The new year brings a series of noteworthy regulatory deadlines for broadcasters in January.  As always, broadcasters should consult with their own attorneys and advisors to make sure that they are aware of and ready to act on any other deadlines that are not listed below.

Congress still has not passed budget bills for the fiscal year that started on October 1, and some of the “continuing resolutions” to fund the federal government at last year’s levels run out on January 19, with the FCC’s budget set to expire on February 2.  Thus, at least a partial government shutdown may well occur if Congress fails to act this month.  As we previously discussed here and here, if a government shutdown does occur, some government agencies may have to cease all but critical functions if they do not have any residual funds to continue operations.  If no funding is approved, the FCC will announce how any shutdown will affect it, including whether it has any residual funds to keep operating beyond any general funding deadline.  Watch Congressional actions and any FCC announcements to see how any deadlines that apply to your station will be affected by the funding deadline.

With those concerns in mind, let’s look at some of the specific dates and deadlines for broadcasters in January.  Beginning January 1, television stations affiliated with the Top 4 Networks and operating in Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs) 91 through 100 will be added to the list of markets that are subject to the FCC’s audio description rules.  The DMAs where the rules become effective on January 1 are:  El Paso (Las Cruces), Paducah-Cape Girardeau-Harrisburg, Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Burlington-Plattsburgh, Baton Rouge, Jackson, MS, Fort-Smith-Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Boise, South Bend-Elkhart, and Myrtle Beach-Florence – in addition to Chattanooga and Charleston, SC, which were previously in DMAs 92 and 91, respectively, but are now in DMAs 84 and 88.  We reported here on the FCC’s recent reminder that these new markets will be subject to the audio description requirements as of January 1.  TV stations associated with the Top 4 networks in these markets are required to provide audio description for 50 hours of programming per calendar quarter, either during prime time or in children’s programming, and 37.5 additional hours of audio description per calendar quarter between 6 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. local time, on each programming stream that carries one of the top four commercial television broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC). Continue Reading January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Expansion of Audio Description Requirements, Music Royalty Cost of Living Increases, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, Childrens Television Programming Reporting, Political Windows, and More

In the 45 days before a political primary and the 60 days before a general election, ads by political candidates (federal, state, or local) airing on a broadcast station or inserted by a local cable system into the programming it transmits to the public are entitled to “lowest unit rates” (LUR).  That means that candidates get the best rate offered or sold to a commercial advertiser whose ads are of the same class of time and running in the same daypart or on the same program.  This includes getting the benefit of all volume discounts given to commercial advertisers without having to buy in the volume that the commercial advertiser would need to qualify for the discount.  We have written more about the details of some of the issues with computing lowest unit rate (or “lowest unit charge”) many times before (see, for example, our articles here, here, and here). 

In a request for declaratory ruling filed by the Florida Association of Broadcasters, an interesting question has been posed to the FCC – can other political advertisers who buy time during the LUR period be entitled to these low rates if they are “authorized” by the political candidate?  Normally, such non-candidate political ads (usually referred to as issue ads) are charged much higher rates than those charged to candidates.Continue Reading Are Issue Ads By Non-Candidate Groups Entitled to Lowest Unit Rates Just Because a Candidate Approves the Ad?  The FCC Is Asked for Its Opinion

As summer begins to wind down, just like the rest of the world, the FCC and other government agencies seem to pick up speed on long delayed actions.  Broadcasters can anticipate increased regulatory activity in the coming months.  For September, there are a few dates to which all broadcasters should pay attention, and a few that will be of relevance to a more limited group.  As always, pay attention to these dates, and be prepared to address any other important deadlines that we may have overlooked, or which are unique to your station.

All commercial broadcasters will need to pay attention to actions which will likely come in rapid fire in the next two weeks, setting the deadlines for payment of the Annual Regulatory Fees that must be paid before the October 1 start of the next fiscal year for the FCC.  Look for an Order very soon deciding on the final amounts for those fees.  That Order will be quickly followed by a Public Notice setting the payment dates and procedures.  Then watch for fact sheets from each of the Bureaus at the FCC.  The Media Bureau fact sheet will cover the fees to be paid by broadcasters.  Be ready to pay those fees by the announced September deadline, as the failure to pay on time brings steep penalties.
Continue Reading September Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Reg Fees, Foreign Government Program Certifications, Final Chance to Claim Reimbursement for Repacking Expenses, Comments on ATSC 3.0 and FTC Advertising Inquiry, and More

Yesterday, the FCC released two public notices reflecting its attempts to assist broadcasters coping with the COVID-19 crisis.  The first public notice deals with the attempts of several broadcasters to support their advertisers while at the same time filling advertising inventory holes that have been created by the cancellation of other advertising schedules.  Broadcasters who

In the hotly contested Democratic Presidential nominating contest, the delegates from Michigan and Florida, which already held Presidential primaries which were labeled as meaningless by the Democratic Party, may become crucial in deciding a winner in the race.  Thus, there have been discussions, particularly in Michigan, of holding another Presidential primary or caucus to award

In the last few days before the Super Tuesday series of presidential primaries, efforts are being made across the political spectrum to convince voters to vote for or against the remaining candidates.  With Obama buying Super Bowl ads in many markets, Clinton planning a one-hour program on the Hallmark Channel the night before the primaries, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio host attacking McCain, and third-party interest groups and unions running ads supporting or attacking various candidates, a casual observer, looking at this media blitz, may wonder how all these efforts work under the rules and laws governing the FCC and political broadcasting.

For instance, sitting here watching the Super Bowl, I just watched a half-time ad for Barack Obama.  Did the  Obama campaign spring for one of those million dollar Super Bowl ads that we all read about?  Probably not.  It appears, according to press reports, that instead of buying a national ad in the Fox network coverage, the campaign purchased local ads in certain media markets.  And with reasonable access requirements under the Communications Act and FCC rules, he could insist that his commercial get access to the program as all Federal candidates have a right of reasoanble access to all classes and dayparts of station programming.  Moreover, the spot would have to be sold at lowest unit rates.  While those rates are not the rates that an advertiser would pay for a spot on a typical early Sunday evening on a Fox program, they still would be as low as any other advertiser would pay for a similar ad aired during the game.  In this case, by buying on local stations, at lowest unit rates, his campaign apparently made the calculation that it could afford the cost, and that the exposure made it not a bad deal.Continue Reading The Run-Up to Super Tuesday – Rush, the Super Bowl, Union Ads and an Hour on the Hallmark Channel

Here we are, almost a full month into the new year, and a number of important dates for broadcasters are already upon us.  As we wrote here, for instance, the payment of a minimum fee to SoundExchange by radio stations streaming their signals on the Internet is due today.  Lowest unit rates are in