It looks like the FCC’s long-delayed multiple ownership proceeding won’t be decided this summer. The FCC has asked for public comment on the report submitted by the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council ("MMTC") addressing the likely impact on minority ownership of broadcast stations of allowing more media cross-ownership. Moths ago, the FCC delayed the resolution of the proceeding to allow for the submission of this report (see our article here). The issue of minority ownership, and the impact of any ownership deregulation has been one of the big obstacles to any decision in this proceeding. Relaxation of the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership prohibitions have been proposed, and one might think that the preservation of newspapers might be of paramount importance to the FCC.  In fact, the Commission has been concerned about complaints from certain “public interest” groups who fear the impact that such combinations would have on the potential for more minority ownership. So this report was commissioned by MMTC, an organization dedicated to promoting minority ownership in all media. Now that the report has been submitted, the FCC needs to wait for public comment on its findings before any decisions in the ownership proceeding are made. Comments on the report are due on July 22, and Replies can be filed through August 6.

The FCC has already delayed the ownership proceeding at least once while taking comments on minority ownership issues. See our article from December, when the FCC asked for comments on the impact of cross-ownership on the prospects for minority ownership. The call for the December comments was initiated by the release of an FCC summary of minority ownership gleaned from FCC ownership report filings. In filings made in response to the FCC’s December comment deadline, some parties suggested that the findings of the FCC data revealed that minority ownership prospects were bleak, and that cross-ownership would make them bleaker, while others suggested just the opposite. Others contended that the two questions really were not related – that there were other reasons, like the lack of access to capital, that really explained the difficulties that all potential new media entrants have.  The release of the new study is quite likely to prompt a similar response, with comments likely to present a spectrum of opinions. 


Continue Reading FCC Seeks More Comments on the Effect of Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership on Minority Ownership of Broadcast Stations

The FCC issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in its reexamination of its multiple ownership rules, suggesting limited changes in its rules governing the number of interests that one person or company can have in media outlets in a particular community.  The FCC’s tentative conclusions leave most of the current rules in place – including rules that limit the number of radio and TV stations that one entity can own in a market, and rules prohibiting combined ownership of daily newspapers and TV stations in the same market.  The Commission also proposed keeping the dual network rule, prohibiting the combination of any of the four major TV networks.  Shared Services Agreements were another issue addressed by the FCC – proposing to examine SSAs and and other news and program sharing agreements between otherwise independent stations.  The FCC did propose the abolition of one rule – the rule that currently limits the ownership of radio and TV stations in the same market.  In the NPRM, the FCC suggested that other ownership rules could be waived in some instances, so the details of waivers and exceptions could become an important aspect of any final decision in this proceeding.  All of these conclusions are tentative, and the Commission asks many questions about each of its tentative conclusions and asks for public comment on its ideas.  The public can formally weigh in with comments for 45 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, and file replies 30 days later.  After that, there is sure to be much lobbying of the Commissioners before any final decision is made.

This proceeding combines several on-going proceedings.  The Commission started its required Quadrennial Review of the ownership rules over two years ago with a series of public hearings, and a Notice of Inquiry.  The Commission also is dealing with the clean-up of its last review of the ownership rules, which was embodied in a controversial decision reached late in 2007 (see our summaries here and here).  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out significant parts of that decision, finding that the FCC’s relaxation of the newspaper-television rules had not been the subject of adequate notice to the public, and that the FCC had ignored its obligations to take steps to promote minority ownership of the media.  Some parties seeking repeal of the newspaper-television cross-ownership rules have asked the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit decision – but this NPRM looks to reexamine many of these issues in the event that the Supreme Court doesn’t otherwise preempt their decision.    Below we’ll take a look at specific questions raised by the NPRM.


Continue Reading Multiple Ownership Proposals Released By FCC – Abolish Radio-TV Cross-Ownership Rules, Leave Most Other Rules In Place, Examine Shared Services Agreements

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Multiple Ownership has been published in the Federal Register, setting July 12, 2010 as the deadline for comments, with July 26 as the deadline for reply filings.   We previously outlined many of the questions asked in the wide-ranging Notice of Inquiry. The questions deal with the entire spectrum of media ownership issues, from asking questions about how the new media landscape changes the considerations given to media ownership restrictions, to inquiries into the way in which the consumer gets needed news and information programming from broadcast outlets, and the impact of consolidation on that information.  Filing comments in this proceeding before the deadline will help to shape the discussion that will occur. The FCC claims to be intent on finishing its review of the ownership during this calender year but, as the comments in this proceeding must be distilled into more specific proposals to be reflected in a subsequent  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which must itself be subject to public comment, this would seem a very ambitious task given that there will be less than 6 months remaining after the comments are replies on the NOI are submitted. Nevertheless, the short 30 day comment period on the NOI seems designed to speed review – so time is short for interested parties to draft and submit meaningful comments on the fundamental and wide-ranging questions that are being asked..

Further highlighting the difficulty in completing the ownership review this year, is the FCC’s Public Notice that was just released – announcing that it is seeking bids for nine different studies to review various issues relevant to the media ownership proceeding. According to the Public Notice, studies will look at many of the issues on which the Commission has sought comment in the NOI, including studies of how consumers receive local news and information, the effect that media consolidation affects the diversity of programming and the degree of civic engagement in a community, and even requesting a study to design a model to be used to measure the degree of media consolidation in a market.  the Commission also asked for suggestions as to other studies that it could conduct relevant to this proceeding.  Comments on other potential areas of study are due by July 7.


Continue Reading Comments Due July 12 on Multiple Ownership Notice of Inquiry – And FCC Solicits Bids for Proposed Media Ownership Studies

The FCC yesterday released a Notice of Inquiry, formally beginning its Quadrennial Review of the Multiple Ownership Rules.  While the FCC informally began the process of the Congressionally-mandated review of the ownership rules last November through a series of informational panels and workshops, the Notice of Inquiry ("NOI") provides the first formal opportunity for the public to comment on the ownership rules.  The FCC will take the comments that it receives in response to the NOI, and formulate some more specific proposals on how it plans to change the current rules (if at all), which will then be released for additional comments in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  The NOI is a broad-ranging document that gives little indication of the FCC’s final direction in this proceeding – though it does go into detail as to how the media marketplace has changed in recent years, citing declining advertising revenues, and more media outlets providing competition to broadcasters for both audience and advertising revenues.   The NOI posed dozens of detailed questions asking how the Commission should assess the various aspects of the ownership rules, and what impact the changes in the media marketplace should have on its consideration of rule changes.

The FCC is concerned with all aspects of its media ownership rules.  Thus, it sets out that it will explore the following rules:

  • The Local Television Ownership cap, which limits owners to two stations in markets where there are at least 8 competing television owners and operators, and which forbids combinations of the top 4 stations in any market.  Television operators, particularly in smaller markets, have been urging the Commission to allow more consolidation in those markets so that stations can provide better service to their communities.  They argue that the current limits preclude small market consolidation, which is most needed in these markets where the costs of operation are not significantly lower than in large markets, but where revenue opportunities are far more limited.
  • The Local radio ownership caps, that currently limit owners to 8 stations in the largest markets, no more than 5 of which can be in any single service (i.e. AM or FM).  Some radio owners contend that these limits no longer make sense given the competition for audio listening from so many sources (including satellite and Internet radio, who can provide unlimited formats in any market).  Other issues include whether AM and FM still need to be treated separately, and even whether AM should be counted to the same degree as FM in a multiple ownership analysis.
  • The Newspaper-Broadcast cross-ownership rule, that forbids cross-ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspapers without a waiver – which, as the result of changes in the cross-ownership rules in 2007, will be granted on a more liberal basis, but only in the top 20 markets.  Given the economic state of the newspaper industry, many seek the repeal of this rule in its entirety. As we have written before, will the newspaper cross-ownership rule outlive the newspaper?
  • The Radio-Television cross-ownership rule, which limits the number of radio and television stations that can be owned by a single party in a single market
  • The Dual Network Rule, that prohibits the common ownership of any of the top 4 television networks.

Each of these rules is up for review, and numerous questions have been asked, and issues identified, for consideration in this proceeding. 


Continue Reading FCC Issues Multiple Ownership Notice of Inquiry – Formally Begins Quadrennial Review With Lots of Questions To Assess the Impact of Media Consolidation

In an unusual action, Commissioner Michael Copps last week publicly released a letter he wrote to Chairman Martin ( whose office is just down the hall from Copps’ office on the Eighth Floor of the FCC’s headquarters in Washington) urging the Chairman to initiate a proceeding to determine if the News Corporation’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal is in the public interest.  Copps points to the fact that the company currently owns another daily newspaper published in New York (the New York Post) as well as two full power television stations (WWOR and WNYW) in the market.  While recognizing that the FCC has previously ruled that national newspapers should not be counted for purposes of the FCC’s newspaper- broadcast cross ownership limitations which currently bar local ownership of broadcast stations and daily newspapers in the same area.  This exception for national papers was principally decided in connection with Gannett’s USA Today, headquartered in the Washington DC area, where Gannett also owns a TV station.  Copps argues that, despite the USA Today precedent, this situation nevertheless demands further review for two reasons: 1) the local concentration of two TV stations and two widely-read local newspapers and 2) the national concentration that will result in two of the five most widely read newspapers in the country being commonly owned with one of the four major television networks, as well as the owner of many other outlets of communication spread throughout the country.

One seemingly unique aspect of the Copps request is that he is asking that the FCC investigate the acquisition of a newspaper, over which the FCC has no direct jurisdiction.  In fact, in the past, TV companies have purchased newspapers that they could not own consistent with the cross-ownership rules, with the understanding that they would divest one of these interests by the time that the next license renewal for the television station came up (or ask for a waiver of the rules at that time).  This would be necessary as the FCC would have jurisdiction over the duopoly through the renewal application.  In recent years, there have been companies which have bought newspapers in their television markets, taking the risk that, by the time the television station renewal was filed, the FCC’s cross-ownership rules would have changed.  And they are now left pursuing waivers in connection with their renewal applications.  In this case, while the FCC would not have jurisdiction over the acquisition of the Journal, they would have jurisdiction over the pending TV renewal applications.


Continue Reading Copps Calls for FCC Proceeding to Consider News Corporation’s Acquisition of Wall Street Journal