The FCC this week released its draft order proposing to eliminate the requirement that broadcasters file certain contracts relating to ownership and control with the Commission. Instead, the disclosure of these documents will be made simply by observing the current requirement that stations either (1) make those documents available in the station’s online public file, or (2) make available a list of the required documents in the online public file with the documents themselves provided within 7 days to anyone who requests them, including the FCC. Certain other clarifications about the disclosure of such documents were contained in the draft order, which is expected to be adopted at the FCC meeting on October 23.

Among the documents that are required to be in the public file are those showing the governance of the license entity (e.g., articles of incorporation and bylaws); options and other documents related to future ownership rights; joint sales and time brokerage agreements; and television network affiliation agreements.   In the draft order, the FCC requires that such documents be included in the online public file (either in full or by inclusion on the list) within 30 days of execution, or within 30 days of any amendment or other modification of the agreement. If only a list of the documents is provided in the file, all the information that is required on an Ownership Report, where such documents are listed, would be required – including the name of the parties involved and the execution and expiration dates of the agreements.
Continue Reading FCC Releases Draft Order to Eliminate Broadcasters’ Obligations to File Contracts, Relying on Online Public File to Make Documents Available

With the FCC about to propose changes in its national ownership cap for television at its meeting tomorrow (see our article here), we thought that we would take a look back to the week before Thanksgiving, when the FCC made some important decisions for the broadcast industry – including the approval of the Next Generation TV transmission standard and the change in numerous broadcast ownership rules.  We promised to take a deeper look at these decisions when the texts of the orders were released, and here is a look at some of the interesting items in the ownership decision.  We will only lightly touch on radio issues here, concentrating primarily on TV matters, as the FCC made few changes that directly affected radio, pushing most to the next Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules, likely to begin next year.  We’ll post some thoughts on radio issues at some point in the future.

Certainly, there was plenty of legal discussion about the standards for reconsidering an FCC decision (this reconsideration being a review of the FCC’s ownership order adopted under the last administration in August 2016).  While the FCC ultimately concluded that it could review the 2016 decision where it believed that there were substantial errors in the Commission’s initial decision, the legal wrangling over the process for the review is perhaps less interesting to most in the broadcast industry than is some of the other discussion contained in the order and what that may portend for further ownership review by this administration.  So let’s look at the FCC’s discussion of the various issues that it faced in the reconsideration order.
Continue Reading A Deeper Dive on The FCC’s Ownership Order

According to the testimony given yesterday by FCC Chairman Pai at an oversight hearing before the House of Representatives Communications and Technology Subcommittee, the FCC is likely to release today a draft of its order on reconsideration of last year’s FCC decision on its Quadrennial Review of its broadcast ownership rules (the rules restricting the

The FCC today announced that it is extending, by one week, the time in which to file comments on the Petitions for Reconsideration of the FCC’s decision on media ownership rules. The challenges, about which we wrote here, deal with issues including the local television ownership limits, the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, the attribution

Tomorrow, the Petitions for Reconsideration of the FCC’s multiple ownership decision is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register (see the pre-publication draft here). This will start the clock on comments on those petitions. If publication occurs as scheduled, comments will be due on Tuesday, January 17 and replies on Friday, January 27 (update: the actual  Federal Register publication states that Replies are due January 24, but we believe that is probably an error, as the FCC rules require 10 days for a reply – watch for a further update). As we wrote here in connection with the comment dates on Petitions for Reconsideration of the abolition of the UHF discount, and here when we commented on the potential impact of the Presidential election of broadcast law, this may be one of the first opportunities where we will be able to assess the meaning of the changes in the membership of the FCC. We will see to what extent the new administration will be willing to roll back the decisions made by the FCC under its old leadership.

The Petitions for Reconsideration raise several issues, both for radio and TV. Questions are raised as to whether the local TV ownership restrictions continue to make sense in today’s economic world – particularly those limiting the co-ownership of any two of the Top 4 stations in a market, and limiting any co-ownership to markets where there will be 8 independently owned and programmed stations.  Attribution of stations that are subject to a Joint Sales Agreement is also questioned. Finally, questions are raised as to whether the FCC is justified in imposing new filing requirements for documents relating to joint operations between TV stations, seemingly looking to collect information in order to impose in the future some sort of restriction on any sort of shared services agreement.
Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Petitions for Reconsideration to be Published in the Federal Register Setting Dates for Public Comment

After months of speculation, Chairman Wheeler today announced that he will step down from the FCC on Inauguration Day. Together with the Senate not confirming the renomination of Commissioner Rosenworcel (as the Senate is effectively on recess and not expected to return before the end of the term, her renomination will almost certainly not be approved in this session of Congress, meaning that she must step down when the Congress adjourns on January 3), that leaves three Commissioners on the FCC. Two are the current Republican commissioners – Pai and O’Rielly – and Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. What will that mean for broadcasters?

First, it is expected that one of the two Republicans will be named as Acting Chairman to set the agenda for the first few months of the Trump administration, until a permanent Chair is announced (and confirmed by the Senate, if that Chair is not one of the two current Republicans). These commissioners have been vocal in their dissents on several big issues for broadcasters – including the repeal of the UHF discount (about which we wrote earlier this week) and on other issues dealing with the ownership of television stations – including the decision to not repeal the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, and the decision to reinstate the FCC’s ban on Joint Sales Agreements in TV unless they are done between stations that can be co-owned. We already speculated about these issues being on the Republican agenda soon after the election. What other issues are likely to be considered?
Continue Reading And Then There Were Three – Chairman Wheeler to Step Down on Inauguration Day Leaving a Republican-Controlled FCC – What’s It Mean for Broadcasters?

While the trade press has been full of reports that the FCC has voted on an order addressing the issues raised in its Quadrennial Review of its multiple ownership rules, and that the decision largely left those rules unchanged (including the broad ban on the cross-ownership of daily newspapers and broadcast stations), no final decision on the review has yet been released. However, we did see on Friday that, in the FCC’s list of matters pending before the Commission for approval “on circulation” (i.e. to be voted on without being considered at an FCC open meeting) the ownership item was removed from the list of pending items, seemingly confirming that the decision has in fact been voted on and is thus no longer circulating for approval. If the press reports are to be believed, there has been no major change in the rules despite much last minute hope for some relaxation of the newspaper cross-interest rule. The rules are thus likely to be those indicated by the Chairman in his blog post in late June, which we summarized here. Even if the most significant rules (e.g. local ownership rules for radio and TV – the “duopoly” rules, and the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules) remain unchanged, that does not mean that the broadcast community should ignore the upcoming decision, as there are bound to be other issues addressed in the order that may be of significance.

In connection with the newspaper cross-ownership rules, while the press reports indicate that the rules will remain in place, there are reports that there will be some sort of waiver allowed, seemingly where economics justify the combination. If this is akin to the “failing station” waiver used to justify the ownership of 2 TV stations in markets where such ownership would normally not be allowed, some have wondered, given the economic state of the newspaper industry, if such a waiver would ever be used as it will be a rare case where a last-minute broadcast combination will rescue a failing newspaper. But we will need to see what the details are of the waiver standard to be applied.
Continue Reading Preparing for the FCC’s Soon to be Released Decision on Changes to its Multiple Ownership Rules

The FCC yesterday announced a consent decree with Media General by which Media General agreed to pay a $700,000 “settlement payment” to the US Treasury to settle the investigation of its attempts to enforce the provisions of a Joint Sales Agreement with Schurz Communications.  Media General had tried to enforce the JSA when Schurz tried to terminate that agreement in order to sell its station to Gray Television.  Media General tried to get an injunction from a state court seeking to stop the sale, continue the JSA, and prevent Schurz or Gray from putting the station into the incentive auction.  As we wrote here when the case first arose, the FCC wrote to the court, contending that the injunction would not only violate the conditions placed on the sale by the FCC (that the Schurz station be sold before the Gray deal could close) but, more importantly for the general broadcast community, that the restrictions on the sale of the station, and its participation in the incentive auction, were improper restrictions on the control rights of the licensee.  Essentially, the FCC was saying the licensee’s right to sell the spectrum it had was not one that could be conveyed to a third party.  The FCC even stated its intention to initiate a proceeding to determine whether Media General’s FCC licenses should be revoked.

What we wrote when the case came out, and what we wonder now, is what the FCC considers the degree to which a licensee’s ability to sell its spectrum can be limited by contract or agreement.  Yesterday’s release provides no guidance, as it was simply a settlement agreement.  The consent decree recites what the FCC was initially concerned with, but Media General did not admit any liability, and the consent decree does not reach any conclusion as to the actual basis of the settlement payment.  So it is conceivable that the FCC was actually only worried about the attempts by Media General to require that the station be kept and the JSA stay in place, even though the FCC ordered that it end.  It may not have been a case dealing principally with control at all, but instead one dealing with grandfathered JSAs and whether those JSAs can stay in place after the sale of one of the television stations involved in the arrangement.  Otherwise, if the case was really about putting limits on the degree to which contracts can limit the ability of a licensee to sell its station, that issue could have had much broader implications than the FCC may have intended.
Continue Reading $700,000 to Be Paid By Media General to End Inquiry on its Attempts to Enforce a JSA – What are the Limits on the Enforceability of a Contractual Restriction on an FCC Licensee’s Sale of its Station?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler this week released a “fact sheet” setting out a summary of the draft order now circulating among the FCC Commissioners for review and possible approval. This order, if adopted, would resolve the Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules. As we wrote here, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently pushed the FCC to quickly resolve this proceeding. The FCC had punted two years ago when it decided that it could not resolve its 2010 Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules and pushed consideration of most of the issues forward to this Quadrennial Review, preliminarily suggesting that few rule changes were necessary. The Chairman’s fact sheet seems to suggest that, in fact, few are being proposed.

  • With one exception, despite the proliferation of new media outlets that compete for the revenue and audience of over-the-air radio and television, the proposed changes set out in the fact sheet seem to make the ownership rules more restrictive – not less restrictive. In other words, traditional media is not given any significantly greater leeway to combine operations to compete with its digital competitors. The one exception is a very modest proposal to allow case-by-case waivers of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule (which some commentators, including us, have suggested may outlive the newspaper), but only where it can be shown that there are economically failing media entities looking to combine. The order addresses basic FCC ownership rules as follows:
    Continue Reading FCC Chairman Releases Summary of Media Ownership Reform Proposals – Little Change in Existing Ownership Rules, Reinstatement of JSA Ban

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday issued an opinion faulting the FCC for not completing any required review of its broadcast ownership rules since the 2006 review was completed in 2007. These reviews of its ownership rules, now done as “Quadrennial Reviews” every four years, but previously required to be done biennially, have been the subject of much judicial review and delay in the past 9 years. Because of the delays in finalizing a review and addressing issues previously raised by the Court, yesterday’s decision ordered the FCC to meet with certain parties who brought the appeal to finalize a timetable for FCC review of the rules designed to promote minority ownership of broadcast stations. At the same time, the Court threw out the FCC’s 2014 decision determining that television Joint Sales Agreements were attributable interests (see our article here), which had essentially banned these agreements in most markets as the attribution of an interest in one station to the owner of another station in the same market would constitute a combination of stations not permitted under the local TV duopoly rules. The discussion in the decision also raised questions as to whether the FCC could justify the continued existence of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules given the radically changed state of the newspaper industry since these rules were adopted over 40 years ago.

While much has been made of the decision overturning the attribution of television Joint Sales Agreements, that part of the decision was actually a narrow one, and one which leaves the FCC in a position where it could reinstitute the attribution requirement when it completes its current review of the ownership rules. The Court looked at the 2014 decision determining that JSAs should be attributable, and concentrated on the dissenting opinion of Commissioner Pai. The Commissioner argued that the FCC’s decision making the interests attributable ignored record evidence that such combinations were in the public interest. The dissenting opinion said that some combinations were necessary, particularly in smaller television markets, to permit the profitable operations of weaker stations in these markets, and that the agreements otherwise contributed to the public interest by allowing stations that could not afford news and other beneficial programming to air such programming. The Commission dismissed those arguments, contending that they were really addressing questions as to whether more small market TV duopolies should be permitted. But, as the FCC did not address whether small market TV duopolies might be in the public interest, but instead deferred that decision until the next Quadrennial Review, the Court found (as Commissioner Pai had argued) that the FCC decision could not be justified. The FCC could not ban JSAs as not being in the public interest until they considered the arguments as to whether small market duopolies, which could permit many of the JSAs to continue even if attributable, were in the public interest.
Continue Reading Appeals Court Tells FCC to Finalize Multiple Ownership Review, Throws Out TV JSA Attribution, and Questions Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Ban