Last week, the Senate approved a reauthorization of STELA, the new bill called STELAR (the “STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014”), adopting the version that had been approved by the House of Representatives earlier in the month.  In addition to simply giving satellite television companies (essentially DISH and DirecTV) the a five-year extension of their rights to rebroadcast the signals of over-the-air television stations without authorization from every copyright holder of the programming broadcast on those stations, STELAR made other changes to both the Communications and Copyright Acts that will have an impact on TV station operators once this bill is signed by the President.  The Presidential signing is expected before the end of the year.  [Update, 12/5/2014 the President signed the Bill yesterday evening, so it is now law]

Some of the important provisions for TV stations contained in this bill include provisions that impact not only the relationship between TV stations and satellite TV companies, but also ones that have a broader impact on the relationship of TV stations with all MVPDs, including cable systems. There is also a provision actually providing more latitude for LPTV stations to negotiate carriage agreements.  Some of the specific provisions of this bill include:

JSA Extension:  STELAR will give TV stations currently operating with a Joint Sales Agreement with another station in their market which they cannot own under the current multiple ownership rules 6 more months to terminate such operations – until December 19, 2016 (after the next Presidential election).  See our discussion of the changes in JSA attribution here and here.
Continue Reading Congress Passes STELAR – Renewing Authorization of Satellite Carriers Carriage of TV Stations – With Some Important Changes to JSA, Retransmission Consent and Market Modification Rules

The FCC on Friday voted to extend its rule about captioning TV video repurposed to the Internet so as to cover not only full television programs, but also clips of those programs.  While the rules already require that TV programming that is captioned when broadcast to be captioned when retransmitted in full over the Internet, the new rules, to be phased in as described below, require that clips of TV programs that were broadcast with captions also be captioned when repurposed for online use.  In addition to adopting the rules for phasing in this new requirement, the Commission also asked several questions in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking some technical questions about the rules that it already adopted, and also whether to expand the requirements to other services and to programming that mixes both programming excepted from TV and programming that is original to the Internet.   

While the full text of the FCC’s decision has not yet been released, from the discussion at the FCC meeting and from its Public Notice about the rules, the outlines of the newly imposed obligations seem fairly clear.  The rules adopted for video clips, and the timeline for the implementation of these rules, are as follows: 

  • January 1, 2016 – captioning for “straight lift” clips, which are defined as a single excerpt of a program that had been captioned when first shown on TV, with the same video and audio as had been broadcast.
  • January 1, 2017 – captioning for video montages – which are collections of clips from different broadcasts, where all had been captioned when broadcast.  
  • July 1, 2017 – captioning for clips of time-sensitive (i.e., live or near-live) programming.  There will be a “grace period” between TV airing and required online captioning of 12 hours for live programming and eight hours for near-live programming.  (The staff confirmed during the post-meeting press conference that once the grace period expires, the posted clip must be captioned; if an earlier, non-captioned version was posted, it must be replaced.)

The Commission discussed that there would be some potential for waivers of these rules for small market stations, but the details of the standards that would apply were not detailed.  Also, there are some limitations on the obligations for posting of video clips that do not apply to the captioning obligations for full-length programs.  Those limitations are discussed below. 
Continue Reading FCC Adopts New Obligations to Caption Online Video Clips of TV Programs

It is the beginning of another year – and a time to look ahead to look ahead at what broadcasters should expect from Washington in the coming year.  With so many issues on the table, we’ll divide the issues into two parts – talking about FCC issues today, and issues from Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington’s alphabet soup of regulatory agencies in the near future.  In addition, watch these pages for our calendar of regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in the next few days.

Each January, we publish a list of issues for the coming year, and it is not always the case that these issues make it to the top of various piles (literal or figurative) that sit in various offices at the FCC.  As set forth below, there are a number of FCC proceedings that remain open, and could be resolved this year.  But just as often, a good number of these issues sit unresolved to be included, once again, on our list of issues for next year.  While some issues are almost guaranteed to be considered, others are a crap shoot as to whether they will in fact bubble up to the top of the FCC’s long list of pending items. So this list should not be seen as a definitive list of what will be considered by the FCC this year, but instead as an alert as to what might be coming your way this year. Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.
Continue Reading What’s Up in Washington For Broadcasters in 2014? — Part 1, FCC Issues

Sometimes the FCC decisions come out in a flurry, often with little nuggets of importance in each one.  Rather than trying to write about each one, we’ll from time to time, just try to highlight those nuggets for your consideration.  At the end of last week, three decisions came out with just such nuggets – all dealing with different issues.  The first case involved the issue of divestiture trusts – trusts set up to hold broadcast assets when a buyer of broadcast properties, usually in connection with the acquisition of a broadcast group, needs to divest some stations so that the buyer remains in compliance with the multiple ownership rules (usually in radio where the attribution of LMAs and JSAs make impossible divestitures like those used in television, to parties with no connection to the buyer but operating with a Shared Services or Joint Sales agreement).  In the past, the FCC has not put any limit on how long the stations could remain in a divestiture trust, with some stations spending 5 or 6 years (or longer) in such trusts before they are finally sold.  This case involved an acquisition of a large number of radio stations by Townsquare Media from Cumulus.  Here, the Commission established a two year limit on period of time that the trust could hold the stations placed in its care.  Thus, the trustee needs to divest of those stations within that period.  We would not be surprised to see that limit imposed on any trusts created in the future – perhaps even on some longstanding trusts still in place when they are subject to renewal applications, where such trusts have been challenged from time to time.

In TV, often stations that cannot be owned by a broadcaster who is buying another station in the same market consistent with the multiple ownership rules are not sold through a trust, but instead they are sometime bought by an independent party who can support the station through some sort of Joint Sales or Shared Services Agreements with the buyer.  In one of those cases, the continuation of an existing Shared Services Agreement was challenged in connection with the sale of the brokering station held by Young Broadcasting to Media General.  The FCC again (as they have in many cases before, see for instance our article here), held that the sale was permissible and that the SSA could continue after the sale.  The brokering station did supply news to the brokered station, but it was under 15% of the program time, and thus not attributable.  The brokered station continued to have a financial incentive to operate the station successfully, keeping 70% of the cash flow of the station.  And the mere fact that the owner of the brokering station guaranteed the debt of the brokered station did not make that interest attributable to the broker.  Note, however, that the Commission did question the staffing of the brokered station but, as that station was not being transferred as part of the sale before the FCC, the Commission said that they would review that issue in connection with the license renewal of the brokered station.  Shared Service Agreements are also under consideration in the current Quadrennial review of the FCC’s multiple ownership rules (see our stories here and here ).  So some of these issues may be revisited again in the not too distant future, when the new FCC Chair decides to complete that review.
Continue Reading Odds and Ends – Divestiture Trusts, Shared Services Agreements and Determinations of Significantly Viewed Stations

The FCC’s proposals for aiding AM radio have been released in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – one of the last actions for broadcasters under Acting FCC Chairman Mignon Clyburn (see our article here on the leftover broadcast issues with which her successor as chairman, Tom Wheeler, will have to deal).  The proposals for revitalizing the AM band that were contained in the NPRM are all ones that the Acting Chair had previewed at the NAB Radio Show, which we summarized in our article about that speech.  While the general proposals that were made in the NPRM were not surprising, in most of these areas there were a couple of surprises in the details – some of which will may be of concern to some broadcasters.

The Commission made several proposals, including the following:

  • A special FM translator window where applications would be restricted to AM licensees.
  • Reduction of both daytime and nighttime city-grade coverage obligations of existing AM stations.
  • Elimination of the ratchet rule that requires that any AM station making facilities changes do so in a way that reduces overall interference in the AM band (in many cases compelling a reduction of service if a change is proposed)
  • The potential for more liberal use of MDCL technologies, which decrease transmitter power when modulation of the station decrease, potentially saving power (though raising some questions about the robustness of the signal that will result)
  • The modification of AM efficiency standards in some way to allow for shorter towers that could be located on rooftops or in other more limited spaces – though the Commission asked for more comments on how its current rules actually limited such uses
  • A general request for other ideas that could help AM stations.

We will cover the special translator window in today’s post, and cover the other issues in more detail in the future.  Most of the other proposals deal with making facilities changes to the AM station, in some cases changes that might actually decrease service to their current service areas (e.g. were some stations to take advantage of the proposed city-coverage limitation to move further from the station’s city of license).  The translator proposal is the one most likely to bring the most relief to the most AM broadcasters in the heart of their service area – and is one that can be quickly implemented.  So below, we will look at the translator proposal in more detail. 
Continue Reading FCC Proposals For AM Improvements – Part 1 – A Restricted FM Translator Window and an End to the Mattoon Waiver?

At long last, it appears that we will soon have a complete FCC, as the Senate has approved the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be the next FCC Chairman, and Michael O’Rielly for the other vacancy on the FCC.  The nomination of Mr. Wheeler had been held up by Senator Ted Cruz on grounds that he feared the FCC taking action to implement provisions of the Disclose Act (which we wrote about here).  Senator Cruz was particularly concerned that a new FCC might adopt rules that would require disclosure not just of a political ads sponsor, but also of the chief financing sources of the sponsor.  Mr. Wheeler apparently assured Senator Cruz that the adoption of such a rule was not high on his agenda, the hold on the nomination was dropped, and the new Chairman was confirmed.  He should take office very soon – with press reports suggesting that it will be on Monday.  What issues should broadcasters expect the new FCC to tackle?

There are many big issues for broadcasters that are under consideration but not decided, and we would expect that the new FCC chair would want to quickly start to deal with them.  The biggest issue is no doubt the Incentive Auctions – looking at the reclaiming of spectrum from TV broadcasters to allow it to be re-sold to wireless companies for wireless broadband and other uses.  We last wrote about that incredibly complex proceeding here.  The FCC under Chairman Genachowski had looked to have rules in place before the end of this year to reclaim the spectrum and to sell it to the wireless companies.  The former chair had hoped to have the auction itself occur in 2014.  With the delays in the confirmation of the Chairman, and the recent government shutdown, many observers are expecting the rules will be pushed back to next year, and the auction itself to the year after – but all that remains to be seen.
Continue Reading Tom Wheeler Confirmed As FCC Chair – What Broadcast Issues Will the New FCC be Addressing?