have written about the filing process many times – see, for instance, our articles here and here.
Radio, too, has an important date in January, the opening of the first window for AM stations to be able to buy an FM translator and file an application to move it as much as 250 miles, and even to propose to operate it on a different frequency in order to use it to rebroadcast their AM stations. The first window is for Class C and D AM stations. While the window for filing these waiver applications lasts six months, applications are processed on a first-come, first serve basis, so in spectrum-congested areas, applicants want to be the first to file before the good slots for translators are taken. That first day is January 29 – see our article here explaining the process.
Political Lowest Unit Rate windows will be opening across the country in January, for all of the states that have Presidential primaries and caucuses through March and early April – and that includes a great many states. So check the dates for the primaries in your service area, and count out the 45 days before that primary or caucus to compute when your LUR window opens for these Presidential candidates. See our recent articles on broadcaster’s political obligations, here and here.
FCC comment dates in the proceeding to determine whether to modify the requirements for good faith negotiation of retransmission consent agreements between broadcast television stations and cable and satellite TV providers are due on January 14. We summarized here the issues in this important proceeding which could profoundly affect the negotiating positions of MVPDs and TV stations.
Finally, streaming rates have just been decided by the Copyright Royalty Board, but already minimum fees are due for webcasters for 2016 by the end of the month. The new rates decided by the CRB in December also go into effect in January (though they are to be paid 45 days after the end of the month), even though there may be appeals or requests for other changes to those rates (see our articles here, here and here). For certain college broadcasters, there is also a deadline to opt into the deal negotiated by CBI to provide special royalty treatment to college and high school webcasters. Again, if you are streaming, make sure that you know what your obligations are.
As always, we warn you that these are just the highlights of the regulatory obligations for broadcasters this month. Keep alert to other dates that may affect your stations that may already be in effect or ones that are announced by the FCC and other government agencies in the coming weeks. Washington never seems to take a vacation on regulation, so you must remain vigilant in your compliance planning.