Programming Regulations

2023 has begun – and everyone is speculating as to what the New Year will bring.  Last week, we published an article looking at some of the regulatory issues that the FCC will potentially deal with this year.  But some regulatory dates are already on the calendar, and broadcasters need to be aware of the obligations that they impose.  So, each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar for 2023.  While this calendar should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of every regulatory date that your station will face, it highlights many of the most important dates for broadcasters in the coming year – including dates for EEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations, retransmission consent/must-carry elections, the Biennial Ownership Report due later this year, and much more.

There seem to be fewer dates highlighted than on last year’s calendar.  That’s because there are two sets of deadlines that are not as significant this year.  With the license renewal cycle almost at its end, the calendar just contains information about license renewals for the 4 states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) whose television stations have license renewal applications due in the last two renewal cycles (February 1 deadlines for New York and New Jersey TV stations, and April 1 for stations in the other two states). 

Continue Reading Broadcasters’ Calendar – A Look Ahead to the Regulatory Dates for 2023

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • In a Public Notice released late on Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau extended the deadline for the upload of Quarterly

It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead at what Washington may have in store for broadcasters this year.  The FCC may be slow to tackle some of the big issues on its agenda (like the completion of 2018 Quadrennial Review or any other significant partisan issue) as it still has only four Commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans.  On controversial issues like changes to the ownership rules, there tends to be a partisan divide.  As the nomination of Gigi Sohn expired at the end of the last Congress in December, the Biden administration was faced with the question of whether to renominate her and hope that the confirmation process moves more quickly this time, or to come up with a new nominee whose credentials will be reviewed by the Senate.  It was announced this week that the administration has decided to renominate her, meaning that her confirmation process will begin anew.  How long that process takes and when the fifth commissioner is seated may well set the tone for what actions the FCC takes in broadcast regulation this year.

Perhaps the most significant issue at the FCC facing broadcasters is the resolution of the 2018 Quadrennial Review to assess the current local ownership rules and determine if they are still in the public interest.  As we wrote last week, the FCC has already started the 2022 review, as required by Congress, even though it has not resolved the issues raised in the 2018 review.  For the radio industry, those issues include the potential relaxation of the local radio ownership rules.  As we have written, some broadcasters and the NAB have pushed the FCC to recognize that the radio industry has significantly changed since the ownership limits were adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and local radio operators need a bigger platform from which to compete with the new digital companies that compete for audience and advertising in local markets.  Other companies have been reluctant to endorse changes – but even many of them recognize that relief from the ownership limits on AM stations would be appropriate.

Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What’s Coming in Broadcast Regulation in 2023 From the FCC

The new year brings a series of regulatory deadlines in January and a February 1 license renewal deadline that broadcasters should take note of.  As in 2022, the FCC will remain vigilant in making sure that its deadlines are met, so the following items should not be overlooked or left until the last minute.

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Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC has sent an e-mail, apparently to all broadcasters, regarding the cybersecurity of broadcast stations that use the DASDEC

All media companies, including broadcasters, webcasters, podcasters and others, need to consider carefully their advertising production after the big penalties imposed on Google and iHeart for broadcast commercials where local DJs promoted the Pixel 4 phone.  Promotions included statements that clearly implied that the announcers had used the phone, including statements that it was “my favorite camera” and “I’ve been taking studio-like photos” with the phone.  But, according to the announcements of the settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and seven state attorneys general (see the FTC press release and blog article), the announcers had not in fact used the phone.  Google will pay the states penalties  of $9 million, and iHeart will pay about $400,000 (see example of the state Court filings on the settlement, this one for Massachusetts, for Google and iHeart).  Each will enter into consent orders with the FTC (Google order here and iHeart here) requiring 10-year recordkeeping and compliance plans to train employees, maintain records of advertising with endorsements, and reports to be filed periodically with the FTC.

The mission of the FTC is to protect the public from deceptive or unfair business practices and from unfair methods of competition.  In that role, the FTC regulates deceptive advertising practices.  Over a decade ago, we highlighted the FTC’s update of its policies on “testimonial and endorsement advertising” that made clear that the FTC required that any sort of “celebrity” (interpreted broadly) endorser had to have a basis for the claims that they were making in their pitches for a product.  This notice also made clear that any statements made about the experience in using a product had to be accurate and, when making claims about the performance of a product, the endorser had to accurately state performance that users can expect to obtain when they use the product.  Just using a “your results may vary” disclaimer was not enough.  In the 2009 proceeding, the FTC emphasized the applicability of these standards to online promotions, requiring disclosures for not only traditional advertising but also for social media influencers and others who are paid to promote products through online channels.  Such payments (or any other valuable consideration the influencer receives) must be disclosed when pitching a product.
Continue Reading Big FTC Penalties on Google and iHeart for Deceptive Endorsements in Broadcast Commercials Mandate Care in Crafting Your Local Advertising

In a very busy week, here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Federal Trade Commission and seven state Attorneys General announced a settlement with Google LLC and iHeart Media, Inc. over allegations that iHeart radio stations aired thousands of deceptive endorsements for Google Pixel 4 phones by radio personalities who had never used the phone.  The FTC’s complaint alleges that in 2019, Google hired iHeart and 11 other radio broadcast companies to have their on-air personalities record and broadcast endorsements of the Pixel 4 phone, but did not provide the on-air personalities with the phone that they were endorsing.  Google provided scripts for the on-air personalities to record, which included lines such as “It’s my favorite phone camera out there” and “I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything,” despite these DJs never having used the phone.  The deceptive endorsements aired over 28,000 times across ten major markets from October 2019 to March 2020.  As part of the settlement, subject to approval by the courts, Google will pay approximately $9 million and iHeart will pay approximately $400,000 to the states that were part of the agreement.  The settlement also imposes substantial paperwork and administrative burdens by requiring both companies to submit annual compliance reports for a period of years (10 years in the case of iHeart), and create and retain financial and other records (in the case of iHeart, the records must be created for a period of ten years and retained for five years).
    • This case is a reminder that stations must ensure that their on-air talent have at least some familiarity with any product they endorse, particularly where on-air scripts suggest that they have actually used the product.  Stations should not assume that talent know the relevant rules – they more likely will just read whatever is handed to them without understanding the potential legal risk for the station, which, as demonstrated in this case, could be significant.


Continue Reading This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: November 26 to December 2 , 2022

Even with the holidays upon us, regulation never stops.  There are numerous regulatory dates in December to which broadcasters need to pay heed to avoid having the FCC play Grinch for missing some important deadline.

December 1 is the deadline for license renewal applications for television stations (full power, Class A, LPTV and TV translators) licensed to communities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Renewal applications must be accompanied by FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396 Broadcast EEO Program Report (except for TV translators).  Stations filing for renewal of their license should make sure that all documents required to be uploaded to the station’s online public file are complete and were uploaded on time.  Note that your Broadcast EEO Program Report must include two years of Annual EEO Public File Reports for FCC review, unless your employment unit employs fewer than five full-time employees.  Be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application and consult with your advisors if you have questions, especially if you have noticed any discrepancies in your online public file or political file.  Issues with the public file have already led to fines imposed on TV broadcasters during this renewal cycle.

December 1 is also the deadline by which radio and television station employment units with five or more full-time employees licensed to communities in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Vermont must upload Annual EEO Public File Reports to station online public inspection files (also, the FCC has issued an extension that permits stations in Florida that suffered the effects of Hurricane Ian to upload their Annual EEO Public File Reports by December 12).  This annual EEO report covers hiring and employment outreach activities for the prior year.  A link to the uploaded report must also be included on the home page of a station’s website, if it has a website.
Continue Reading December Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – License Renewals, EEO Reports, Rulemaking Comments on Foreign Government Programming and EAS, and More

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

In a decision this week on the sale of radio stations by Univision Radio to Latino Media Network, the Audio Division of the FCC’s Media Bureau discussed the FCC’s longstanding prohibition on the seller of a broadcast station retaining a “reversionary interest” in the station it is selling.  In this case, FCC staff found that the intent of the buyer to enter into a Local Marketing Agreement by which the seller would program some of the stations after closing was not a reversionary interest, because the buyer was free to make programming decision for the stations as long as it retained ultimate control over that programming and station operations.  Had the LMA been a condition of the sale, or had it served as partial consideration for the sale, the FCC suggested that it would have violated the prohibition against revisionary interests. But as the seller did not make the LMA a condition of the sale, the post-closing decision to enter into an LMA was a programming decision under the control of the buyer and thus was not deemed to be a prohibited reversionary interest.  No matter what the holding of this case, a more fundamental question arises – what is a reversionary interest and why is it prohibited?

In reviewing our blog when writing this article, we noted that in the almost 17 years we have been publishing, we don’t seem to have ever referred specifically to the question of reversionary or retained interests in a broadcast station.  It is an issue that does not come up often, but it is related to another issue that we have written about before – the prohibition on a lender taking a security interest in a broadcast license (see, for instance, our two part article on security interests in broadcast licenses, here and here).  The prohibition on the right of reversion or retained interest in a broadcast license is set out in Section 73.1150 of the FCC rules, which states:

(a) In transferring a broadcast station, the licensee may retain no right of reversion of the license, no right to reassignment of the license in the future, and may not reserve the right to use the facilities of the station for any period whatsoever.

(b) No license, renewal of license, assignment of license or transfer of control of a corporate licensee will be granted or authorized if there is a contract, arrangement or understanding, express or implied, pursuant to which, as consideration or partial consideration for the assignment or transfer, such rights, as stated in paragraph (a) of this section, are retained.

The prohibition against the right of reversion, and the prohibition against a lender taking a security interest directly in a license, were both adopted by the FCC to implement Communications Act requirements that state that a broadcast license does not convey an ownership interest in the spectrum being used, but instead only confers on the license holder a right to use the spectrum that does not extend “beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.”  In adopting the prohibitions against a reversionary interest, and the prohibitions on taking a security interest in a license, the FCC believed that these interests would imply an ownership interest in the license akin to the ownership interest that one might hold in other forms of property that can be subject to leases, mortgages, and other security interests.  Thus, the restrictions were imposed over half a century ago.  But, since being implemented, the FCC has from time to time questioned whether these restrictions really were necessary.
Continue Reading FCC Decision Discusses Prohibition on Retaining Reversionary Interests in Broadcast Licenses After Sale – What Is a Reversionary Interest and Why Is It Prohibited?