The FCC this week released its agenda for its October 27 open meeting.  At that meeting the FCC will consider a number of issues of relevance to broadcasters, including enhanced white space use in the TV band and an expansion of the requirement for audio description of video programming.  It also plans to adopt an order authorizing licensees of AM stations to voluntarily transition to all-digital AM operations.  A draft order setting out the FCC’s decision and the rules that it intends to adopt for all digital AM operations was released yesterday.   We wrote previously about this proceeding on all-digital AM as it has progressed through the FCC (see our articles here and here).

The draft order on all-digital AM contains a discussion as to whether the Commission should put limits on the ability of AM licensees to transition so as to not take away service from existing listeners who do not have digital AM radios.  The conclusion set out in the draft order is that there should not be restrictions on the ability of licensees to convert to all-digital operations.  The FCC noted that as long as there are a substantial number of listeners without digital AM receivers, some AM licensees will have an economic incentive to continue to broadcast an analog signal.  Thus, these analog listeners will not be left without service.  The FCC also noted that its recent order abolishing the prohibition on radio stations duplicating the programming of commonly-owned stations serving the same area (see our articles here and here) would allow one owner to put the same programming on two AMs in the same area – one providing a digital program stream while the other continued analog operations.  Thus, the FCC’s tentative decision is that there is no need to restrain stations from making the conversion.
Continue Reading FCC Announces Plans to Authorize All-Digital AM Radio at October 27 Open Meeting

FCC rules currently prohibit radio stations in the same service (AM or FM) that have over 50% overlap of their principal community contours (the 70 dBu for FM stations and the 5 mV/m contour for AM stations) from duplicating more than 25 per cent of the total hours in their average programming week.  In preparation for the FCC’s open meeting on August 6, the FCC last week released its draft order proposing to eliminate that rule as to AM stations (as we wrote on Friday).  As the draft order looks to eliminate the rule only for AM stations while retaining that rule for FM stations, it is worth taking a deeper look at this tentative decision particularly as one of its implications is that the FCC may well be allowing AM stations to transition to all-digital operations.

The draft decision provides two reasons for eliminating the rule for AM stations.  First, it suggests that the challenging economic and competitive status of AM radio justifies the decision to allow duplication by AM stations that operate in the same area. Keeping a station operational and providing some service is preferred over letting that station go silent.  The economic condition of the AM band was determined to alone be justification for the decision to permit duplication.  But the FCC provided a second reason – one that suggests that the FCC is seriously considering the proposal (about which we wrote here and here) to allow for all-digital AM stations.  In the draft order, the FCC says that allowing AM program duplication would provide an opportunity for an AM station to go all-digital while still broadcasting its programming on another AM station in the current analog format – allowing listeners to hear the station even if they do not yet have a digital AM receiver.
Continue Reading A Deeper Look at the FCC’s Proposal to Eliminate Program Duplication Rules for AM But Not FM Stations – Looking to All Digital AM? 

Comments on the proposal of GeoBroadcast Solutions to allow FM boosters to originate limited amounts of programming different from that carried on their primary stations were due to be filed by this past Monday.  We wrote about the GeoBroadcast proposal for “zonecastinghere. The comments as filed at the FCC fell principally into three categories.  GeoBroadcast Solutions and its supporters argued that the FCC should move forward with the limited rule changes that it seeks, changing the FM booster rules from requiring 100% duplication of the primary station to one which only requires substantial duplication of the main station – thus allowing for limited inserts of localized content including localized news, advertising and emergency information.  A second set of comments asked whether the technology had really moved forward sufficiently to warrant a notice of proposed rulemaking now – particularly as the system had not yet been fully tested for digital broadcast operations (commonly referred to as “HD Radio”).  Finally, there were proposals looking to expand the scope of the proceeding beyond GeoBroadcast’s limited technical proposal, to allow for other systems to provide the service and even to expand the proposal to also allow FM translators to originate programming.  Let’s look at each of these sets of comments.

Those supporting the GeoBroadcast proposal covered both the technology and business/operational aspects of the proposal.  Comments by GeoBroadcast’s engineer and the GatesAir, Inc., which developed the MaxxCasting technology for boosters to minimize interference between the boosters and their primary station, argued that the technology already works for analog broadcasts and was promising for HD Radio operations.  Support for the business case came from advocates for minority organizations (arguing that the technology would allow better targeting of these audiences), media brokers (arguing that the value of stations would increase), ad buyers (looking at the targeting prospects of the technology) and emergency communications experts (looking at the ability to target emergency information).
Continue Reading Looking at the Comments on FM “Zonecasting” – What’s Next for This Proposal?

As the calendar flips to March, many of us have put our trust in Punxsutawney Phil’s weather forecasting expertise that an early spring is coming.  A surer place to put our trust, however, is in the guarantee that there are always some regulatory dates about which broadcasters should be aware.  While March is a month without with many of the regularly scheduled deadlines for renewals, EEO public file reports or Quarterly Issues Programs lists, there are still plenty of regulatory dates about which you should take notice.

The closest we come in March to a broadly applicable FCC filing deadline is the requirement that, by March 30, 2020 television broadcasters must complete and submit through LMS the FCC’s new Form 2100, Schedule H documenting their compliance with the requirements under the children’s television (KidVid) rules to broadcast educational and informational programming directed to children.  This report will document that programming from September 16, 2019 (when the new KidVid rules went into effect) to December 31, 2019.  The March 30 date is a transitional date as the FCC moves away from the old quarterly children’s television reports to ones that will be filed annually – in future years by the end of January.  This year, however, the FCC took time to develop the form for the new annual report and to explain how it should be used, thus the extra time to file.  Once filed, TV broadcasters won’t file another children’s television report until early 2021 reporting on compliance for all of 2020.  For more on the transition to the new KidVid obligations, read our articles here, here, and here.  To learn how to work with the new form, watch the FCC’s archived instructional webinar here.
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters—Children’s Television Reports, Lowest Unit Rate Windows, EEO Audit Responses, AM Revitalization Comments, License Renewal Preparation and More

Most years, at some point in January, we look into our crystal ball and try to see some of the legal and regulatory issues likely to face broadcasters.  We already provided a calendar of the routine regulatory filings that are due this year (see our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar).  But not on that calendar are the policy issues that will affect the regulatory landscape in the coming year, and into the future.  This year, the biggest issue will no doubt be the November election.  Obviously, broadcasters must deal with the many day-to-day issues that arise in an election year including the rates to be charged political candidates, the access to airtime afforded to those candidates, and the challenges associated with the content of issue advertising that non-candidate groups seek to transmit to the public.  The election in November will also result in a President being inaugurated in just less than a year – which could signal a continuation of the current policies at the FCC or potentially send the Commission in a far different direction.  With the time that the election campaigns will demand from Congress, and its current attention to the impeachment, Congress is unlikely to have time to tackle much broadcast legislation this year.

The broadcast performance royalty is one of those issues likely on hold this year.  While it was recently re-introduced in Congress (see our article here), it is a struggle for any copyright legislation to get through Congress and, in a year like the upcoming one, moving a bill like the controversial performance royalty likely will likely not be high on the priorities of Congressional leaders.  This issue will not go away – it will be back in future Congresses – so broadcasters still need to consider a long-term strategy to deal with the issue (see, for instance, our article here on one such strategy that also helps resolve some of the music royalty issues we mention later in this article).
Continue Reading Looking Ahead to the Rest of 2020 – Potential Legal and Regulatory Issues For the Remainder of the Year

The FCC announced on Friday that it will be hosting a symposium on the state of the broadcast industry on November 21.  On that day, there will be a panel in the morning on the state of the radio industry and one in the afternoon on television.  The Public Notice released Friday lists a diverse group of panelists, but says little beyond the fact that the forum will be occurring.  What could be behind the Commission’s decision to host this session?

The FCC is working on its Quadrennial Review of its ownership rules (see our articles here and here).  There were many who expected that review to be completed either late this year or early next, with relaxation of the radio ownership rules thought to be one of the possible outcomes.  Of course, quick action may have been derailed by the decision of the Third Circuit Court of the Appeals to vacate and remand the Commission’s 2017 ownership order.  The court’s decision unwinds the FCC’s 2017 order which included abolition of the broadcast newspaper cross-ownership rule and the rule that limited one owner from owning two TV stations in the same market unless there were 8 independent television operators in that market – see our article here on the 2017 decision and our article here on the Third Circuit’s decision.  The basis of the Third Circuit decision was that the FCC did not have sufficient information to assess the impact of its rule changes on minority ownership and other potential new entrants into broadcast ownership.  If the FCC did not have enough information to justify the 2017 decisions, many believe any further changes in its rules are on hold until the FCC can either satisfy the court’s desire for more information on minority ownership or until there is a successful appeal of that decision.  Even though FCC changes to its ownership rules may be in abeyance, the November 21 forum can shed light on the current state of the industry and why changes in ownership rules may be justified.
Continue Reading FCC To Hold Symposium on Radio and TV Industry – What Does it Mean for Broadcast Regulation?

The broadcast trade press was abuzz this morning with a report that an Arizona AM station currently simulcasting its programming on an FM translator has asked the FCC for permission to conduct a test where it would shut down its AM for about a year and operate solely through the FM translator. To grant this request, the FCC would need to waive its rule (Section 74.1263(b)) which prohibits an FM translator station from operating during extended periods when the primary station is not being retransmitted.

This idea of turning in an AM station to operate with a paired FM translator (though, in this case, the licensee promises to return the AM to the air within a year) is not a new one and has in fact been advanced in the AM Revitalization proceeding. The proposal offers pros and cons that the FCC will no doubt weigh in evaluating this proposal, and also raises many questions about the future of the AM band.
Continue Reading AM Station Proposes to Test Silencing AM to Operate 100% From a Translator – What Does It Say About the AM Band?

Next Wednesday, July 25, I will be speaking at the Podcast Movement Conference in Philadelphia, as part of the Broadcasters Meet Podcasters Track, discussing legal issues that broadcasters need to consider as they move some of their content into podcasts. One of the topics that I will be discussing will be the music royalty obligations of podcasters who use music in their programs. A month ago, we wrote about how broadcasters’ streaming royalties are affected by smart speakers like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home, as these speakers play the digital streams of a radio station’s programs where SoundExchange royalties must be paid, as opposed to the over-the-air signal of the station, where no such royalties are owed. These smart speakers may have an impact on podcasters royalties, affecting who needs to be paid in connection with the use of music in podcasts.

When I initially started to write about issues of music use in podcasts, my emphasis was on the need to secure direct licenses from performers and composers (or their record companies and publishing companies) for the rights to make reproductions and distributions of music in podcasts. When digital content is downloaded, it triggers rights under copyright law implicating the reproduction and distribution rights of copyright holders (see our article here), as opposed to their public performance rights – the rights with which broadcasters are most familiar as those are the rights that they obtain when paying Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR in connection with their over-the-air broadcasts and those PROs plus SoundExchange in connection with noninteractive digital streaming. When podcasts were something that were downloaded, just like the purchase of a download of a song from the iTunes music store, it was the reproduction and distribution rights that were triggered, and conventional wisdom was that the PROs had no role to play in the licensing of downloaded media. As technology has changed, the analysis of what rights you need to use music in podcasts may well be changing too. The direct licensing of music for your podcast is still needed – but a public performance right may well also be necessary.
Continue Reading Hey, Alexa, How Are Your Affecting My Podcasting Music Royalty Obligations?

Last week, Aaron Burstein of our law firm and I conducted a webinar for several state broadcast associations on legal issues in digital and social media advertising. As broadcasters become more active in the digital world, whether it be through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, or by posting their content online through

In an article posted on the FCC’s blog yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler listed four actions that would soon be coming out of the FCC to address broadcast issues. For TV, these include looking at what constitutes “good faith negotiations” in the retransmission consent context, and whether to do away with the FCC’s network nonduplication protection rule. For radio, the long-delayed AM revitalization docket will apparently soon be considered by the FCC. And, finally, the FCC may modernize the contest rules for all broadcasters by allowing more online disclosure of contest rules. What are these proceedings all about?

The retransmission consent proceeding grows out of Congress’ adoption of STELAR, which authorized the continued retransmission of broadcast signals by satellite television operators. As part of that legislation, which we summarized here, the FCC was directed to start a proceeding to determine whether it should adopt new rules to define what constitutes “good faith negotiation” of retransmission consent agreements. There has already been significant lobbying on this issue by both sides. Right now, good faith negotiation really has not been an area where the FCC has intervened beyond using its bully pulpit to urge parties to retransmission consent disputes to reach a deal. It is commonly recognized that failing to deal with a MVPD at all would be a violation of the good faith standard, but many MVPDs now want the FCC to become more involved, putting limits on TV channel blackouts, especially just before big televised events (like the Super Bowl or the Oscars), limiting the blackout of web-based programming to subscribers of an MVPD that is involved in a dispute, limiting the bundling of Big 4 network programs with programming from other channels provided by the TV broadcaster, and similar limits. The Chairman’s blog is short on specifics, but does suggest that, while some specific prohibitions may be suggested, the FCC would also be able to look at the totality of the circumstances to determine if a broadcaster and an MVPD were negotiating in good faith (note that these rules apply to broadcast retransmission consent negotiation, not those between MVPDs and cable channels not shown on broadcast TV).
Continue Reading FCC Chairman Details Issues Coming Soon for Broadcasters – Review of Retransmission Consent, Network Nonduplication, AM Improvements, and Contest Rules