The FCC at its open meeting last week took two actions important to TV broadcasters – modifying its children’s television rules and changing the process by which TV stations give notice to MVPDs of their must carry or retransmission consent elections. On the children’s television rules, the FCC largely adopted the proposals in their draft order, which we summarized here. The major additions to the final version of the Order (here) were the individual statements of the Commissioners, where the Republicans supported the decision as a common-sense reaction to changing market conditions (including an increase in the number of over-the-air stations since the rules were initially adopted, as well as all sorts of new media competition), while the Democrats worried that moving some long-form educational and informational programming addressed to children off the broadcaster’s primary program streams, and the replacement of some of that programming with short-form programming, would have an adverse impact on children – particularly children in lower-income households with less access to digital alternatives. The new rules will become effective after their publication in the Federal Register. Comment dates on the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider whether TV broadcasters can be relieved of some children’s television obligations by supporting the development of educational and informational programming on other TV stations will also be determined after Federal Register publication.
Also adopted at the meeting was a Report and Order setting out new rules allowing TV broadcasters to give notice of their next set of must-carry or retransmission consent notifications electronically rather than by certified mail, as is currently required. The Order sets out a process where, before the next election deadline in October 2020, broadcasters need to include in their online public files a statement as to whether they have elected must-carry or retransmission consent on MVPDs in their market (and, if the station has elected one carriage option for all systems, the notice can be as simple as “Station WXYZ has elected must-carry on all cable systems in the Anytown DMA”). If the station decides to change that election for any MVPD, they notify the MVPD of the change by email. MVPDs must register a contact person for the receipt of such notices in their public files and in the FCC’s COALS database, so that broadcasters know who to contact if they are planning to change their election. The broadcaster emails its notice of a changed election to the cable system (with a copy to a new FCC email address) and puts a copy of the election in its online public file. The cable system is supposed to electronically acknowledge the receipt of the notice (if it does not, the broadcaster is supposed to call the COALS-registered person at the registered phone number to make sure that the notice has been received – but if there is no response, the FCC and public file notices will suffice. Of course, not having this information in a TV station’s public file would be a violation of the public file rules.
The rules also will apply to noncommercial stations and satellite carriers. Read the full order to capture other intricacies of the new system – but it should make these notices much less costly for all involved. The Commission also adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to adopt similar rules to allow cable operators to give required notices to broadcasters about issues such as a channel repositioning or a change in a system’s headend electronically. Look for comment dates in that proceeding soon. All in all, an eventful FCC meeting for TV broadcasters.