With the FCC closed because of the Federal government shutdown so no new decisions will be coming out for the time being, we get to look at some of the issues and decisions that we didn’t get a chance to write about when they first came out. One of the cases we overlooked raised the question of whether the FCC cares about a broadcaster’s market share when it goes to buy a new radio station, or will it simply apply the numerical station ownership limits set out in the rules? Based on a decision released last month (note that the link to the decision may not work during the shutdown), the rules which set numerical limits on how many radio stations one party can own in a market are pretty much decisive in the FCC’s determination of whether or not a party can buy a station in a market. Even if the advertising or audience market share of the buyer is very high, the fact that there are other stations in a market providing competitive opportunities makes questions of audience share essentially irrelevant. The case also addresses two other interesting aspects of the FCC’s analysis of radio holdings in a market – which stations are included in the station count for a market, and when a station being silent means that it will no longer be counted as a competitive voice in the market.
The case involved the purchase of a radio station in the Roanoke-Lynchburg, Virginia market. The Buyer already owned four FM stations in the market, and was buying a fifth. Another owner contended that the ownership of those stations would give the Buyer a share of the advertising market of more than 50%, which the petitioner claimed would impede competition and make it difficult for minorities and other new entrants to buy stations in the market. The Media Bureau rejected the arguments, finding that, as there are at least 45 stations in the market, ownership of 5 FM stations in the market is permissible under the rules established back in 1996, and revised in 2003. The numerical limits were found by the Media Bureau to represent the FCC’s judgment of what represented a sufficient limit on one party’s ownership of stations in a market. While a company that owns the maximum number of stations in a market may have a very large share of the advertising market, the decision concluded that the Commission, when adopting the numerical caps, made the determination that the numerical caps were more reliable than a market share analysis. Even when an owner owns the maximum number of stations allowed under the rules, there are numerous other competitive outlets in the market. As market shares can change over time, the numerical limits were found to be determinative. So the Media Bureau would not upset that policy decision in a case like this.