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

  • The National Association of Broadcasters this week announced that its CEO, Gordon Smith, will be stepping down at the end

The broadcast trade press is full today with the news that NAB CEO Gordon Smith will be stepping back from that position at the end of the year, to be replaced by current COO (and former head of Government Relations) Curtis LeGeyt.  As many will remember, Smith took over the organization over a decade ago during a turbulent time for the industry.  At the time, TV stations faced increasing calls for other uses of the broadcast spectrum, and radio stations faced a possible performance royalty on their over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings.  Since then, through all sorts of issues, there has been a general consensus in the industry that its leadership was in capable hands and meeting the issues as they arose.

But many issues remain for broadcasters – some of them ones that have never gone away completely.  The sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air broadcasting remains an issue, as do other music licensing issues calling for changes to the way that songwriters and composers are compensated, generally calling for higher payments or different compensation systems (see our articles here on the GMR controversy and here on the review of music industry antitrust consent decrees).  TV stations, while having gone through the incentive auction giving up significant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum, still face demands by wireless operators and others hungry for more spectrum to provide the many in-demand services necessary to meet the need for faster mobile services (see our articles here on C-Band redeployment and here on requests for a set aside of TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless users).  But competition from digital services may well be the biggest current issue facing broadcasters.
Continue Reading With a Change at the Top at the NAB as CEO Gordon Smith Plans His Departure – What are the Regulatory Issues That are Facing Broadcasters?

This week, six Congressional supporters of the broadcast performance royalty wrote a letter calling upon the NAB to sit down with music industry representatives to reach a "negotiated resolution" of the "longstanding disagreement" in a session to last from November 17 through December 1.  The letter suggests that the negotiations will be supervised by Members of Congress and the staff of the Judiciary Committees of Congress, with a report to be made by the Committee staff at the end of the negotiation period which will be considered by Congress in further actions on this issue.  The parties are instructed to bring individuals who have decision-making power to reach an agreement.  Could this call for negotiations really result in a deal that would lead to a law requiring that radio broadcasters pay a fee for the use of sound recordings on their over-the-air stations?

First, we must ask whether there will even be any negotiations.  The NAB’s only statement issued thus far says that they are willing to "talk to Congress" about the matter, but that they hoped that the discussion would include some of the almost 300 members of Congress who oppose the royalty.  As we’ve written before, the NAB has over 250 Congressmen and over 20 Senators signed on to resolutions opposing the performance royalty.  With the initial letter being signed by 6 supporters of the royalty, and the Judiciary Committees of both the House and Senate being filled with its supporters, why would the NAB be willing to jump into what could be seen as the lion’s den – engaging in a high stakes competition where the referees are on the record as favoring one side?  Note that the NAB statement says nothing about participating in "negotiations", which the former President of the NAB had said that he would never do.  We will have to see whether the change at the top of the NAB will bring a change in the attitude of the NAB.  New NAB President Gordon Smith, who has been in his job less than two weeks,  is said to be more of a consensus-builder than his predecessor, but he has had a very short time to come up to speed on the issue or to build any sort of consensus among those he now represents on where to go on this issue. 


Continue Reading Congressional Supporters of Performance Royalty Tell NAB to Negotiate With Music Industry – Will It Resolve Anything?

The NAB today announced that it has selected Gordon Smith, a former Republican Senator from Oregon, as its new President.  He succeeds David Rehr, who left the NAB last Spring.  Smith has been practicing law in Washington since leaving the Senate after being defeated in his reelection bid in the 2008 election.  While in the Senate, he served on the Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC.  From a quick on-line search, it appears that he was active in the push for the "broadcast flag" sought by broadcast program producers to identify copyrighted video content broadcast by digital television stations.  Other than his Congressional background, it does not appear that he has other direct broadcast experience.  I would be interested in any knowledge that readers of this blog have about other connections he may have to the broadcast media and any past positions that he has taken on broadcast issues.

Having someone with experience on Capitol Hill was clearly crucial to the NAB given how many controversial issues broadcasters are now facing from Congress and from the FCC.  When David Rehr departed, we wrote about the many issues facing the NAB, most of which are still pending.  These include: 

  • The potential broadcast performance royalty – i.e. the recording industry’s attempts to, for the first time,  impose a sound recording royalty on broadcasters for their over-the-air transmission of music

  • The FCC’s implementation of their White Areas order allowing wireless users to use parts of the TV spectrum – and the appeals and other attempts to overturn or modify that decision

  • The reauthorization of SHVERA, to continue to allow satellite companies to beam local television signals into local markets – where parties are raising all sorts of extraneous issues about carriage rights and retransmission consent, possible changes in TV market boundaries, and changes in the rights of satellite carriers to import distant signals.

  • The FCC’s localism proceeding, which could impose new obligations on broadcasters at a time when broadcast competition has never been so intense – when the marketplace should dictate how broadcasters best serve their communities

  • Potential Congressional effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine in some form or another

  • A number of FCC proceedings that could affect new methods of advertising meant to combat technological changes – like embedded advertising and product placement that are meant to partially overcome the effects of DVRs.

  • Congressional attempts to regulate advertising and programing – including potential efforts to restrict prescription drug ads, ED treatments, violent programming and programming that promotes unhealthy foods

  • FCC attempts to reign in technical changes in FM stations to allow them to take steps to increase power and to move into larger markets

  • Congressional moves to remove restrictions on LPFM stations on channels that are third-adjacent to full power facilities – and to potentially give these new stations rights to replace existing FM translators


Continue Reading NAB Selects Gordon Smith as New President