Investors in broadcast properties often seek to have their interests "insulated" from "attribution"   meaning that the interests do not count in a multiple ownership analysis.  In other words, if a party has an attributable interest in a company owning a broadcast station, that interest counts in determining whether the party can, under the FCC’s multiple ownership rules, own an interest in another station in the same market.  The FCC has extensive case law describing when an interest is non-attributable and does not count in a multiple ownership review.  In most cases, a non-attributable interest is one that does not hold voting rights on most company decisions.  However, the Commission has always recognized that the non-attributable, non-voting equity owner may retain certain voting rights when dealing with certain fundamental company actions, as necessary to protect the fundamental integrity of their investment.  In the recent decision approving the transfer of the Ion Media Network broadcast stations, the FCC clarified some of the permissible voting rights of nonattributable shareholders.

In the past, the FCC has permitted nonattributable owners to vote on certain fundamental actions of a company without threatening the owner’s nonattributable status.  Such fundamental actions included changes in the articles of organization or the by-laws of the company, a sale of more than 10% of the assets of the company, a merger or transfer of control of the company, a declaration of bankruptcy, or the issuance of new stock.  As these actions could all affect the fundamentals of the economic interests of the nonattributable owners, votes on these actions was permitted.  In the Ion Media case, new rights were found to not affect the non-attributable status of their investments

Continue Reading FCC Clarifies Permissible Activities of Nonattributable Investors

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