Another month is upon us, along with all of the FCC regulatory obligations that accompany it. August brings a host of license renewal obligations, along with EEO public file obligations in a number of states, as well as noncommercial Biennial Ownership Report filings in several states. We also expect that the FCC will notify stations of the date for the payment of their regulatory fees (which will either be due late this month or early next). As we reported yesterday, the filing of long-form translator applications for over 1000 applicants from the 2003 FM translator window also comes at the end of the month. There are comments due in a number of FCC proceedings. We’ll talk about some of those issues below. For TV broadcasters, we also suggest that you review our article that recently ran in TV NewsCheck, updating TV broadcasters on issues of relevance to them not only this month, but providing a description of the full gamut of issues facing TV broadcasters. We prepare this update for TV NewsCheck quarterly.

Today brings the deadline for the filing of license renewal applications for radio stations in California and for TV stations in Illinois and WisconsinStations in these states, and in North and South Carolina also have EEO public inspection file reports that should be placed in their public inspection files no later than today. Noncommercial TV stations in Illinois and Wisconsin also need to file Biennial Ownership Reports today, and noncommercial radio stations in California, North Carolina, and South Carolina should also file their Biennial Ownership Reports by today.


Continue Reading August FCC Regulatory Deadlines for Broadcasters – Including Renewals; EEO; Comments on Indecency, the Online Public File and Cross-Ownership

One of those stories on which I’ve been meaning to comment was the story from the week before last where trade press reports summarized a legal action being brought against a television station in Cleveland for having improperly used Arbitron information in connection with its efforts to sell local advertising time on Pandora, the Internet radio company. I don’t want to write about the merits of that proceeding (though it does highlight that stations need to avoid using Arbitron information without permission, as the company is aggressive in protecting what it perceives to be its intellectual property rights), but instead to ask a broader question about what such cross-selling indicates for the FCC’s ongoing analysis of the current media markets in connection with its review of the multiple ownership rules. The cross-selling between a traditional media company and a company like Pandora, which claims radio station-like ratings in many radio markets, or with any other new media company delivering audio or video, are outside of the FCC’s ownership prohibitions. Thus, traditional media companies, like the TV station involved in this case, can sell the new media company’s advertising, or theoretically even provide programming to the new media company, without any cross-interest implication. But a combination between a daily newspaper (no matter what its circulation) and a broadcast station is effectively prohibited under the FCC rules – even though the newspaper may have a smaller audience than the new media outlet in some markets.

As services like Pandora grow, claiming audiences for audio entertainment as large as many local radio stations, these companies could enter into agreements for cross-selling with traditional media companies, and could theoretically enter into arrangements for programming as well, with no restrictions short of those potentially imposed by antitrust laws. So a new media company can cross-sell with television stations (or newspapers, though according to an article last week, both Pandora’s partnerships with television stations and newspapers for joint sales are being phased out and replaced with their own sales forces), without any FCC regulation. A service like YouTube, serving up an amazing amount of video content each day, could enter into partnerships with daily newspapers or multiple radio station owners without triggering any of the cross-interest issues raised by a similar agreement with a television station. Any of these large scale Internet audio or video services could even buy radio or television properties without triggering any FCC concern at all. Yet, we are still arguing over whether the cross-ownership of a newspaper and broadcast station should be allowed. 


Continue Reading TV Station Sued by Arbitron for Using Ratings Data to Sell Local Pandora Ads – What Does This Say About the FCC’s Cross-Ownership Rules?

The FCC has released the agenda for its Workshop on the multiple ownership rules (about which we wrote here).  The workshop will span three mornings (November 2-4), and will include live testimony from a different panel each morning.  The first panel will include the academic perspective on ownership rules, the second the view from "public interest organizations", and the third from industry representatives, though the participants on that panel are, at this point, the most unsettled.  The Commission also requests written comments from the public, which can be filed through November 20.  As we wrote when this topic first came up last month, these workshops are the first step in the FCC’s consideration of the multiple ownership rules – a review that it is required to conduct once every 4 years – with 2010 being the year in which such review is required. 

The Commission sets out a series of questions that it would like to have addressed.  These questions include:

  • The FCC is required by statute to consider the rules governing local radio ownership, local television ownership, radio-TV cross-ownership, broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership and the dual network rule.  The Commission asks if it should consider other rules in the context of this proceeding.
  • In assessing ownership rules, should the Commission treat each rule in isolation, or should it look at all media together and attempt to craft more general rules addressing media consolidation as a whole in relevant markets?
  • Should rules that are adopted be "bright line" rules, that limit entities to specific numbers of stations, or should the Commission make a case by case determination of whether a combination is in the public interest, subject to some general principles?
  • Should the Commission address the traditional concepts of competition, diversity and localism to this proceeding, or come up with new ways of looking at these concepts, or different concepts to assess ownership goals?
  •  How should the FCC analyze competition, localism and diversity in today’s marketplace?  What are the relevant markets for analysis?  What metrics should be used?
  • What studies or analysis should the FCC use to inform its decisions on these topics.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Agenda for First Workshop on Revisions to its Multiple Ownership Rules – Localism and Economic Competition Issues Included

In a Public Notice issued yesterday, the FCC announced that it would do a series of open "workshops" in connection with its review of the broadcast multiple ownership rules – the rules that restrict the number of radio or television stations which one party can own and which restrict the cross-ownership of radio and TV stations and newspapers in the same market.  The FCC is poised to begin its quadrennial review of the ownership rules in 2010.  The open proceedings just announced (without details of how many workshops will be held) will be used to gather information for the Commission’s review of the rules. According to the public notice "the Commission will seek viewpoints and information from a broad range of experts; consumers; public interest and trade associations; labor unions; media industry representatives, both traditional and new; and other interested persons,"  as the first step in this review process. So what is this all about?

As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC was instructed to do a regular review of broadcast multiple ownership rules, seemingly with the intent of reducing the prohibitions of those rules as part of the general deregulatory spirit of that Act.  Originally, proceedings were to review the rules every two years, a Biennial Review.  However, those reviews kept dragging on and becoming consolidated with each other so Congress eventually amended the law to require that the review take place only once every four years.  But each time the FCC has taken action on the rules, especially any time there has been any liberalization, there has been a major outcry from consumer groups that they were left out of the process.  Perhaps the just announced hearings are an attempt to short circuit that protest by getting the public involved even before the process begins.


Continue Reading FCC Plans Public Workshops to be Held in Connection with Its Review of Broadcast Ownership Rules

Yesterday, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit Morning News, which operate their publication and distribution operations through a joint operating agreement, announced that they will cut back on the physical publication of their papers – publishing full editions delivered to homes only three days a week.  On other days, the papers will publish an abbreviated version, available only on newsstands.  The papers will not abandon news coverage the remainder of the week, but will instead concentrate on their on-line presence, showing the power of the Internet to disrupt traditional media.  As we said years ago in one of our first posts on this blog – New Media Changes Everything, and it seems that this is just another indication of how true that is.  The broadcast media, particularly radio, has often looked at the advertisers served by the daily paper as a ripe source of new business, and may well see the Detroit change as a major business opportunity.  But does it also change the FCC’s consideration of the multiple ownership rules applicable to radio and television cross-ownership with newspapers?

The FCC’s multiple ownership rules prohibit the ownership of a broadcast station and a "daily" newspaper that serve the same area.  The rules define a daily paper as one that is "published" at least four days each week, and is circulated "generally in the community."  Here, the Detroit papers arguably will not meet that 4 day a week requirement – at least for a publication that is generally circulated throughout the community.  Of course, some may argue that the abbreviated newsstand copy constitutes a daily publication but one would assume that, sooner or later, even that will disappear.  Thus, while there has been so much controversy about the Commission’s decision of one year ago (summarized here) deciding that combinations of broadcast properties and newspapers in Top 20 markets were presumed to be permissible, while those in smaller markets were not, one questions whether this still makes any sense in today’s marketplace where seemingly few can profitably publish a daily paper in most markets, and no one seems to want to rescue the many papers that have fallen on hard times. 


Continue Reading Detroit Newspapers Cut Back on Publishing and Home Delivery – What’s the Impact on FCC Ownership Regulation?

The FCC has released its agenda for its December 18 meeting – and it promises to be one of the most important,and potentially most contentious, in recent memory.  On the agenda is the Commission’s long awaited decision on the Chairman’s broadcast multiple ownership plan relaxing broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules (see our summary here).  Also, the FCC will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism issues (pending issues summarized here) following the conclusion of its nationwide hearings on the topic, as well as an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on initiatives to encourage broadcast ownership by minorities and other new entrants (summary here).  For cable companies, the Commission has scheduled a proposed order on national ownership limits.  And, in addition to all these issues on ownership matters, the FCC will also consider revising its sponsorship identification rules to determine if new rules need to be adopted to cover "embedded advertising", i.e. product placement in broadcast programs.  All told, these rules could result in fundamental changes in the media landscape.

The broadcast ownership items, dealing with broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership, localism and diversity initiatives, all grow out of the Commission’s attempts to change the broadcast ownership rules in 2003.  That attempt was largely rejected by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded most of the rules back to the FCC for further consideration, including considerations about their impact on minority ownership.  The localism proceeding was also an outgrowth of that proceeding, started as an attempt by the Commission to deal with consolidation critics who felt that the public had been shut out of the process of determining the rules in 2003, and claiming that big media was neglecting the needs and interests of local audiences.


Continue Reading FCC Meeting Agenda for December 18 – Potentially One of the Most Important in Recent Memory – Multiple Ownership, Localism, Minority Ownership, Product Placement and Cable TV National Ownership Caps

With a possible decision looming on December 18 on the Chairman’s proposal to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules (see our summary here and here), the FCC this week granted two applications involving the sales of the Tribune Company and of the Clear Channel television stations, where the decisions focused on the application of the multiple ownership rules – and where the Commission granted multiple waivers of various aspects of those rules – some on a permanent basis and many only temporarily.  And, in the process, both of the Commission’s Democratic Commissioners complained about the apparent prejudgment of the cross-ownership rules and one complained about the role of private equity in broadcast ownership.  Both decisions are also interesting in their treatment of complicated ownership structures and, at least under this administration, evidence the Commission’s desire to stay out of second guessing these structures. 

In the Clear Channel decision, the Commission reviewed the proposed ownership of the new licensee by an affiliate of Providence Equity Partners.  As there were no objections to the proposed sale, the FCC approval process was somewhat easier than it might have been – though the Commission did seem to be somewhat troubled by the fact that Providence was already a shareholder with an interest attributable under the multiple ownership rules in Univision Communications, which had stations in a number of markets in which the Clear Channel television stations operate.  The Commission approved the sale, giving Providence 6 months to come into compliance with the ownership rules – and conditioning the initial closing of the Clear Channel sale on Providence meeting divestiture requirements that it had promised to observe in connection with the Univision acquisition, and had not yet complied with (in fact the Commission recently asked for comments on a proposal by Providence to come into compliance in the Univision case by simply converting their interest in Freedom Communications, which has interests in Univision markets, into a nonvoting interest which would not be attributable under Commission rules)


Continue Reading Ownership Waivers All Around – FCC Approves Sales of Tribune and Clear Channel TV