Public Interest Obligations/Localism

A Notice of Inquiry from the Copyright Office was published today in the Federal Register, announcing the initiation of an inquiry into the effects of the 2019 changes in the statutory license under Section 119 of the Copyright Act for satellite television providers to retransmit local television stations.  Pursuant to that license, a satellite carrier can retransmit local television stations into their own markets without having to negotiate with each copyright holder in the programming carried by local stations.  Instead, the satellite carrier pays a license fee set by the statute and the proceeds of that license are redistributed through proceedings held by the Copyright Royalty Board to the copyright holders.  As part of that license, satellite carriers can import signals of distant network television stations into a market in certain circumstances – circumstances that were greatly limited by the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act (the “STCPPA”) in 2019.  As part of that statute, Congress instructed the Copyright Office to conduct this study to review the impact of the 2019 changes.

The 2019 changes eliminated the ability of satellite carriers to import distant network signals to households in a market where:

  • The households could not receive a local over-the-air signal via an antenna;
  • The household received a waiver from a local network affiliate to receive a distant signal;
  • “Grandfathered” households that received distant signals on or before October 31, 1999; and
  • Households eligible for a statutory exemption related to receiving “C-Band” satellite signals.

These exceptions were problematic to broadcasters as they introduced a distant network affiliate into a television market, encouraging viewers to watch that distant station at the expense of the local affiliate.  Congress was concerned that these situations encouraged viewers to watch distant news rather than the local news and information provided by in-market stations.  Many of these provisions were also hard to implement and enforce.  For instance, the question of whether a household could receive an over-the-air signal could often be a contentious question.  Waivers also were problematic, as a local station could feel pressure to give a waiver to a local resident to avoid bad will within the community.  Thus, in 2019, all of these exceptions were abolished.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Review of Changes in Satellite Television Statutory License for Carriage of Local Television Stations

Here we are, in a new and hopefully more “normal” year – wondering what will be ahead.  Each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters – or at least the primary ones that we already know.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar for 2021.  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 license renewalsEEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations and much more.  This year, for LPTV and TV translator operators, there are also dates associated with this summer’s deadline for all such stations to be operating digitally (see our article here).

While this likely will not be a big political advertising year like 2020, there will be some state and local races – so we note the start of the Lowest Unit Charge window for this year’s November election – relevant in states like New Jersey and Virginia where there are races for governor and state legislature, and to the many locations across the country that will have mayor’s races and other state and local political contests.  Look for local information about the dates for any primary elections for these elections – as those primaries have their own LUC windows for the 45 days preceding the primary.  See our article here on how the other political broadcasting rules apply to state and local elections.
Continue Reading A Broadcaster’s 2021 Regulatory Calendar – Looking at Some of the Important Dates for the Year Ahead

The holiday season is nearly behind us and many are looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror with a hopeful eye on 2021.  The new year will bring big changes to the Washington broadcast regulation scene, with the inauguration of a new President and installation of a new FCC chair who will make an imprint on the agency with his or her own priorities.  And routine regulatory dates and deadlines will continue to fill up a broadcaster’s calendar.  So let’s look at what to expect in the world of Washington regulation in the coming month.

On the routine regulatory front, on or before January 10, all full-power broadcast stations, commercial and noncommercial, must upload to their online public inspection files their Quarterly Issues Programs lists, listing the most important issues facing their communities in the last quarter of 2020 and the programs that they broadcast in October, November and December that addressed those issues.  As we have written before, these lists are the only documents required by the FCC to demonstrate how stations served the needs and interests of their broadcast service area, and they are particularly important as the FCC continues its license renewal process for radio and TV stations.  Make sure that you upload these lists to your public file by the January 10 deadline.  You can find a short video on complying with the Quarterly Issues/Programs List requirements here.
Continue Reading January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – A New FCC Administration, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, KidVid, Comment Deadlines and a Supreme Court Oral Argument on Ownership Issues

Last week, Chairman Pai gave a speech to the Media Institute in Washington, talking about his deregulatory accomplishments during his tenure as FCC Chairman.  Central to his speech was the suggestion that the broadcast ownership rules no longer made sense, as they regulate an incredibly small piece of the media landscape, while digital competitors, who are commanding a greater and greater share of the market for audience and advertising dollars, are essentially unregulated.  Not only are they unregulated, but the digital services that compete with broadcasting are owned and financed by companies who are the giants of the US economy.  In his speech, he noted that the company with the most broadcast TV ownership is dwarfed in market capitalization by the companies offering competing video services.

While the Chairman’s speech concentrated on television, mentioning radio only in passing, we note that many of these same issues are even more at play in the audio entertainment marketplace.  When the Chairman two months ago offered remarks on the hundredth anniversary of the first commercial radio station in the US, he recognized that radio has played a fundamental role in the communications world over the last century.  But that role faces more and more challenges, perhaps exaggerated by the pandemic when in many markets listeners are spending less time in cars where so much radio listening takes place.  There are many challenges to over-the-air radio as new sources of audio entertainment that sound and function similarly are more and more accessible to the public and more and more popular with listeners.  Over-the-air radio is already less a distinct industry than a part of the overall audio entertainment marketplace competing with streaming services, podcasts, satellite radio and other audio media.  These changes in listening habits are coupled with a change in the advertising marketplace, as the digital media giants now take over 50% of the local advertising market that was once the province of radio, television and newspapers.
Continue Reading Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai Calls for Modernization of Media Ownership Rules – Audio Competition Issues for the New FCC To Consider  

Here are some of the regulatory developments in the last week of significance to broadcasters -and a few dates to watch in the week ahead – with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC issued an order that locks in its

Zonecasting – the proposal by GeoBroadcast Solutions to allow FM boosters to originate limited amounts of programming different than their primary station – has advanced at the FCC though the release this week of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking formally asking if the FCC should adopt rules permitting this service and, if so, what those rules should be.  We wrote about the initial proposal earlier this year when it was first received by the FCC.  The proposal would allow an FM broadcaster to use an FM booster to geo-target ads and news to different parts of its service area by putting this different information (up to 5% of a station’s hourly programming) on a booster.  So, for instance, a station could be running an ad for a car dealer in one part of its market on its main station and originate an ad for a different local dealer in another part of the market by originating that programming on a booster – with both ads running at the same time.  This week’s NPRM asks numerous questions on many aspects of the proposal.

These questions generally center in three very general areas.  First, the FCC asks about the technical issues (would the service cause interference as boosters operate within the primary station’s 1 mv/m service area and operate on the same channel as the primary station – and would this system work with HD radio operations). Second, it asks about the operational issues (questions about how much origination should be allowed, what kinds of programming could be originated, how many different boosters should be allowed for each main station, and how the service would be rolled it out).  Finally, it asks about business and policy questions (including whether this is really a good thing for the industry and its economics).  We will provide a little more color on each of these areas below, but first it is worth mentioning the FCC’s treatment of a comment that was filed when this proposal was first advanced – seeking to expand this proposal to cover translators as well as boosters (see our article here on that proposal).
Continue Reading FCC Starts Rulemaking on Possible Adoption of GeoBroadcast Solutions Zonecasting Proposal to Allow FM Boosters to Originate Limited Amounts of Programming

This has obviously been a most unusual year.  So, on this Giving Tuesday (and it is also near my birthday, perhaps contributing to the desire to do something different), I thought that I would depart from our usual coverage of legal and policy issues and talk about something else – broadcasters giving back.  Broadcasters have long been known for their service to their communities, service celebrated in a statement by soon-to-depart Chairman Pai and in a tweet from Commissioner Rosenworcel (a potential replacement for the chairman in a new administration) on commercial radio’s 100th anniversary last month.  And while broadcasters are always giving back to their communities and should be celebrated for that, those of us who make our living in some aspect of the industry should recognize that there are plenty of ways for us to give back as well – both to those in the industry who are not as fortunate as some of the familiar success stories we hear, and to those who need assistance in obtaining education and training to enter the media industry we so appreciate.

During this year, those of us who have remained healthy and employed are truly blessed. While it may be a cliché, you don’t realize what you have until it is gone. We should all be thankful for jobs, friends and good fortune, and I urge readers who can to give back where possible.  In the broadcast industry itself, there are many groups doing good work. One in particular that I think bears mention is the Broadcasters Foundation of America, which provides relief to broadcasters and former broadcasters who have, for one reason or another, fallen on hard times – whether that be for health reasons or because of some other disaster that has affected their lives. The Foundation deserves your consideration. More about the Foundation and its service, and ways to contribute, can be found at their website, here.
Continue Reading Broadcasters and Giving Tuesday

While last Tuesday’s elections may well affect broadcast regulation in the future, there were several regulatory developments in the last week of immediate significance to broadcasters.  Here is a summary of some of those developments, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

It has been a busy week for regulatory actions affecting broadcasters.  Here are some of the significant developments of the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC held a virtual Open Meeting on Tuesday, voting to approve an