An auction of construction permits for 27 new TV stations is scheduled to occur in June 2022, as we noted in one of our weekly updates on regulatory activities for broadcasters. This auction will be the first auction of new TV channels in over a decade – and the first in over a decade and a half that includes UHF channels that are considered better suited for digital transmissions. In the interim, freezes for the digital television transition and the incentive auction have put new applications on hold, with that freeze only thawing last year (see our article here).
But this window is not one that will likely excite most broadcasters, as the channels that are available are primarily in small markets, mostly in western states. Following the DTV transition and the incentive auction, the TV band has shrunk in size, leaving little spectrum availability anywhere near major markets. Only one channel in the eastern US is proposed to be auctioned –in Syracuse, New York – and that channel carries a proposed minimum bid of $1,000,000. The other channels are all in smaller markets, with proposed minimum bids of $200,000, even though some of the channels proposed in these smaller markets are VHF (see the list of channels to be auctioned here). With these high minimum bids, we wonder how many parties will be interested in these stations. While some might be interested in a TV station to reach these rural areas, how many are willing to put up the substantial bid before even reaching the costs of building the station? We noted a similar issue in the recent FM auction, where channels in seemingly attractive communities went unsold, seemingly because of the high minimum bid in the auction. Comments on the proposed procedures for this TV auction are due today, December 13, with reply comments due on December 23. We will see if any of the proposals are modified as a result of the comments that are submitted.