March is one of those months where without the Annual EEO Public File Reports that come up for different states every other month, or without the Quarterly Issues Programs List and Children’s Television Report obligations that arise following the end of every calendar quarter. But this March has two very significant deadlines right at the beginning of the month – Online Public Files for radio and Biennial Ownership Reports – that will impose obligations on most broadcasters.
For radio stations, March 1 is the deadline for activating your online public inspection file. While TV stations and larger radio clusters in the Top 50 markets have already made the conversion to the online public file, for radio stations in smaller markets, the requirement that your file be complete and active is Thursday. As we wrote here, there are a number of documents that each station should be uploading to their file before the deadline (including Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and, if a station is part of an employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees, Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports). As the FCC-hosted online public file date-stamps every document entered into the file, and as the file can be reviewed by anyone at anytime from anywhere in the world, stations need to be sure that they are timely uploading these documents to the file, as who knows who may be watching your compliance with FCC requirements. And this is not the only big obligation for broadcasters coming up in March.
On March 2, all full-power stations, commercial and noncommercial, and all LPTV stations, need to complete and file with the FCC their Biennial Ownership Reports (see our article here). These reports are supposed to give the FCC a snapshot of the ownership of broadcast stations as of October 1, 2017 so that interested parties can see who owns what stations, and have a complete database from which they can assess broadcast ownership by the gender and ethnicity of all attributable owners. Even parties who sold their stations since October 1 have to file reports detailing what they owned on that date. As this comprehensive database is so important to the FCC and to some public interest groups interested in assessing diversity in broadcast ownership, be sure that you meet this deadline.
March also brings comment dates in various FCC proceedings. Initial comment in the FCC proceeding looking at whether to change the national ownership cap for television are due on March 19. See our article here about the extension of the comment date to March 19, and our summary of the issues in the proceeding here.
Comments in the FCC proceeding, as part of its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative, looking to eliminate the FCC filing requirement for certain documents relating to ownership – including corporate organizational documents, documents related to future ownership (like options and stock pledges) and other documents that restrict the operational decisions of broadcasters – are due on March 19. We wrote about that proceeding here.
For TV, the effective date of the rules permitting the use of ATSC 3.0, the new transmission standard for next-generation television, is March 5. See the Federal Register notice of that effective date here . Reply comments on some open issues on ATSC 3.0, about which we wrote here, are due on March 20 – initial comments having been filed in February.
For radio, be looking for communication from Global Music Rights, the newest of the performing rights organizations, about an extension of their license to play music written by the songwriters that this organization represents. The current interim license that GMR offered to broadcasters expires at the end of the month. As we wrote here, as GMR is still litigating with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) about whether their rate-setting should be subject to some antitrust review, GMR has agreed to extend their interim license until September 30, and has promised to contact stations about an extension soon. Stations should reach out if they have not heard from before the end of the month.
As in any month, these are just some highlights of the regulatory issues facing broadcasters in the coming days. Every station has its own set of regulatory questions too, so be sure that you are staying on top of these nagging legal and regulatory matters. Even though they can be time consuming, staying on top of these matters will save money and aggravation in the long term.