The new year brings a series of noteworthy regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in January.  As always, broadcasters should consult with their own attorneys and advisors to make sure that they are aware of and ready to act on any other deadlines that are not listed below.

Congress still has not passed budget bills for the fiscal year that started on October 1, and some of the “continuing resolutions” to fund the federal government at last year’s levels run out on January 19, with the FCC’s budget set to expire on February 2.  Thus, at least a partial government shutdown may well occur if Congress fails to act this month.  As we previously discussed here and here, if a government shutdown does occur, some government agencies may have to cease all but critical functions if they do not have any residual funds to continue operations.  If no funding is approved, the FCC will announce how any shutdown will affect it, including whether it has any residual funds to keep operating beyond any general funding deadline.  Watch Congressional actions and any FCC announcements to see how any deadlines that apply to your station will be affected by the funding deadline.

With those concerns in mind, let’s look at some of the specific dates and deadlines for broadcasters in January.  Beginning January 1, television stations affiliated with the Top 4 Networks and operating in Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs) 91 through 100 will be added to the list of markets that are subject to the FCC’s audio description rules.  The DMAs where the rules become effective on January 1 are:  El Paso (Las Cruces), Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg, Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Burlington-Plattsburgh, Baton Rouge, Jackson, MS, Fort-Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Boise, South Bend-Elkhart, and Myrtle Beach-Florence – in addition to Chattanooga and Charleston, SC, which were previously in DMAs 92 and 91, respectively, but are now in DMAs 84 and 88.  We reported here on the FCC’s recent reminder that these new markets will be subject to the audio description requirements as of January 1.  TV stations associated with the Top 4 networks in these markets are required to provide audio description for 50 hours of programming per calendar quarter, either during prime time or in children’s programming, and 37.5 additional hours of audio description per calendar quarter between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. local time, on each programming stream that carries one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC). 

January 1 is also the effective date of increased music royalties for webcasters and, for their over-the-air broadcasts, noncommercial stations that are affiliated with colleges or other schools (and not affiliated with NPR or CPB).  SoundExchange royalty fees for webcasters, including broadcasters who stream their programming on the Internet or deliver it through mobile apps, will increase to $.0025 per performance (up from $.0024 in 2023) for performances delivered on or after January 1, 2024.  Noncommercial radio stations affiliated with high schools or colleges but not affiliated with NPR or CPB will pay yearly royalties of $194 to both SESAC and GMR (up from the $188 paid in 2023) for licenses to perform musical compositions licensed by these organizations on these school’s over-the-air stations.  We wrote more about these royalty increases on our blog, here.  Webcasters also need to remember that, by January 31, they need to submit their minimum fees to SoundExchange.  For commercial webcasters and for noncommercial webcasters not affiliated with NPR/CPB or a high school or college, that fee is $1000 per channel or station.

January 10 is the deadline by which full power and Class A television stations and commercial and noncommercial full power AM and FM radio stations must upload to their online public inspection files their Quarterly Issues Program lists for the fourth quarter of 2023.  The lists should identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station aired in October, November and December that addressed those issues.  It is important that these be timely uploaded to your public file, as the untimely uploads of these documents have likely resulted in more fines in the last decade than for any other violation of the FCC’s rules.  As you finalize your lists, do so carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community.  See our article here for more on the importance of the Quarterly Issues Programs list obligation.

January 10 is also the deadline by which noncommercial educational stations must upload to their public inspection files documentation of their on-air fundraising benefitting third parties from October 1 through December 31, 2023.  More specifically, this obligation applies to noncommercial educational stations not affiliated with NPR or PBS that conducted third-party on-air fundraising that interrupted their normal programming.  For more information about this requirement, see our article here

January 10 is also the date by which Class A television stations should upload documentation of their continuing eligibility for Class A status based on their operations from October 1 through December 31, 2023.

Finally, January 10 is the deadline by which all full power television, Class A television, and full power radio stations must upload to their public inspection files documentation of any programming aired between October 1 and December 31, 2023 that was leased by a foreign government or their agents, or provided by a foreign entity for free in exchange for its airing.  The FCC’s foreign sponsorship identification rules require that stations disclose when programming has been paid for or provided by a foreign governmental entity and take steps whenever they sell any blocks of program time to determine if any buyer of program time is a representative of a foreign government.  See our article here for more information on this requirement.

January 30 brings one of the most important obligations for commercial television stations – those dealing with Children’s Television.  Each year all commercial full power and Class A television stations must prepare and file their annual Children’s Television Programming Report (Form 2100, Schedule H – formerly Form 398) by January 30.  This Programming Report details the programming broadcast by a station to meet its obligations to provide educational and informational programming addressing the needs of children.  For more details, see our article here on the FCC’s basic requirements for this programming (and the articles here and here about the FCC’s adoption of the annual filing requirement).  In addition, by January 30, each commercial full power and Class A TV station must upload to its online public file records documenting compliance in the prior year with the limits on the number of commercial minutes that stations can include in children’s programming.

By January, we will be fully into the political season, including the first presidential caucus and primary.  Broadcasters should also be aware of the opening of the following political windows tied to February and March primaries and, in the case of Arizona, Florida, and Alabama, state, local, municipal, and/or special elections – meaning that Lowest Unit Rates apply to sales to candidates and their authorized committees (see our article here on the basics of computing LUR): 

LUR DateElection DateState/TerritoryElection
January 5, 2024March 5, 2024Massachusetts Special Election – State House District 6
January 6, 2024February 20, 2024WisconsinNon-Presidential Primary (Non-Partisan Judicial, Educational, Municipal, and County Officers)
January 10, 2024February 24, 2024South Carolina Presidential Primary (R)
January 12, 2024March 12, 2024ArizonaState Election
January 13, 2024February 27, 2024Michigan Presidential Primary
January 17, 2024March 2, 2024Idaho and MissouriPresidential Primary (R)
January 18, 2024March 3, 2024District of Columbia Presidential Primary (R)
January 19, 2024March 19, 2024FloridaMunicipal Elections – Cities or Towns of Maitland, Eatonville, Ocoee, Winter Garden, Belleair, Belleair Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shore, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Oldsmar, Pinellas Park, Redington Beach, Redington Shores, Safety Harbor, St. Pete Beach, and Treasure Island
March 4, 2024North DakotaPresidential Primary (R)
January 20, 2024March 5, 2024Alaska (R), American Samoa (D), Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa (D), Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah, and VermontPresidential Primary
Alabama, California, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and VirginiaPresidential and State Primary
January 26, 2024March 26, 2024AlabamaSpecial Election – State House District 10
January 27, 2024March 12, 2024Georgia, Hawaii (R), Mississippi, Northern Marina Islands (D), and WashingtonPresidential Primary
January 30, 2024March 15, 2024Northern Mariana IslandsPresidential Primary (R)

As a refresher, in the 45 days before a primary election, and 60 days before a general or special election, broadcasters must extend to legally qualified candidates their lowest unit rate and continue to follow all other applicable political broadcasting rules.  For a deeper dive on election year planning, see our post, here

Looking ahead to February, radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma must upload Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files by February 1.  The FCC’s Mid-Term EEO Reviews also commence on February 1 for all radio station employment units in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi with eleven or more full-time employees.  See our articles here and here on Mid-Term EEO Review reporting requirements for radio stations.  As we previously discussed here, February 5 is the deadline for earth station operators affected by the C-band transition to submit reimbursement requests for all cost incurred and paid as of December 31, 2023, including lump sum election claims.