local radio ownership rules

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?

The United States Supreme Court yesterday released its decision upholding the FCC’s 2017 changes to its ownership rules in the FCC v Prometheus Radio Project case (see our summary here).  Those rules had been put on hold in 2019 by a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the FCC had to develop a more detailed record on the impact of rule changes on minority ownership before making any such changes (see our summary of that decision here).  The Supreme Court did not issue a sweeping decision evaluating the competitive landscape for the broadcast industry, nor was it expected to.  Instead, the Court decision was a narrow legal one, looking at whether the decision of the FCC was entitled to traditional judicial deference to expert administrative agencies.

The Supreme Court was reviewing the legal question of whether the FCC’s 2017 review of diversity was adequately justified.  In 2017, the FCC determined that that no substantial impact on diversity was proven by any party who filed comments in the media ownership proceeding and, to the extent that there was an impact, the benefits of making broadcast companies stronger competitors in today’s media marketplace outweighed that impact.  The Third Circuit would have had the FCC conduct a sweeping historical analysis of the impact of past instances where the ownership rules were relaxed to see the impact on minority ownership so that the FCC could judge the likely impact of new changes to the rules.  The Supreme Court found that the FCC had no obligation to conduct its own studies into that issue and, based on the evidence before the FCC, its decision to relax the rules was not an arbitrary one.  Thus, it was entitled to the deference given to decisions of expert regulatory agencies (see our article here on the deference given to administrative agency decisions).  In essence, this was a narrow decision based on principles of administrative law to which all nine Justices, liberal and conservative, could agree.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Reinstates 2017 FCC Changes to Broadcast Ownership Rules Including the End to Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Ban – But Radio Changes Yet to Come

There were several reports in the broadcast trade press today about an article in the Hill newsletter from retiring Congressman Greg Walden about his proposals to increase diversity in broadcast ownership.  Congressman Walden, a former broadcaster, seeks in his Broadcast Diversity in Leadership Act to foster minority ownership and ownership by new entrants by establishing in legislation an incubator program similar to the one adopted by the FCC in 2018, but put on hold by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in their decision on broadcast ownership (which is now before the Supreme Court – see our post here).  While, given the short time before the end of the Congressional session, the Congressman’s bill stands little chance of passing both houses of Congress and being adopted before the end of the year, the bill is worth reviewing as it has the support of both the NAB and minority-advocacy organizations, so it could well resurface in a new Congress.

The bill adopts much of the framework of the FCC’s incubator program (which we outlined in our article here).  Under the proposed legislation, an existing broadcaster could work with an aspiring broadcaster to help that new entrant purchase and operate a broadcast station. The bill asks the FCC to adopt rules outlining the support that could be provided to the new entrant, including training, financing and access to resources of the established broadcaster. The established broadcaster could even hold a non-controlling equity interest in the emerging broadcaster, as long as the new entrant retains control.  In exchange for providing the services or financing, if the incubation is determined to be successful after a two-year period, the existing broadcaster would be allowed to acquire one station in a similarly sized market that exceeded the current cap on broadcast ownership allowed by Section 73.3555 of the Commission’s rules.  So, if the existing broadcaster operates in a market where one party can only own 6 stations, it could acquire a seventh.
Continue Reading Congressman Walden Urges Adoption of Broadcast Diversity in Leadership Act – An Incubator Program to Assist New Entrants to Broadcast Ownership

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice calling for public comment on the state of the communications marketplace so that it can prepare a report to Congress – a report that is required every even-numbered year.  The Notice calls for comments on the state of competition in various sectors of the communications industry – including for audio and video.  The inclusion of audio in this report is relatively new – being included for the first time two years ago (see our article here).  Comments in this proceeding are due on April 13, with replies due May 13.

The Audio Competition Report prepared two years ago was very important in informing the FCC as to the state of competition in that segment of the market.  Comments filed with the Commission on the report were incorporated in the record of the FCC’s Quadrennial Review Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which entertained the possibility of changes in the ownership rules for broadcast radio in light of the substantial competition that comes from digital audio sources (see our article here on the Quadrennial Review NPRM).  Whether this year’s report will be as crucial is unknown, as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the FCC’s 2017 ownership rule changes have, for now, put all broadcast ownership changes on hold while the FCC (and the Department of Justice) decide whether to appeal that case to the Supreme Court or to attempt to answer the Third Circuit’s concerns that the FCC had not sufficiently addressed the impact of changes in its ownership rules on minority ownership (see our articles here and here).  While these decisions are being made, it appears that all ownership changes are on hold.
Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on the State of the Communications Marketplace – Including for Audio and Video

Most years, at some point in January, we look into our crystal ball and try to see some of the legal and regulatory issues likely to face broadcasters.  We already provided a calendar of the routine regulatory filings that are due this year (see our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar).  But not on that calendar are the policy issues that will affect the regulatory landscape in the coming year, and into the future.  This year, the biggest issue will no doubt be the November election.  Obviously, broadcasters must deal with the many day-to-day issues that arise in an election year including the rates to be charged political candidates, the access to airtime afforded to those candidates, and the challenges associated with the content of issue advertising that non-candidate groups seek to transmit to the public.  The election in November will also result in a President being inaugurated in just less than a year – which could signal a continuation of the current policies at the FCC or potentially send the Commission in a far different direction.  With the time that the election campaigns will demand from Congress, and its current attention to the impeachment, Congress is unlikely to have time to tackle much broadcast legislation this year.

The broadcast performance royalty is one of those issues likely on hold this year.  While it was recently re-introduced in Congress (see our article here), it is a struggle for any copyright legislation to get through Congress and, in a year like the upcoming one, moving a bill like the controversial performance royalty likely will likely not be high on the priorities of Congressional leaders.  This issue will not go away – it will be back in future Congresses – so broadcasters still need to consider a long-term strategy to deal with the issue (see, for instance, our article here on one such strategy that also helps resolve some of the music royalty issues we mention later in this article).
Continue Reading Looking Ahead to the Rest of 2020 – Potential Legal and Regulatory Issues For the Remainder of the Year

The FCC announced on Friday that it will be hosting a symposium on the state of the broadcast industry on November 21.  On that day, there will be a panel in the morning on the state of the radio industry and one in the afternoon on television.  The Public Notice released Friday lists a diverse group of panelists, but says little beyond the fact that the forum will be occurring.  What could be behind the Commission’s decision to host this session?

The FCC is working on its Quadrennial Review of its ownership rules (see our articles here and here).  There were many who expected that review to be completed either late this year or early next, with relaxation of the radio ownership rules thought to be one of the possible outcomes.  Of course, quick action may have been derailed by the decision of the Third Circuit Court of the Appeals to vacate and remand the Commission’s 2017 ownership order.  The court’s decision unwinds the FCC’s 2017 order which included abolition of the broadcast newspaper cross-ownership rule and the rule that limited one owner from owning two TV stations in the same market unless there were 8 independent television operators in that market – see our article here on the 2017 decision and our article here on the Third Circuit’s decision.  The basis of the Third Circuit decision was that the FCC did not have sufficient information to assess the impact of its rule changes on minority ownership and other potential new entrants into broadcast ownership.  If the FCC did not have enough information to justify the 2017 decisions, many believe any further changes in its rules are on hold until the FCC can either satisfy the court’s desire for more information on minority ownership or until there is a successful appeal of that decision.  Even though FCC changes to its ownership rules may be in abeyance, the November 21 forum can shed light on the current state of the industry and why changes in ownership rules may be justified.
Continue Reading FCC To Hold Symposium on Radio and TV Industry – What Does it Mean for Broadcast Regulation?

With the June 3 filing deadline fast approaching for license renewals for radio stations in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia, stations (including FM translators and LPFMs) licensed to any community in any of those states should be beginning to prepare their applications. As we wrote here, the FCC forms should be available next week, so once May 1 rolls around, early birds in those states can start to file their renewal applications and the accompanying EEO program report. These stations should also be running their pre-filing license renewal announcements on the 1st and 16th of May. Radio stations in the next renewal group, stations in North and South Carolina, should be prepared to begin their license renewal pre-filing announcements in June – so in May they should be recording and scheduling that announcement to run for the first time on June 1 (see this article on pre-filing announcements for more information).

While May is one of those months with no other regularly scheduled regulatory filing deadlines, it is full of other FCC deadlines including comment dates in several proceedings of importance to broadcasters. In addition, broadcasters in Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia that are part of an Employment Unit with 5 or more full-time employees should also be preparing to add to their online public inspection file their Annual EEO Public File Report – due to be added to their files by June 1.
Continue Reading May Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – License Renewal Activities and Lots of Comment Dates

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the next Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules was adopted in December and was published today in the Federal Register, starting the 60 day period for public comments. Comments on the NPRM will be due on April 29 with reply comments due on May 29. The FCC is looking at numerous issues, including one issue, the rules setting out the limits on the number of radio stations that one company can own in a market, that has not been reviewed in depth in recent Quadrennial Reviews. On the TV side, the FCC is again looking at local TV ownership (specifically combinations of Top 4 stations in a market and shared services agreements) and also at the dual network rule restricting common ownership of two of the Top 4 TV networks. In addition, the FCC is reviewing additional ideas on how to increase diversity in broadcast ownership. Today, let’s look at the FCC’s questions on the local radio ownership rules.

The review of the radio ownership rules may well be the most fundamental issue facing the Commission in this proceeding, as no real changes have been made in those rules since they were adopted as part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. As we wrote here, the marketplace has certainly changed since 1996 – which was at least a decade before Google and Facebook became the local advertising giants that they now are; and before Pandora, Spotify, YouTube and many other web services offered by tech giants became competitors for the audience for music entertainment. And spoken word entertainment competition was also virtually non-existent – “audiobooks” were a niche product and the concept of a “podcast” would have been totally foreign when the current rules were written. So what are some of the questions about the radio ownership rules that are being asked by the FCC?
Continue Reading Countdown to Comments on Next Quadrennial Review of Media Ownership Begins – Part I, Local Radio Ownership

Press reports following a speech this week by the head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division have many in the broadcast industry paying attention. In response to a question following a speech at a DC conference by Makan Delrahim, the chief of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, he is reported to have said that the DOJ will be holding a workshop to assess whether online advertising should be considered in assessing the local television marketplace, and whether the facts should support a change in the Department’s assessment of mergers by considering online advertising as part of the same competitive market as local TV advertising. Why is this important?

In recent years, particularly in its review of combinations such as last year’s proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger, the DOJ has looked only at the marketplace for over-the-air television in assessing a transaction’s likely competitive impact, refusing to look at the competition for viewers and advertisers that now comes from online sources like YouTube, Facebook and the many other digital platforms competing in today’s media marketplace. Were the DOJ to conclude that digital platforms are indeed part of the same market as TV, there is a greater likelihood that transactions previously questioned on antitrust grounds could see a more favorable reception from the DOJ. This could also have an impact on radio ownership – where the FCC is just about to embark on its own review of the local radio ownership rules.
Continue Reading DOJ Reportedly to Review Impact of Digital Advertising on Broadcast Merger Review

The agenda for the FCC’s December 12 open meeting is to be released today. As has become customary, the Chairman yesterday blogged about the issues to be considered at the meeting. For broadcasters, there are two matters of interest. The first will be the initiation of the next Quadrennial Review of the FCC’s ownership rules